I was poking around on Shopping.com the other day, doing some research for another blog post, and I came across something that made me think:

It’s Shopping.com’s header, with an exciting little vertical word above it that says “Advertisement”. Awesome right?

It’s understandable (I guess) that Shopping.com won’t be able to sell all the available adspace on their giant website. I mean, they have hundreds of thousands of pages to populate with targeted and meaningful advertisements right? It’s not out of the question that they would have some fall through the cracks, right?

Uh.. no. Wrong.

So you are never supposed to see the big empty space – it’s the default place-holder, which should always be covered up by an extremely useful ad. Well if there is one thing I know about website management, it’s that if you don’t ever plan on something getting used or seen on your site, it will anyway. The fact that it is a “default” should tell you that someone is going to see it.

We all know that a 404 Error page should be optimized for your site – users should never see the ugly browser default, but land on a well thought-out page that provides useful navigation and/or recommendations without interfering with their browsing experience. It’s really become a best practice to make sure that you take these otherwise lost opportunities and provide real value through those unfortunate pages.

But what about all the other parts of your site with dynamic, changing content? What about the ad container above your navigation?

How about one of the following:

  • Another ad with a high click-through: You probably shouldn’t charge the advertiser for the impressions, but what a great way to add value and increase the ROI for the advertiser without losing anything in the process!
  • Your own ad for another part of the site: Why not pit the ads you sell against advertising your own products, services or websites? Use the available space to showcase lesser known portions of your site, call attention to sales or other categories, etc.
  • Recommendations: Take some of that user data that we are all collecting and turn it around to make recommendations for customers.
  • Browsing History: Show the recent browsing history for the user.
  • Um.. Nothing. Your website is not the freeway, and those banners are not billboards. If you don’t have anything to display, you don’t have to leave the big white sign there. Take the space down if it is empty, it’s not hard to do.

Just off the top of my head, there are a few ideas that you could test to make better use of that space. And that’s just for this example. We all have those default sections of our websites.. We have recommendation boxes that don’t have enough data to show anything. We have targeted versions of landing pages that somehow find a browser that is not accounted for. We have blog comment areas with no comments. We have internal search results where there are no (or few) results to show.
That last one is a no-brainer. The user has already told you what they want. If you can’t deliver it, the least you can do is be smart about what you can deliver instead. Google’s got some help for you there.
That is basically it for my thought – make sure you are always optimizing for the worst-case-scenario. Make sure you keep those defaults looking good, because someone WILL be seeing them, and probably more often than you think.

One thought on “Managing the Defaults

  1. Hey Rick… good post. We know the old adage that ‘everything markets.’ I think that how we handle the ‘defaults’ in our business makes a material difference not only in our brand credibility but in our conversion efficiency. I like your comment about recommendations. It is a bit surprising to me that after 15+ years of consumer focused ecommerce that so few sites, other than Amazon, really do much with user specific recommendations on site.


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