Always Searching

Most of us take simple computer tasks for granted. For instance, like visiting a web site we might read or hear about. You open your favorite web browser and type the ubiquitous dubya-dubya-dubyas in the address bar and hit the enter key. Right? Assuming we typed in the web site’s address correctly it will eventually appear on our screen. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

I found just how wrong I was last week while working on a project that would be promoted through a new sub-directory. The project name would thus be added to our normal domain name. So our usual http://www.companyname.com would become http://www.companyname.com/project. There was nothing secret about it, so we decided to publish the test site to the live server (also gives the search engines a chance to find it). Pretty common practice, I thought, so there didn’t seem to be any reason to get alarmed. We send it out to our group of testers and they’ll type it into their address bar and have a look at the project test site. What could be easier?

The next day I found just how wrong I was.

Find and Ye Shall Seek
My boss beeps me and says nobody can “find” the test site. Before I had time to realize who I was talking to I asked, “Whaddya’ mean find it?” Turned out he was just as perplexed as our test group.

After a little digging I found out my boss was typing http://www.companyname.com/project in to Google. Since the sub-directory was less than a day old it didn’t return any search results. It did provide a simple link to the URL, but he didn’t bother to read that part or click the link. I calmly suggested he enter the web address into the box on the toolbar and see what happened. He was amazed.

I later found out there is a very large percentage of Internet users who “search” for web addresses. If you don’t believe me check your web stats. Look at the referring search terms report for your own domain name. I bet you’ll find some. This is the modern equivelent of dialing the operator to connect you- even though you know the number. Do they even do that anymore?

The lesson I learned from this was to publish new directories for a few days in advance of any public test. That allows the search engines some time to discover the new address, and return some sort of result. Also avoid promotions that use a “pre-domain” in place of the typical WWW. Like project.companyname.com. The problem you’ll run into here is people insist on adding the WWW on the front and it will 404. It’s probably best to stick with the simple http://www.companyname.com/project instead.

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