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If information about something-a product, service, coming event, news story, person, policy-appears on your website in more than one place, you'd better make sure it is consistent. Otherwise, your site will give visitors a very strong impression that your organization is not very organized.
When people are uncertain what the outcome of an online transaction will be, they are extremely unlikely to proceed with the transaction. This includes purchases, registrations, downloads, or anything else involving providing information to a website. When Web users feel the least bit unsure about the information they are receiving over the Web, they hit that Back button in a New York microsecond. Then, they either give up on that organization and go to another site or call the company to talk to a live person to try to clear up their uncertainty. The latter possibility means that conflicting information on a website greatly increases the volume of telephone calls to the company or organization. Management often hopes that their website will decrease the volume of telephone calls to sales, support, and information lines, but they can kiss that hope goodbye if the site contains contradictory information.
In early 2002, United Airline's website had a clear example of conflicting information. The discrepancy was between its home page and another page. The home page offered vacation flights to London and Paris. Flights to London supposedly started at $499, and those to Paris supposedly started at $594 (Figure 1.16[A]). However, if a customer followed the link to learn more about these fares, the fares shown on the resulting page differed from those shown on the home page: London fares started at $369, and fares to Paris started at $429-in both cases more than $100 less (Figure 1.16[B]). Differences in this direction are less bothersome than ones in which the price goes up when one checks the details, but the discrepancy still raises uncertainty in customers' minds about what the fares really are.
Many websites encourage visitors to register to receive certain benefits: discounts , news, announcements, customized service, or even simply access to the site. Registration consists of providing contact information and sometimes also preference and demographic information.
When an organization's website contains statements about how it will treat registrant or customer data, it is important that the statements be consistent with each other. When privacy statements in different places on a website contradict each other or even can be interpreted as doing so, site visitors will be wary of submitting personal information to the site.
That is precisely the problem on the Guestbook page at Earthwatch.org (Figure 1.17). Creating doubt in visitors' minds about how their data will be used certainly will not encourage them to register.
A more serious case of conflicting content was at the website of computer equipment company Acer Inc. Potential customers trying to learn whether Acer sells Macintosh-compatible film scanners would find conflicting information in different parts of the site.
First, product pages at Acer.com disagree about which film scanners Acer sells. The main product catalog lists one, the ScanWit 2720S (Figure 1.18[A]). In contrast, the Acer America area of the site has its own product catalog, which lists two film scanners: 2720S and 2740S (Figure 1.18[B]).
Second, the main catalog's spec sheet for the 2720S doesn't mention Macintosh (Figure 1.19[A]), but Acer America's 2720S product page lists "Mac" as one of the drivers available for it (Figure 1.19[B]).
Finally, Acer America's spec sheet for the second scanner, the 2740S, lists "Macintosh" as a supported platform but then gives operating system requirements that exclude Macs (Figure 1.20).
With all this conflicting information, people with Macintoshes might hesitate to order an Acer scanner.
The best way to make sure information about an item-product, service, or topic-doesn't differ from one place to another on a website or family of sites is simply not to have it in more than one place. That isn't as limiting as it sounds. Instead of duplicating information in different places, link from different places to a single presentation of the information. After all, the Web is mainly about linking. For example,
All pictures of a particular item should be image links to a single image file.
All listings of an item in an online catalog should be links to a single item page.
All descriptions and other attributes of the item should come from a single source.
This "single source" approach need not be restricted to simple static HTML links. Many websites and Web applications extract information dynamically from databases and "content management" systems. Duplication is avoided if wherever a particular item is mentioned, the data has come from a single source for that item. When information is not duplicated , updating and maintaining it is simplified and divergent copies are impossible .
If duplication of information in different places on a web-site or family of sites cannot be avoided, the organization that owns the site must "bite the bullet," budgeting the resources required to ensure that there are no contradictions. Otherwise, the organization will be disappointed in the success of its website.
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