SEM Includes Giving The People What They Want

    March 26, 2007

My friends at digital-telepathy passed something along to me for a look and a laugh. Turns out, it’s an interesting illustration of search engine optimization and a web design shooting blanks. The site is optimized but someone forgot to consider how to target it for customers, not just search engines. In addition, the design isn’t responding to one of the most popular reasons someone would go to the site.

In the writeup, called Search+ :: It’s All In The Grinds, the story goes that, upon hearing the office call for a Starbucks run, an office employee decided to order something different from Starbucks. He went to search for the Starbucks website to see what he could order differently. He writes,

If I head over to the Yahoo Search Marketing tool and look up “Starbucks Menu” I find that 4,541 people searched for this keyphrase in February 2007 as well as ten other similar variations of this keyphrase. What was Starbucks thinking? This keyphrase was the fourth most popular “Starbucks” themed keyphrase out of the list. So I thought to myself, well maybe their website just isn’t focused on organic search engine optimization, so let’s see if they’ve paid for this keyphrase. What do you think? Wrong again. When I searched under the other top keyphrases I found, Starbucks was organically positioned at the top of the list and rightfully so. What we have here is a classic case of a brand that has so much emphasis offline, missing opportunities online to connect with potential customers in all aspects of their life.

The website was found easily enough because the domain is the brand name. However, once arriving, there was no menu in sight. If you go to the website, its primary focus is on selling Starbucks’ products, providing a store locator and offering corporate-type information. It’s not designed for the casual Starbucks dash-in-and-grab-my-latte customer.

I tried my hand at finding drink types by taking wild guesses on where they stuck the information. From a usability perspective, it’s a mistake to assume visitors have time for a game of “hunt and peck”, especially when they want their coffee, and most especially, when it’s early in the morning and they’re still trying to wake up. The term “menu” isn’t chosen for navigation or heading titles. You know, the parts of a page the eyes scan for clues.

It’s called “Beverage Lineup” instead. It’s not placed on the homepage, nor does the homepage provide a call to action prompt to take anyone directly there. Rather, the beverages are found under a navigation link with a label that says “Our Stores”, which is not the most logical way to find it. How about “Our Menu” or “Our Beverages” which would at least hint that food items are discussed.

Trying another roundabout route, the digital-telepathy writer ran a Google+Search”>Search on Starbucks Menu to see if that brought up the exact spot on their website where the menu would be.

The SERPS point to other websites that feature or discuss the menu, but the main Starbucks website did not appear. It’s not like Starbucks doesn’t provide nutritional information. They do. To get to it, however, you must search on the actual beverage name.

This requires a menu to know what that is.

This writer wanted to try a different drink that day.

And people like to tell me that search marketing and web design don’t require usability. The disconnect may not be tragic, or obvious at first. But sooner or later someone will be led by an engine to your website and not be able to do what they came there to do.