Analyzing the Top U.S. Airports Web Sites

In the last post I put up a list of the sites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and some other information of the top 100 U.S. Airports in a spreadsheet.

Today I want to spend a little time giving my initial thoughts on what I found.

I’ll just move left to right in the information.

Airport Web sites:

I was very happy to see that every airport had a Web site. That might be something we all take for granted now. But it shouldn’t be. In fact, I thought virtually all the Web sites were very nice.

Pretty

I think my visually favorite Web site was Sacramento International Airport. The lines, colors and emotional connection appealed to me very much. But that’s just a personal opinion. The best design is the one that entices your visitors to do what it is you want them to do. I’m not a big fan of focus groups navel gazing coming up with design ideas. They rarely include designers. And even if they do the CEO usually gets the final say. I don’t think I have ever met a CEO that went to art school.

Opinions of a group of people in a room, or the opinion of me, is irrelevant. Good design is only determined by testing.

That said, I don’t think there was a single site that I didn’t like.

Most of you had your own domain names for your airport. I think that’s fine. But I noticed some of you had your airport attached to a larger site. Hawaii, for example lists their airports like this:

http://hawaii.gov/hnl

http://hawaii.gov/koa

http://hawaii.gov/lih

http://hawaii.gov/ogg

I think that’s fine too! In fact, I actually like it a lot. It is very descriptive of the fact that the airport is part of the Hawaii government. The domain tells a very clear story.

I didn’t find anyone that used a subdomain, like: airport.state.gov

That would be fine too.

But whichever way you have chosen to go just keep doing what you are doing.

Little Rock is going through a tricky transition because they are renaming the airport: Little Rock National Airport is renamed Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. However,  Adams Field continues when referring to the airport’s runways and air traffic as well as the airport’s official designator.

I’m not sure if they are going to keep the domain: http://www.fly-lit.com. Or if there will be a domain name change.

Changing domains should never be taken lightly. That’s simply because over the years people have linked to your current domain (and pages within your domain).

My preference is to keep urls the same. There should always be a very good reason to change them.

That said, it can be done.

If you are moving domains my basic recommendations are these:

  1. Always 301 redirect old domains and main pages to the new domain’s equivalent pages.
  2. Look at your analytics to determine the referring sites that are generating traffic for you. Ask these sites to update their links to the new domain.
  3. Make sure all your paid search and advertisement links are updated when the switch over happens.
  4. Anticipate a drop in traffic. I’ve never seen a domain name change not effect traffic numbers negatively… for a while.

Several of you have what we call in the biz: “canonical issues.” What that means is that you have multiple urls that will resolve to the home page.

You have canonical issues if:

  • You can type in your domain name with or without “www” and one or the other does not 301 redirect to the other. Only one version should actually exist. Akron Canton Airport does this correctly. If you go to http://akroncantonairport.com/ it automatically redirects to http://www.akroncantonairport.com/
  • You can go to
    • yourdomain.com/index.html
    • yourdomain.com/
    • One should 301 redirect to the other.

You can have multiple urls that have the same content. But if you do, Google wants you to use the rel=”canonical” tag. It’s not light reading. But there is more information on that here: About rel=”canonical” – Webmaster Tools Help

Some of you have a redirect to a long url when someone types in your domain. I’ll use Albany as an example (you are not alone Albany, you just were “A” in my list of sites). When you go to: http://www.albint.com it automatically redirects to http://www.albint.com/pages/default.aspx

You are redirecting to this perfectly (and you have redirected the non-www version of your site perfectly to the www version). It is a 301 permanent redirect. However, you are potentially going to have problems down the road, from a link perspective, if you decide to change from the .aspx server format. People will not be linking to your root domain: http://www.albint.com but instead will be linking to the longer url: http://www.albint.com/pages/default.aspx

Ideally, I would like to see http://www.albint.com/pages/default.aspx 301 redirected to http://www.albint.com. Then no matter what changes you do down the road, from an architecture standpoint, you will be covered.

I know why this redirect is happening. But I also know that it doesn’t have to happen.

Urls tell a story. They are an address. There is a reason we don’t give longitude and latitude coordinates to people who have never been to our home.

This is an airport address: 38.692686,-121.587941. But I don’t think there is a human on earth that could tell you that it is actually here:

6900 Airport Blvd.Sacramento, CA, 95837 – That address tells a story.

This address is an airline: http://www.nashintl.com/airlines/default.aspx?airline=3

But I suspect not even the designer of the site knows which airline it is. An ideal url would be: http://www.nashintl.com/airlines/american-eagle

Please notice I have not added a file extension like html, php, aspx, etc. By making your urls platform agnostic you can easily move between content management systems and no one will ever know. You’ll never have to change your urls.

That was longer than I anticipated. So I’m going to stop there today.

Next time we will talk about what I found from a social media perspective.

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