Large numbers of visitors for a particular search term is not in itself a positive thing. We always have to ask the question why?

One of the most popular search terms within the OECD website is “CEE countries.” Which is a bit puzzling because the OECD doesn’t have any particular focus or interest in these Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. Search results are often puzzling; throwing up search terms that don’t seem to be relevant.

So we did some research and here’s what we found. If you search for “CEE countries” in Google, a link to the OECD website comes first. The page you arrive at is simply a list of the countries and it’s in the French language section of the website. Many people arrive at this page and want to know more. So they type “CEE countries” into the OECD search engine. The first result is for the exact same page that came first when they searched in Google.

Measuring based on volume of visitors and page views is an incredibly bad and deeply negative metric. It encourages the very worst practice, and leads web teams to focus on all the wrong things.

Years ago I had an article that was very popular. The problem was that it wasn’t popular for the right reasons. I had mentioned a song by the Beatles in the article and for some reason my page ranked high when people searched for that song.

Lots of people who use Microsoft Excel search for “remove conditional formatting”. So, the Excel team created a page explaining how to remove it. No matter what they did with the page it got very poor customer satisfaction ratings. They did more research and discovered that the real issue was to format properly in Excel.

People would try to format, make a mess of it, and would then search to “remove conditional formatting”. But that was just the first step. They then needed to know how to format properly. The Excel team deleted the page on conditional formatting. When people now searched for “remove conditional formatting” they were sent to an overall page explaining all the formatting options. Satisfaction increased.

A huge quantity of web statistics simply smother us in useless and misleading data, and at the root of so much bad practice is the cult of volume. Time and time again, organizations who remove old and irrelevant content increase profits and customer satisfaction. Quantity is a terrible metric and HITS stands for How Idiots Track Success.

You can create popular content that will draw traffic to your website. Is that a clever strategy? No. This popular content nearly always clutters and confuses. Much better to focus on the quality. Of the real customers who are coming to your website are they able to quickly and easily complete their tasks?

There is absolutely no point in Popular Page A getting found by the wrong people. There is rarely any point in Popular Page A getting found by the right people. I worked with an airline once that published lots of very popular destination content. When they removed all this content, their bookings went up. Yes, their bookings went UP.

As Marketing Experiments have often stated, clarity trumps persuasion on the Web. And clutter is the enemy of clarity.

Gerry McGovern