Why You Should Care About Labeling
1. Squandering Attention Spans
Rock music lyrics were still pretty simple back in the early ‘60s. Even with folks like Little Richard screeching "A-wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-boo!" you could generally understand what the words meant. But the music matured so much so quickly during that decade that it soon supported the rise of a new pasttime: rock lyric interpretation. Serious brainpower was deployed to interpret what the heck it was that such lyrical giants as Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Tiny Tim really meant.
But those innocent days of recreational head-scratching have given way to an era of abbreviated attention spans. Don't count on the Web maturing in the same way that rock music did; that is to say, web users are not likely to spend much time decoding what it was a web site designer really meant by labeling an item Info or Stuff.
2. Making Bad Impressions
Besides immeasurably affecting navigation, labeling influences your site's users in many other ways. The way you say or represent information in your site says a lot about you and your organization. If you've ever read an airline magazine, you're familiar with those ads for some educational cassette series that develops your vocabulary. "The words you use can make or break your business deals..." or something like that. This may sound silly and a bit overblown, but after visiting some purportedly professional organizations' sites that include such terms as Cool, Hot, and Stuff in their labels, you'll start to agree with those purveyors of vocabulary-improving cassettes. Your organization has probably mortgaged its future to create a professional graphic identity and presence in its industry. Poor, unprofessional labeling can betray that investment and destroy a user's confidence in an organization.8
3. Self-Centered Labeling
Labels can also expose an organization that, despite its best intentions, does not consider the importance of its customers' needs as important as its own goals. This is most common in web sites that use org-speak for their labels. You've probably seen such sites; their labels are crystal clear, obvious, and enlightening... as long as you're one of the .01 percent of the users who actually work for the sponsoring organization. A sure way to lose a sale is to label your site's product ordering system as an Order Processing and Fulfillment Facility. (Another way is to feature any label that includes the terms Total, Quality, and Management....)