By Fran Johnson
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How to structure your web content

At Stanford University in 1990 a psychology graduate Elizabeth Newton studied a simple game. She assigned people two roles, that of a ‘tapper’ and a ‘listener’. The tappers were asked to pick a well known song, and tap the rhythm on the table. The listeners just had to guess the song!

The experiment was repeated 120 times, with the success rate – where the song was identified correctly – as low as 2.5%. The tappers were frustrated, not understanding why the listeners weren’t picking up the very simple, and easily recognisable tune! The problem was, the tappers had the tune in their heads – the listeners did not.

Time and again, we see the same mistake with web content. The ‘tapper’ – in this case someone at the heart of a company – has a wealth of knowledge, but less of concept about which knowledge is common sense and which is expertise! Therefore, the web content runs the risk of being cumbersome, academic or just confusing. One of the biggest mistakes people make with their web content is to assume people care that much!

Visitors to a site are often looking for just enough information to pick up the phone, or are searching for a specific piece of information – perhaps a technical specification or a donation form.

It starts with content

Content is the most important part of your site – it’s what your visitors are there for. It’s your job to create a website (with the help of an agency) around the needs of your users – helping them to find what they are after, as easily as possible. Getting your content right at the start of the process ensure everything else fits into place around that, and results in visitors finding the answers they want, and more business for you.

Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.

Jeffrey Zeldman

Who are your audience?

The best place to start to structure your content, and ensure you get a good balance is an understanding of your audience types.

Listing the potential audiences and the reasons they would come to your site will provide you with a handy check list.

Structuring the web content

You’ll have your list of visitor needs, and an idea of the business need for a website. Together with your navigation structure you should be in a position to structure your web content.

Working out which content takes priority on a page is best done with a team. At a dozen eggs we tend to get all the main stakeholders together for a meeting – with lots of post its and sharpies!

Ask yourselves plenty of questions in order to examine your decision making:

  • Will you visitors know what you do within the first second?
  • How would you like potential clients to contact you?
  • Are there any questions customers always ask when they ring for the first time?

Compile a document with a list of what you’ll need to write (and the number of characters each section should come to). Being intentional at this stage about the amount of text and the content areas will ensure your team doesn’t copy and paste text from a printed brochure created 10 years ago.

With careful thought around headlines, subtitles and extracts you should have a robust plan that you can test on your chosen audiences!

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