Web Blooper of the Month

Search-Hits Lack Meta-Data

In April 2003, Blooper of the Month discussed the problem of Unfinished Content. Some sites go live while still containing pages of "greeked" filler text. Other sites go live while still containing pages that contain nothing.

A more subtle form of the Unfinished Content blooper is to go live with a Search database that lacks brief descriptions needed for Search results. When a Search returns a list of hits, each item is supposed to have a brief description. These descriptions are supposed to be attached to each item in the database that can be found by the Search function. The descriptions are one type of metadata. If some items in the database don't have descriptions, the Search results that find them aren't very useful.


One example of this blooper can be seen in Search results at the website of Acer, a computer peripheral company. Many items found by a Search have a generic place-holder description "This is the description of this page." (see below)

Acer example of Web Blooper

This Acer example was collected January 2003. I checked the site to see if the problem still exists, but now (June 29, 2004), Acer.com's Search function doesn't work at all.


A more current example of the blooper can be seen at the website of Agilent, an electronic instrument and medical equipment company. Many items found by a Search have the place-holder description "description_contents". (see below)

Agilent example of Web Blooper

Avoiding the Blooper

The same basic rule applies here as for the Unfinished Page form of the blooper: Don't go live until your site is ready. Of course, with Search results the problem is harder to detect. It usually isn't the Web designer's responsibility to assure that all items in the site's searchable database have all their metadata.

This is yet another example of why producing a good, usable, useful website is a team effort, rather than the job of a solitary Web designer. It requires coordination between the web page designer, the information architect, and the designers and implementors of the back-end databases and other services that the site uses. And let us not forget the managers of all of the above; the buck actually stops at them.


The website of department store Sears provides an example of Search results in which all found items have complete descriptions (see below).

Sears example of avoiding Web Blooper