July 20, 2007
Why Do People Go To Search Engines Instead of the Official Site?

I saw a short news note from Daisy Whitney at TelevisionWeek yesterday, noting that NBC has said that a third of its Web site traffic comes from search engines.

This doesn't sound like news to me, but it indicates something fundamental that I think media companies have been missing for a while. As the technology for the Web has spread, media properties have competed with one another by who could create the most aesthetically pleasing site that technology allows for.

We have some of the best Flash animations, the slickest graphics, the coolest interactive features one could imagine for a site, yet many people are finding content through a search engine instead of coming to the main page of the site and clicking through. I hypothesize it might have something to do with that ugly "U" word: utility.

There's a simple reason people go to a search engine to find something first: the search engines often work faster than the search on a media property's page. When I'm trying to find something on the C3 site, I sometimes go to a search engine instead, because I can often find the post I'm looking for faster than our own site can give it to me.

Part of this is because people like centralized locations to start their foray into URL-land from. But part of it also has to do with the fact that the aesthetics of these sites often come at the detriment of usability for consumers, especially when it involves the desire to find information.

It's the same reason that the top hits on search engines for a brand are sometimes not the official page for that product. Simply put, some of the most snazzy Web sites for a movie, television show, or product provides the least amount of information that fans are looking for.

I wrote about some of these issues back in May, in response to Andy Hunter's piece on information visualization.

I wrote:

I was talking with someone the other day with a media company about why it is that people seek out so many other places for information rather than the "official" source, but I just feel that IMDb and Wikipedia often provides more in-depth information and easier-to-find information than the "official" sources for a lot of media content, and fan sites often provide more analysis, history, and explanations than a slick-looking official site ever has.

As media properties continue to move forward in thinking about what users want from a media experience, I think the gee-whizness of aesthetics has to be tempered by a concern with content as well. The key is not to make the navigation of the site get in the way of being able to find the relevant Web video, product information, character histories, episode database, podcasts, etc. that are driving interest to the site in the first place.



Thanks for this excellent post. It bolsters much of what I've been writing and telling clients for some time now. I'll be referencing this post in my BizMediaScience blog either today or tomorrow.

Thanks again. - Joseph

On July 25, 2007 at 4:27 PM, Scott Ellington said:

First, I'd like to state my agreement with the points you've made, adding my own (possibly stereotypically gendered) perspective. Shopping for information (or pants) is a fairly onetrack-minded process:
One day, about three months ago, I wanted a lot more information than I had about David Milch. Google led me to HBO and Amazon and small pocket-reservoirs of information that mostly related to some product those sites had made available for me to buy. Returning in frustration to Google, a mid-ranked, curious lead took me to MIT-World, where I found a 90minute interview jam-packed with far more invaluable information than I'd ever anticipated finding...and Henry Jenkins' blog.
There's a monomaniacal intensity in my shopping habits that's popularly and fairly described as characteristic of guys; and network sites, like department stores, are loaded with irrelevant distractions. Insert/retrieve/extract makes shopping or searching for information sound like a covert operation, and the fit is reasonably right. Having been branded by Milch, Sorkin and Whedon, the houses that host(ed) their information channels are significantly less interesting.
Conversely, fascinating lines of interest radiate from a site like this one and HJ's. In my experience of network holding-tanks of data, they're comparatively stagnant, shallow, polluted sumps from which departure feels like escape.


Joseph, I saw your post, and thanks for the kind words. It's not that often I get accused of tight word economy. :)

Scott, on an unrelated note, Milch was a fascinating speaker, and we got an extra 90 minutes in closed session with him in one of my classes. It was..well...as only Milch can be.

I'm glad that the search brought you our way, though, and I think your anecdote is a perfect example of why people spend more time in the unofficial sources than on THE Web site...The fact that network sites do so little networking (ironic, eh?) to relevant sites off their grid is one of the reasons they feel so much less relevant.

They're good for a first flash look at something, but not to dig deep in any meaningful way.

On July 30, 2007 at 4:47 PM, Scott Ellington said:

Sam, I read Abigail Derecho's new response to your comments as a potential breakthrough:

"Fic isn't as prominent a feature of soap fandom, b/c it lives not so much on LJ or Fanfiction.net as on privately-run and often members-only EZboards or custom-designed websites, but I guarantee you, the fic is there and in full force."

If networks are peopled by decision-making professionals who are clearly out of the loop, I wonder if the soaps-class your contemplating teaching might greatly benefit from your liaison with the very people who engage marginalized media with imperishable love, rather than misguided avarice.


Scott, when I taught a class on pro wrestling, and when I did my thesis project, my goal was to find points of common understanding among the producers, scholars, and fans looking at these phenomena. The problem is a gap of understanding and experience all along the way, which is why I want to know as much as I can about soaps fan fiction; just because it is outside the "mainstream" of soaps fandom doesn't mean that it doesn't matter. Sometimes, those activities in the "margins" or from surplus audiences could do a great deal to enliven a media property.

On July 31, 2007 at 1:14 PM, Scott Ellington said:

It's the trickle of response to your debate with Lee that led me to wonder whether the craft of SoapsLore has been disseminated most effectively not by the academic community nor commerical interests but by the veterans of members-only boards who might provide insight and strategies for imparting serial sensibility to a classroom of time-constratined innocents.
I think your choice to profile the chameleon-career of Mick Foley was brilliant as a means to encapsularize and explain twenty years in the life of an entertainment industry. He becomes a golden thread of paradoxes that leads a pilgrim like me through an especially bewildering labyrinth. And that's one hell of a feat.
The fact that these two genres are not-mainstream (or marginalized) is all the more reason to expand the scope of the box.


You've got a good point. In my thesis work, I was thinking about how best to take advantage of a deep archive for soaps. If the longstanding history of soaps are their greatest strength, then how can businesses capitalize on that history? The same comes with studying the text...Primetime TV shows are harder to study than movies because it's harder to know how to group the content. But thinking in terms of seasons and episodes is a help. What happens when you look at the news, or The Colbert Report, shows that come on several times a week and have no off-season? Thus, scholars face the same problems. You see little real textual analysis of soaps, at least not contextualized, because the context would take long enough to explain that much of the artistry of the actors would be lost...

The person who launched the 24/7 program said that it was all about context...and that's what I say for soaps as well. You have to find a particular context in which to wade through all that text and make it meaningful. It's the approached I hoped to take in the form of scholarship for the Foley piece, and I think soaps--and other longform content can think of doing the same.

As for the marginalization, I think it's that difficulty in categorizing that helps lead to it, especially in academia.

On July 31, 2007 at 10:42 PM, Scott Ellington said:

I've got to ask this one; What If...Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, Graham Yost, Kevin Smith or David Milch (with their "cult"/niche/branded audiences) were any or all of them recruited as creative consultants or showrunners for ATWT, Passions, GL...? Wretched idea?
I think networks no longer have branding credibility.


It would be interesting. There are a lot of schools of thought related to soaps. For some, the idea of people coming from outside the genre would indeed sound wretched, for fear that they would bring their own sense of what television should be for a product that should embrace its history rather than reinvent itself.

For others, the problem with soaps IS the insularity of talent, that the same set of writers have a revolving door from one show to another.

The biggest problem of all is that soaps haven't had a great plan in place for cultivating new head writers by bringing them up through the system. Hogan Sheffer would be an interesting guy; he became a HW with little soaps experience, and he was considered breakthrough for ATWT for a while...then people soured on him because the unconventionality wore off, and he blatantly had disrespect for some longtime characters/actors on the show, etc., from what I gather.