The problem with silos on the web

Published on the 17/07/2013 | Written by Gerry McGovern

No link is an island says Gerry McGovern who says there are no silos on the web…

The Web is a network and everything you do has an impact on that network.

Organisations are made of departments and various other units. Each of these units has its own staff, budgets and objectives. They have their own sense of identity and independence. It’s very hard for one unit of an organisation to understand how another unit works.

When it comes to the web, individual units like to have individual websites, or at least their own sections of the website. We once were testing a website and the link ‘resources’ was causing a lot of confusion. It was a classic dirty magnet link, drawing clicks for the wrong reasons and sending people in the wrong direction.

When we asked why it had this vague name, we were told it was a special unit of the organisation that produced videos and special manuals. Its content would have been much better spread out throughout the website but it said it needed its own section because that made its content easier to manage.

In a test of an intranet we came across a link called ‘tools’ that was causing lots of confusion. That’s where IT keeps its tools (applications), we were told. “It’s easier for them to manage and they like to have their own section,” they said.

One of the worst offenders when it comes to links is the word ‘solutions’. For years we have found it causes much confusion. Customers come to websites with tasks / problems they want to solve and everyone wants a ‘solution’. It’s such a vague word, as is the link ‘knowledge base’. These links nearly always reflect a particular section of an organisation that has its own objectives, budget and content management system.

The latest silos have arisen around social media and apps. Often these are separate teams with separate objectives from the rest of the web team.

Breaking up your web environment into these silo units may simplify internal management but it leads to greater complexity for the customer. Navigation becomes confused because it needs to reflect the silos. Search gets cluttered as it starts delivering back similar-looking results. Search for a particular product on many websites and you will get results from product marketing, support, communities, technical documentation and from social media. These results are often competing with each other and have very similar titles.

Often, silos don’t even realise the negative impact they are having on findability. As is their nature, they live within their own world and see things from their own narrow perspective.

If you want to operate successfully on the Web, the first rule is to think network, not silo. How does what you do interact with other links and content within your organisation? Do links and content you create result in confusion when they mix with other links and content?

No link is an island on the web. No content is a silo. In a network, it pays to network. Internal co-operation and collaboration across organisational boundaries is essential for web success.

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