Content is king! It probably doesn’t take much convincing from my side to tell you that your content is the most valuable asset of your website. Be it that you offer information, services, or products, your content is the reason you have a website at all. People visit your website because they are looking for something and it should be your main goal to help them find it.
We talked about content presentation a few times lately. For example, we discussed how you can write better web content, how to improve the readability on your site, or how to increases your web credibility through content presentation.
However, besides checking that your content is useful, effective, and well-written, you need to make sure it is also clearly organized. Your visitors need to be able to quickly scan your site and find the content they are looking for. This is not an easy task considering that there are many different people visiting your site, and all of them have different expectations. Here is a selection of 9 guidelines that will help you to optimize your content organization for all your visitors.
1. Define a clear information structure
Certainly, the most logical starting point is to define a clear information structure for your content. Now what is clear? An abstract mind and some experience with content organization will help you to define a first draft version. However, no matter how smart you are, or how much experience you have, don’t think the final structure is something you can do on your own.
At the end of the day, it’s the future user, who has to decide which content is relevant and which is not. More even, it’s about which content is relevant at what point during their visit. To find out how people are going to use your site, there is nothing more logical than just to ask them.
It’s the prospective user, who has to decide which content is relevant for your website. (Source)
Get started by defining your target group. Then invite a couple of prospective users to focus groups to discuss their ideas and get a clear picture of their goals. You can also do surveys, or interviews, and of course use card sortings to find out what content organization makes sense to them. It doesn’t matter which technique you decide to use, as long as you base your final content structure on the ideas of your users, and not your own.
2. Start with critical content
Once you have a clear structure for your content, you need to go into more detail and decide on where to display that content on your site. Important is that you start with the most critical content. What are the core questions people have when visiting your site? Try to answer these, or at least offer a clear starting point right on the landing page. Then, you can think about less central content and decide where, or maybe even more important how to arrange it on your site.
Avoid confusion and offer straightforward answers to your visitors’ core questions. (Source)
When people enter your site, they always start at the top of the page. Make sure to keep this in mind and make good use of your website’s real estate above the fold. You can either display central content to answer your visitors’ core questions right away, or trigger people to enter the site by either clicking a link, or scrolling down the page.
3. Group related content
Another aspect that will help you better organize your website content is to group relevant elements. Again, relevant is not what you consider relevant, but what your visitors think belongs together. Depending on their goal and the way they approach solving it, their idea of related content might be quite different than yours. While you try to organize content in a logical and objective way, actual users will be more subjective and goal oriented.
Prospective users are subjective and goal oriented in their judgement. (Source)
Relevant content that is grouped in a logical, yet practical way can make life much easier for the user. The search for related content can be minimized and as that also the time needed to find something. As a result, navigating your website becomes more intuitive and more efficient for your visitors.
4. Show only what’s relevant
Show only what’s relevant. OK, this seems a bit too obvious, but it seems that a lot of websites have not yet internalized the idea of keeping it simple. What does “keeping it simple” mean anyways? Basically, it means that you should only include content that is relevant at the time that your visitors are one a specific page of your website.
This is a bad example of “keeping it simple”. It’s not relevant! Cute, but not relevant. get it? (Source)
You should have a clear idea of the path your visitors take to reach their goals. Also, you should be aware of the different stages they are in during that path. For example, at the beginning, you might still need to draw them in, or convince them. Later on, you will want to avoid any kind of distraction and for example make sure they go through with their purchase. Display only the content that is relevant for these different stages.
5. Show everything that’s relevant
While it is important to focus on what’s relevant and to leave out redundant, or distracting content, it is just as essential to really include anything relevant. Again, it all comes down to knowing what your visitors do and what kind of content they are interested in at different stages during their visit to your site.
Again, you can pretend to be a visitor to your own website and guess what kind of information would be relevant. Or you can ask real users to perform different tasks and go through different use cases to tell you exactly what content they expect to find. You can then think of ways to display additional information. For example, you can place high priority content directly on the site, or link to less urgent content on your different pages. Just make sure it’s available.
6. Consider different audiences
As I mentioned before, your website visitors are not very likely to all be the same. You might even have different target groups with entirely different levels of expertise, foreknowledge, and goals. Also, people prefer different ways of content presentation, such as visual, auditory, or interactive.
Make sure you know who your users are, and how they use your website. (Source)
When organizing your content, make sure you have identified the different kind of people, who visit your site. You might want to create user scenarios to get a clear picture of who your users are, and how they use your website. Then prioritize them and see if some are more important than others. Start with the most relevant user. However, make sure that at the end you have thought your content organization through for all users. You might have to include some content elements double because different users might group them differently. Don’t worry about that. If duplicate links are the only way to ensure that all your users find certain content, why not include the link twice.
7. Offer different entry points
Separate your users by their expectations towards your website. (Source)
You can also make an even more extreme differentiation between different users and offer different entry points to your website. For example, you can make a clear distinction between business and individual clients, or for first-time and recurring clients, or experts and novices to your field. Especially if you can distinguish very specific groups with clearly different expectations towards your website, you might want to think about separate entry points for every group.
8. Offer customization
You can also decide for a less predefined and more flexible content organization. Let your users get involved and decide for themselves what is important and what isn’t. Especially for services or sites that are very personal, or include regular usage, a customizable approach might be perfect. For example, programs like the Adobe Creative Suite allow you to open and hide windows according to personal preferences and their relevance for your current project.
9. Test before implementation
The most important thing to consider for your content organization is that you don’t only rely on your own logic, but ask your users what makes sense to them. They will be the people to visit your website, looking for information, or other content. No matter what you think, your content structure should meet their expectations.
After the initial user research with focus groups, interviews, or card sorting sessions, make sure you turn to your potential users again before implementing your final content structure. Be it through remote tests, or moderated user testing sessions, define relevant use cases and ask users to give feedback. Any confusion, irritation, or missing information that is detected before implementation will save you both time and money.