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Chapter 3. Organizing Your Content > Avoiding Content Problems

Avoiding Content Problems

Other important things to remember about site structure and information architecture follow:

  • Make each page deliver real content. Web site visitors should find that even pages that are at the higher levels — and therefore, made up of more shallow, summary information — provide useful content. Shallow and summary shouldn't mean useless. Sometimes, useful information is concise — such as, Click here to learn about cacti! Simplicity is appropriate if you know your users will understand what they'll get when they click a link.

    If you think your higher‐level information needs a little explanation, include a short paragraph to get users interested. There are no truly hard rules with this other than you should think about what your users will need in order to decide what they're going to do after they find your site.

  • Avoid compiling lists of links. Sometimes, you can group a few links effectively, but we can't think of very many good reasons (other than search results or possibly task lists for groups or students) that a visitor to your site should click a link only to be confronted by another list of links — or worse: a list of links that don't include any explanations.

    The worst site design mistake is a happy invitation to Click here for information that sends users to a page that invites them to Click here for more information, and so on, until users get tired of clicking and not finding what they want. Users will find a different site to visit if they find that your site doesn't have any actual information, just a series of links to nothing.

    In other words, make sure you allow your users to drill down to the level of information they want. Keep the vague Click here links to a minimum, and ideally, don't use them. Try to use link text that tells the user what they will get when they click it, include the link directly in your content by making the relevant phrase into a link. This will invite your users to follow the trail of information deeper into your topic.

  • Don't include unfinished work on your site. Most people agree that clicking a link and finding an Under Construction or Coming Soon page is a waste of time. It's all right to allude to features that you intend to add to your site, if you like. This gets people excited about making repeat visits to your site. However, we advise against including links on your page to Under Construction pages or sections. If the content isn't ready to roll out, don't include it in any navigational element.

  • Announce an upcoming new feature shortly before its launch. Frequent users notice when an announcement is up for a prolonged period. They also notice when you announce a new feature that doesn't materialize. Sometimes, planned features just don't work out — or they aren't ready as soon as you intend them to be. Don't make promises that you might not fulfill.

  • Give your visitors the ability to customize their experience as much as possible. Simply making sure they can flow through your information in different ways makes your site more useful and interesting. Be creative about how you help visitors flow through your site. Give them options that allow them to choose their own path while also rewarding them with useful content along the way.

  • Avoid hiding your content under a pile of lists. Presenting users with large lists of links with little or no explanation about what they get when they click will not produce a good user experience. You'll want to guide people through your information, gently, by including links to broader content areas within your site's navigational areas. Use links within your text to guide people into deeper information.

  • Use images and multimedia elements thoughtfully. Don't include an element just because you like it. Make sure it fits your content. If your site is about cacti, find pictures of cacti. Include a chart of care statistics or create a short, multimedia presentation about how to care for cacti. Leave the pictures of kittens off the page about cacti. They might be cute, but an image that is there for no other reason than that it's cute makes your page look amateurish.

    Especially, use Flash and other multimedia with care. Plan and develop each piece of multimedia, whether it's a Flash presentation or a video, making sure it conveys information in addition to being nice to look at. If you expect your users to wait for media to download, make it worth their time. (You can find more about developing and using multimedia elements in Book V.)

Call to action

You might hear the term call to action when you start working with Web sites. This term refers to the practice of including an overt direction to your visitors: Click here or Order now.

A call to action is generally used along with some explanation to visitors about why they would want to follow your directions. You can drive traffic very effectively using a call to action. Click here for sale prices is sure to catch attention and get your users to follow the link.

When you don't use a call to action, you're leaving your visitors to decide what they'd like to do next on their own. If your content is confusing enough or your navigational elements don't look like navigation (links that are hidden), your users have no idea what they're expected to do. They might leave the site in favor of a site that helps them find what they need.



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