Google retains its prominence among competitors because it knows and responds to user experience. It's a great model for non profit, association, and government websites that face enormous challenges keeping their target audiences informed and engaged. Here are four guiding principles to help guide your website content organization strategy:
- WWUD. Make "What Will Users Do" your organization's watchwords when posting new material. Sure, you think it's important, but will your target audience? How are they finding it? Where do they go after reading it? Think about your audiences' interests, but also their level of experience. Is there a way to present things differently for first time visitors and experienced veterans?
- Question taxonomy. Website architecture persists from inertia and lack of awareness about how (and whether) users are finding and getting the information they need. Smart organizations challenge assumptions and "the way it's always been" and are perpetually curious about their target audiences. Like Google and Amazon, the websites that know their users and tailor their presentations accordingly are able to draw users from page to page to learn and do more. They attract more visitors, impart more information, clinch more memberships, and drive more action and purchases. Not coincidentally, these websites tend to be cleaner and offer users more relevant material suited to their needs and experience levels.
- Answer questions. Like Google, websites should be organized and tailored to answer user questions. Users come to the Web to learn and get answers—often to questions they didn't even know to ask. The notion that websites should be serving up modules of learning tailored to users is alien to most organizations. That kind of unwillingness to adapt to the audience is why Yahoo, Infoseek, Altavista and other search engines failed while Google lives on.
- Test and refine. Knowing how to answer user questions requires knowing your users and how they navigate your website. Website analytics tools can help you dig in to learn about where visitors are going, how long they're staying and when they leave. Experiment with placement and wording of information. As we build each website, every step along the way is an opportunity to get feedback from the client's target audience to shape the most effective architecture and navigation tools. Incremental and continuous testing keeps us honest and stops us from making both big and little mistakes that result from faulty assumptions.