Book Review – The Stranger’s Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online

If you have a website or produce content for a website, then you really need to pick up a copy of The Stranger’s Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online* by Gerry McGovern. This book talks about how you can create a better experience for your viewers by attending to the critical tasks. It looks at critical tasks, navigation, search, and the effect of noncritical tasks on your website performance.

When I picked up the book The Stranger’s Long Neck, I actually thought I was going to read about The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More because I wanted to know more about the concept of the long tail. I was pleasantly surprised after reading about the long neck. The long neck is essentially the most critical tasks that your users want to perform on your website. It is typically the top 5% of the tasks. These are the tasks your clients find most essential. They should be listed prominently on your website.

In his research, McGovern noted organizational committees determine what are on many of the websites and do not take into account what the users actually want to do on the website. As a result, users walk away frustrated and the website is deemed to be unsuccessful because they’re not able to complete tasks in an efficient and effective manner.

The Stranger’s Long Neck is 218 pages long spread across 17 chapters. In this book, McGovern began by talking about how he came up with the idea of the long neck. He then wrote about how you can improve your website by recognizing your customer’s key tasks, adapting your website to ensure the key tasks were prominent, and continuously making the necessary adjustments to improve customer success.

One of the sections I found to be extremely useful was determining or understanding your customers. This was about determining exactly what they wanted to accomplish with your website. To find out want your customers want, McGovern explained how to boil down a list of tasks into a list of essential tasks. He also showed how to find key terms in the language your customer uses rather than what the organization uses. This is a big difference. To illustrate each method, McGovern used a case study. In each case study, he would compare the results from the customers rankings and ratings to those who worked in the organization. There was always a significant difference.

Another section I thought was extremely important was identifying or tweaking the search for your website. McGovern provided a scoring mechanism as well as strategies for improving the search on your website. It is essential the most searched for terms actually show up high on the search results page. These are essential tasks for the customer.

McGovern also addressed analytics for your site as a way to measure if you are successful not.

And last but not least, McGovern talked about bloat of content on websites. Most content creators develop material for the web, however, very few go back to do regular cleanup and maintenance. As a result,  there are items that are no longer relevant or are obsolete that should be removed from the web, yet, these irrelevant items still appear in searches. Information that is no longer relevant frustrates your customers because you do not give them information that will help them solve their problem. After reading The Stranger’s Long Neck, I deleted about 40 irrelevant articles from my work website. 

I can think of many organizations which could benefit from this book. If you are in the content business, I would recommend that you take a look at The Stranger’s Long Neck and weave these strategies into your processes to help deliver information that is relevant and useful to your customers.

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