The Stranger’s Long Neck book – Key takeaways

The stranger's long neck book

Everyone who follows Gerry McGovern must be familiar with the contents of this book.

Here are the takeaways I took from reading the book.

Page 4

There are 2 skills you must develop if you want to succeed in web management:

  • empathy for your customers (to think like your customer and use words your customer uses)
  • linking and connecting. The web is in essence, a network and you must combine empathy for your customers with an understanding of the journey they are on (the tasks they need to complete)

Linking is difficult because it requires thinking like your customer, using their language, making it as simple as possible for them, and saving them as much time as possible.

Page 6

Three things that really annoy customers when they visit a website:

  • confusing menus and links
  • poor search results
  • out-of-date information

Much of the Long Tail is a Dead Zone. It’s a dead and useless tail full of dead and useless content.

Page 8

There is a book inside everybody and the web lets that book out. Quality content does not increase just because you increase the amount of content created. It just becomes harder to find.

Page 9

Everytime you add a piece of content to your website you affect:

  • the quality of the navigation
  • the quality of the search
  • your ability to manage the content on an ongoing basis

Managing a quality search environment is more about psychology then technology.

Page 13

Know the stranger’s long neck.

Continuously improve your top tasks.

To manage you need to measure. The 3 key measures are:

  • task success rate
  • disaster rate (a disaster is where a customer
  • thinks they’ve got the right answer, but is wrong)
  • completion time

Manage with facts, not opinions.

Evidence is customer-centric. Opinion is organisation-centric.

Page 15

Opinion is death. Opinion is plague. When it comes to web site management, trusting your gut is the last thing you should do.

Page 16

SMOS (senior management opinion syndrome). Senior managers, who don’t give enough genuine attention to their websites, do manage to find the time to throw off casual opinions (…) [they] don’t genuinely engage with web strategy.

Page 17

If you’re involved in a web site, you’re involved in the management of information (content) and that is going to be one of the most crucial skills of the 21st century.

You can help develop these skills by focusing on managing the tasks that the content must support.

“The plural of anecdote is not data.” (Ben Goldacre)

“The lesson is simple: complexity kills.” (Michael Dell)

“Focus and simplicity.” (Steve Jobs)

Page 28

Yahoo links on the homepage:

  • 2004 – 255
  • 2006 – 168
  • 2007 – 139
  • 2008 – 119
  • 2009 – 100

Page 30

If predicting is difficult, test and improve instead. Get the site up and evolve it based on a continuous feedback loop: the eternal beta.

Page 47

A person who produces content without understanding the tasks the content needs to support is a dangerous person indeed.

There are always tasks. Information in and of itself has no purpose. It is a process that supports a task; it is about the transfer of knowledge that results in some action.

Your customer always has a reason to look for information.

If information is not supporting the completion of a task, then it shouldn’t be on your website.

“When we think of something as having design, we think of it as having a purpose – it is fit for a task…designs exhibit purpose.” (Eric D. Beinhocker)

Page 53

The first step in task management is to carry out a task situation analysis in order to understand the whole range of customer tasks that exist.

  1. Organisation strategy: corporate philosophy, vision and strategy statements should be aligned with the web site strategy.
  2. Stakeholder interviews: talk to key people within the organisation and find out what they think the purpose of the web site is. What do they think the customers’ top tasks are? What do they think the top tasks should be?
  3. Examine website: a good way to start is to copy levels 1 and 2 of the website classification into the long list. Another good source is the site index.
  4. Analyse top search terms: do this by 1) analysing data from website search engine (get 100 top search terms over last 12 months); 2) Google AdWords (select /keywordtoolexternal. Enter important words and phrases to see how people are searching for them); 3) Google Trends.
  5. Most visited pages: 100 most visited webpages over a 12 month period.
  6. Competitor or peer analysis: a minimum of 4-6 should be analysed for tasks, particularly at homepage level.
  7. Relevant media: magazines, associations, etc.
  8. Customer feedback: what are the most common customer inquiries and complaints? Talk to support, help and sales staff and get this sort of data.
  9. Customer research: surveys or any other research.
  10. Customer interviews: for large projects, 10-20 customer interviews. These don’t usually cover new tasks outside those already discovered. However, they’re great for getting a feel for how the customer thinks. Make interviews short (15 min), using the following format: a) brief introduction; b) what are your top 3 tasks in this area?; c) please visit the website and try to complete one of these tasks.

    You can also interview remotely using sreen-sharing software.

Page 55

Collect tasks in a spreadsheet with the following headings:

  • Tasks
  • Duplicates
  • (E.g. Women’s health | Women | BBC Health | Health department)

  • Class
  • Source
  • Internal source

Page 64

If a task is too big and all-embracing, ask yourself: if this gets a big vote, what are we going to do? What things are we going to improve? What specific aspects of the website are we going to focus on?

Don’t use brand/tool names, rather what they help you do.

Page 73

Try to make everything easy and you’ll make everything complicated.

When you manage the tasks, rather than the content or the technology, you begin to see the world from the customers’ point of view. And that world can look very different to how the organisation sees it.

Page 92

The web is not some back-end IT activity, it’s a customer-facing, task-focused one. It’s not about writing code and servicing machines, but about observing people so that you can serve them better or, more importantly, allow them to serve themselves.

The web teams that actually do want to interact with their customers in order to identify their top tasks and make those tasks easy to complete are often actively blocked by other members of the organisation.

Page 108

Most websites are measured on extremely crude and misleading measures, such as the volume of visitors and pageviews. These truly negative and misleading measures actually encourage worst practice on the web – the production of lots and lots of pages.

The most important thing is to manage task dissatisfaction.

Page 109

Everytime you add (a page), you add complexity.

Page 111

Poor quality content is worse than no content.

Page 152

As the task becomes more complex and less frequent, it makes sense to move it to the phone or face-to-face support.

Page 154

According to research in 2009, it cost a UK local authority:

  • £9,34 for face-to-face transactions
  • £3.76 for telephone transactions
  • £0.26 for online transactions

Page 164

Never trust the opinion of customers. You want tasks, not opinions. Watch them do tasks.

Page 179

The web: it really is about people and tasks, not technology or content.

Page 184

The [task] management conversation is not about getting a new CMS or SE, or adding more sites or content. It’s about improving task success rates, reducing disaster rates, and improving completion times.

Page 187


Page 200

For each piece of content, ask:

  • What does the customer need to do?
  • How will this content help them do it?

Other images

long neck

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