Some Constructive Criticism to Microsoft Web Properties Leadership

Dear Microsoft Web Properties Leadership,

I’m a user of the various web sites that Microsoft releases on a daily basis.  I work with, for, and around Microsoft web sites to complete my daily work in software development.  However, the way the domains, sub-domains, and other web related properties are organized is often difficult to remember, use, and generally frustrating on many levels.  I know there are no hard rules for domains, sub-domains, etc, but there are some ideals and guidelines behind the usage of such things.  Life for the technical community would be much easier if you guys actually followed these ideals and guidelines.  Let me provide a prime example of a service I have to use regularly.

BPOS (and I’m not defining what BPOS is, because this is part of the issue…)

Before even using it, I’ll start by searching for it.  To provide what a new user of the system may see if they’re trying to sign up or such.  If I navigate to a search engine, I’ll use Bing for this particular example, and try to find out about Microsoft BPOS Services I get the following results.

Bing Results for "Microsoft BPOS"

Bing Results for "Microsoft BPOS" (Click the image for a full size rendering)

These are good results, so no problem yet.  Now with some basic intuitive analysis of the results I have the following obvious Microsoft Properties to check out.  At least, I hope that I do.

This is one of the more straight forward results for a product.  Setting us on a good path, so let’s take a look at each of these sites.

First the http://www.microsoft.com/online/default.aspx, which gives us this page.

Microsoft BPOS Site Property #1

Microsoft BPOS Site Property #1 (Click the image for a full size rendering)

There are some glaring issues with the page itself, but first take note of that URI.  That’s a nasty URI for the main root page to begin with.  It ends with *.aspx, and there is a sub path which an Internet power user wouldn’t be able to understand let alone a novice or standard business user.  Let’s go through the red arrows real quick.  I’ll hit on each arrow in order from top to bottom.

Ok, before continuing with the domain & sub-domain issue, let me step into another concern here.  There are the two choices for a Free Trial or Buy Now.  These two options are not that bad, but look below a big $10 sign, only $10 dollars!?  NO.  It’s $50 dollars not $10.  In the small print, the third red arrow, it states you will need to order a minimum of 5 users, which equates to $50 dollars.  I think somebody at Microsoft should clean this up a bit, at first glance it is misleading.

I know this isn’t a sub-domain or domain naming issue, as I started with, but I just want to point this out as it is a problem for reputation.  So my first critique tip is…

Critique Tip #1 – Clean up the selling point on the page and don’t be misleading.

Fourth arrow is a pet peeve of mine.  Again, not to the domain and sub-domain issue yet, but I want to tackle these because they’re frustrating.  For some reason Microsoft expects everyone to scroll way down their pages to find out news about the product.  In addition, as the last arrow points out, it is also assumed that everyone always understands all of Microsoft’s Acronym Soup.  No, we don’t Microsoft, you’re making these up.  So please actually write some regular, intelligible titles for products or use some of those awesome secret names as product names.  People would LIKE IT if you did.  I want you guys to succeed with some of these services too, and writing headlines like this, in a news section that is at the bottom of the page, and not easily accessible and up front isn’t doing you guys any favors.  I’m trying to help out here.

Critique Tip #2 – Give us the news higher on the page, where it is easy to find, and write the articles for people that may not work for Microsoft itself.

The next link is I suppose another page related to BPOS from Microsoft.  http://microsoftbpos.net/ is navigated to and I find this.

A BPOS Company?

A BPOS Company?

Nope, this is NOT a Microsoft property.  But being there are so many Microsoft Properties with no rhyme or reason to the domain and sub domain usage, this seemed like a legitimate Microsoft Site.  It isn’t Microsoft’s fault that this link is a little misleading, but if one is looking for a company to handle this confusion for them, this may be a great company.  Otherwise, I’m moving on to the next link.

The next link is http://microsoftbpos.com/. This one has to be a Microsoft Site, I hope.

Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOSS??)

Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOSS??)

Yup, we’re good.  But it is confusing isn’t it.  What exactly is BPOSS anyway?  I thought I searched for BPOS?  Is this BPOS?  Maybe just another S on the end?  Anyway, I digress.

No intuitive use of the domains going on here.  Two completely autonomous and separate domains being used for the same business within Microsoft.  Not cool, Microsoft you are driving down the WRONG way on the road with this.  Even if there is differences between this and the other BPOS site, it isn’t immediately apparent and they come back in the same search results.  So if they are different, SEO #fail.

Again, there are standard UX no no’s at work here too.  News is at the bottom in a little right hand corner box.  The same sales point is being made, $10 per user, which isn’t inherent to the real base cost, and those same two buttons are there to simply lead users into purchasing without realizing what they’re getting.  Last, the page is too long.  We don’t need to scroll down so far and there does NOT need to be a big huge Bing search at the top.  This is the type of activity I’d expect from Black Hat SEO Hacks trying to get higher SEO ranking illegally, NOT from Microsoft.

Tip #3 – A single domain for a single business segment or use a sub-domain off of the microsoft.com domain such as http://bpos.microsoft.com or http://onlineproductivitysuite.microsoft.com.

The last link is definitely Microsoft, as it hangs off of the microsoft.com domain.  http://www.microsoft.com/business/bpostestdrive/demo.aspx?CR_CC=200000034&WT.srch=1&CR_SCC=200000034&WT.srch=1 maybe it just has some simple info on it but isn’t, yet another, landing or portal page for the product?  It couldn’t be right?  Wrong again.  It is a primary landing page with all that nasty URI query string nonsense.

Ahh, a nice looking BPOS Site!!

Ahh, a nice looking BPOS Site!!

This site, I have to admit, seems better.  Tabs at the top, no pointless Bing search at the top, and actual topic points of concern in the center of the page.  Whoever this group is, design the other pages.  Better yet, get rid of the other pages and go with this design.  This isn’t the best page, but it’s 10x better than the others.

Tip #4 – Use this site as a reference for creating a single BPOS site with appropriate navigation, section on the page, move the news up to the forefront, and get the site re-published.

That’s it for this critique.  Microsoft representatives, management, and others please take heed.  I’m honestly trying to write an entertaining yet constructively critical entry here as a sort of open letter, it may seem I’m attacking, but from outside (or inside) Microsoft it is difficult to get things like this fixed.

I hope this helps.  😉  Cheers to a good solution!

A Frequent Business User and Customer,
Adron @ Composite Code

PS:  I’ll be following this open letter tomorrow with a letter providing props for some awesome sites, UX, and general offerings that Microsoft has put together.  So I didn’t just write this to hate on Micrsoft, I’m just frustrated intently by their blatant bad usage around domains, sub-domains, etc.

So stay tuned, I’ve got props coming instead of all this grumbling.  Cheers!