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 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.