Being Clear in Online Conversations
Niniane Wong posted part 4 of her “geek conversations about love” series this weekend, a cute little AIM conversation between her and a friend who was taking his girlfriend to dinner for her birthday (the girlfriend’s, not Niniane’s). The conversation is short but amusing–Niniane asks where they’re going for dinner, he provides her with the URL of the restaurant, as you do if you’re a geek and you’re going to dinner. (Note to local restaurateurs, get a Web site. It’s important to geeks.)
Then something interesting happens:
ozzir: i was going to propose
niniane: really????? That’s so awesome!!
niniane: i’m so excited for you!
ozzir: … that we stop celebrating birthdays
niniane: god damn it
Check out what just went down: Ozzir used language that was familiar but ambiguous. He started his sentence “I was going to propose” and then hits enter, stopping the communication (but not finishing the sentence, yet.) Niniane reacts immediately (probably typing with the same speed that makes Lisa sound like she’s using a machine gun on her keyboard) with glee and congratulations, interpreting “propose” in its colloquially understood context of “propose marriage”. Ozzir (who I’m guessing doesn’t type quite as quickly or maybe he was just deliberately messing with Niniane [I think it’s just that he’s a boy. Boys are dumb. – Lisa]) finishes his sentence “…that we stop celebrating birthdays.” Niniane is obviously disappointed by this turn of events [Imagine how the girlfriend feels. — Lisa]. She was excited and then discovered that he wasn’t talking about the same thing that she was at all.
Do you do this to your visitors and clients? When they come to your Web site, are you having the same conversation that they are? Do you give them the whole story up front or do you offer a misleading statement that gets them excited only to have a huge let down later?
Most people on the Web are doing research. They have a problem or pain that they want you to solve. In order to do that, you have to speak their language and communicate with them in a clear and unambiguous manner. Make your Web site speak to your visitors in a way that won’t leave them confused or misdirected. It’s okay to be cute and clever but not if you’re leaving your visitors confused and dismayed.
This means all visitors, not just the human ones. Remember, search engines don’t understand human context. You have to talk about things in a way that explains to them what’s going on. What would a search engine have thought of Ozzir’s statement “I was going to propose”? Are they smart enough to know that propose usually means marriage or would they have waited for the rest of the sentence to find out what was being proposed? You can’t depend on Google to know everything that you do about your products or services.
When you’re evaluating your site’s effectiveness, don’t just look at the content; look at the structure as well. Is your message consistent? Does it make sense? Can I go through the site and feel like I know what’s going on all the time; or is every page jarring and disconnected, onto a new subject every time I turn around? If I’ve clicked through to your site, I have expectations that you’re going to be worth my time. If you’re not, I can go somewhere else.
It’s like those cards that smart aleck parents get for their kids. The front says “For your graduation, I got you a brand new car…” then the inside delivers the zinger, “d.” Sure, it’s funny, but it also makes you look like a big jerk if you’re doing it deliberately and a moron if you’re doing it unintentionally.
Don’t send out the wrong message to your visitors. You should build excitement and then deliver. Don’t be a disappointment [*cough*Like Susan*cough* – Lisa]. Don’t get me excited and then laugh at me when I find out that you weren’t talking about what I thought you were. That doesn’t make you clever, that makes me feel like an idiot and determined to never talk to you again.