Looking at your web site and online presence through fresh eyes – 2
This is my second posting in what could be viewed as breaking out of a rut – the automatic and unconsidered pattern of looking at our web sites and other online channels but taking them for granted and not really seeing them anymore. My first installment on this started a discussion of web sites per se and how first time viewers look at them differently than repeat visitors do, with owners (hopefully) members of that later group. I focused there on what goes where on a web site with emphasis on the home page and the basic template design, and how content is distributed across them. I turn here to examine some of the issues involved in deciding how much content to show on any one page, and the issues of content rich versus easy to use sparse design. I point out here at the beginning that there are no easy, simple one-size-fits-all solutions to any of this, that would work best for any and all businesses and organizations.
• What works best for your web site is going to depend on your organization and the type and complexity of the content you would share. It will also depend on your priorities in what information you would share and with whom.
• Inseparably from that set of considerations, this depends on your target audience and on their needs and priorities and on how much content and depth of detail they would want to see in one place and where.
You want to keep your format, layout and web page content density simple enough so that the people you are trying to reach can and will find what they are looking for, and before running out of patience and moving on. At the same time you want to satisfy your site visitor’s needs by making enough of what they want immediately visible so they can readily find it and click to find more details.
When I was webmaster at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society our combination of organizational and audience needs, goals and priorities mandated that the web team I worked with go for content-rich. Our patient services and disease information pages, to cite two significant web site buckets, dealt with focused topics that were and are very complex, and for which interested visitors would want to see all of the details. A more casual, socially oriented or online sales-oriented site might limit the verbiage on any given page to a single short paragraph and a short bullet pointed list (e.g. a text description of a pair of shoes) and with accompanying photos (views of those shoes in available colors and from a two angles for each). Many of our pages in these buckets went on to hundreds of words with most over 400 per page and some over 1000, plus photos, charts, graphs and so on.
When someone is first diagnosed with a blood cancer or a member of their family is they will in most cases want quick and more general answers to a more restricted set of immediate questions. We offered simpler and sparser pages for them and at that stage in the processes they are going through. As time passes and they face and go through diagnostic tests and other procedures they will want and need progressively more information and in a great deal more detail, and couched in terms of an increasingly more detailed medical vocabulary – they will learn the terminology and find themselves facing a very different and more complex set of questions, and they will be looking for much more detailed answers. Our web pages and sections devoted to meeting the needs of this audience were complex and much more detail rich than would work on most any sales-oriented commercial web site.
When I have worked on sales-oriented web sites I have designed and built for a very different audience and in a much sparser and leaner way.
• The challenge here is in knowing both your organization and its needs and goals, and your intended audience and theirs so you can design, build and maintain to mutual satisfaction.
So far I have written this posting strictly in terms of web sites and with complete focus on the Web 1.0 centrally published components thereof. Web 2.0 and interactive features have to fit into this too, and be visible and available where the people you are trying to reach would need them. Shifting focus in a second direction, the points I raise in this discussion apply to other online media too. Consider this blog by way of working example.
This is my 551st posting, so most of my content included here to date is pretty deeply buried if you have to dig for it using the Older Postings/Newer Postings navigation links at the bottom of the page. I have been listing all of my postings in directory pages, showing as links on the right in my site template in a Pages section. So, for example, if a blog visitor is interested in my job search and career development postings, they can find every posting and every series I have offered on that topic area in a page identified as Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development on the right under Pages. If that reader was interested in my postings on ubiquitous computing or on some subset of them (e.g. on the structure and impact of all the time and everywhere computing and communications, or on security and cyber-conflict in a fully networked information age) they might be interested in my directory page on that: Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time.
My point is that I offer these and other directory pages to help readers find postings that connect into a range of general topic areas I write about. But these cannot work for readers who do not find them. Where these links are on the page template is important and how they are worded counts and perhaps even more. The fact that I cite these directory pages by name and as links to them in postings that relate to them, and for most postings helps here and I do that intentionally to help lead interested readers to related and same-series postings. And there are trade-offs here. Should I have more and perhaps a lot more directory pages, each with narrower and perhaps more clearly labeled areas of focus or would that offer more clutter than value? Is my set of directory pages too cluttered now where it would make more sense to consolidate them in some way? Do people who would use them if they know of them even see that these directory pages are there or do they get lost in the template and because of their positioning on-screen? There are no easy, one-size-fits-all answers to any of these questions so finding a best answer to them and related questions means working to find effective compromises – approaching effective where your face seemingly and even starkly conflicting goals and needs.
I will continue on in this series in a few days.