Web site and content organization

Newspaper and web writers talk about inverting the pyramid - stating your conclusion first, and the same goes for web sites.

The first thing a visitor wants to know is "Am I going to find what I want/need here?" The average page view time is 50 seconds, so first impressions count.

So our first job is to clearly indicate what is available on the site, and point them to it. A rough rule is the two/three click idea - that anything the visitor might be searching for should be within two or three clicks. For sites with thousands of products that isn't possible, but for a small site it is.

The Home Page:

Arguably the most difficult page on a site, the home page wants to convey at the same time: An appropriate visual impression that signals, without words, the intention of the site, its organization, and quality. A summary of what one might find inside, with clear and sufficient description. Often one of these competing elements is sacrificed, which can easily lead to visitors imediately going elsewhere. So save the Flash movies, etc for content inside the site, not for fancy introductions. A check of server logs will tell you how many folks leave when they are forced to wait to see what is on a site.

Make some lists:

List your proposed content. List the search terms people may use to find you. List the supporting items to include (about your company, contact information, enquiry or comment forms, privacy policy, faq, customer service, employment opportunities, etc) List possible outgoing links (related further information, suppliers, trade associations, government, etc) and last, list sites that may be encouraged to link to you.

A couple of conceptual traps:

It is tempting to think of a site like a book, the table of contents is the navigation, each chapter a main page, each page..., etc. It is the model we are used to. But we could equally cut that book up into paragraphs, string them together in different ways, such that we have 4 or 8 or 12 different books, all with different effect and experience, same content. Many visitors will enter your site from pages other than your home page.

The second common small business error is thinking of a web site as a brochure - lets describe our company, our nice building, our employees, our great service, etc. That is, in my opinion, the last thing they want to see. (They may want to check it before ordering your product, but it is not what will solve their current quest) They want information, specific and general, about your product.

A typical site organization:

Home Page, Main navigation linked topic pages, sub pages off topic pages. Let us say you have a widget site. Your main pages might be Products, About the company, Service, Where to buy etc. Very common.

But If I am searching for your widgets, I probably find someone else's widgets, because your site is about your company, not about your widgets.

Another strategy:

Home page, then a blue widget topic, red widget topic, yellow widget topic, etc., and then have all your widget pages have links to the support, about us, ordering pages. Some people go as far as a separate domain for each kind of widget, with links between sites to get to subordinate data. Which is in a way, inverting the book model we started out with, to put the specific information first, rather than the general. In short, prioritize the pages that are of prime interest to your visitors. Give both visitors and search engines a clear path to specific information.

Putting yourself in a visitors shoes can be difficult. Watch someone not familiar with your site navigate through it.

The Yale Web Style Guide has more on the subject of site organization, just be aware that goals may be different if you are looking to maximize search performance.

The subject of Information Architecture, web usability, and visual design is a large one, and in these days when tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on a web site, careful attention to the basics is the least one should do. New and fresh design certainly is a good thing, just not at the expense of your visitors.

On a more mundane level, careful attention to naming pages, images, and organizing files on the server will pay off in time saved as the site grows. A common web designers headache is after spending hours getting a great looking navigation bar just right, the client wants to add a topic link. Start with the assumption that your site will grow and change. Think about how - in depth or breadth? That is are you adding depth to a few fixed topics, or adding new topics?

Now lets move on to >>>web site content development.

Oregon web site design and promotion guide

May 24, 2002

ML WEBB, web site design and promotion, Eugene, Oregon
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