The Importance of Being Vernacular


I remain amazed at the number of database publishers, particularly those chasing B2C markets for the first time, who haven't seen fit to make their heading structures as friendly as possible to a wide range of audiences.

Consider health sites that offer consumers physician specialties such as "Otolaryngologist." Or legal sites offering categories such as "admiralty law." Or a food ingredients directory with a category for "EVOO" (that's Extra Virgin Olive Oil in case you were wondering).

Technical terms and acronyms may be acceptable as categories in a trade directory (and I say "may" because even within a specialized field, not everyone has the same level of knowledge and expertise), but they're major roadblocks when trying to woo outsiders -- in these cases, consumers.

Kudos then to UK yellow pages publishers Yell, for recently introducing alternate headings based on regional dialects, in recognition that descriptive terms in common use are often not the formal term.

Taxonomies also need to account for common misspellings. One industrial directory found by an analysis of its searches that large numbers of users never got to its category for "throughbolts" because they were typing "thrubolts."

Too much effort you say? Like it or not, we all now operate in a "satisfy them or lose them" environment. Anticipating how users will search for information results in more hits, and more satisfaction. The smartest publishers I know all log and regularly review user searches that generate zero results as a simple way to identify problems. When your site allows users to search your heading structure using free text, such reviews are even more important.

The more paths you can provide to get to your data, the more satisfied users will be and the more successful you will be. When it comes to database taxonomies, if your terminology is correct, and the user's terminology is wrong, then you're wrong too.

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