Archive for the ‘information architecture’ Category

To Function Well, We Need to Be Part of a Network

You probably know the old adage that word of mouth advertising is the best, and I wonder if we can equate social media to simply being a new form of this method. How can our websites be structured to function in this social network?

I do not think that any social networking site provides the best option for any small business when it comes to marketing. These networking sites are only a piece in the puzzle. When you step back a moment, you will readily know that fact, but we seem to become overly enticed (excited) by the idea of finding or expanding our customer base on these sites.  Somehow we believe that the internet is different. We can make connections easily, which in turn we feel may lead to new opportunities. We know if we walk into a room of five hundred people and we begin to deliver our elevator pitch that few of those people will become customers. It takes more work than that, yet we seem to feel that this will happen on Facebook or Twitter.  I am being slightly negative here, because I do not want you to think that this post is a secrets of social networking revealed. Anyway, those posts never tell you anything that you do not know already. What I would like to do is discuss how you might connect your business site into this network.
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Of Sitemaps, Advertising, Links, and the User

Do you watch websites as they change? To keep the interest of our visitors, we engage in a process of trying to make our sites better, while also attempting to have our content found in search engines, but I wonder if we hold onto forms, because we think that the user will find them appropriate.

I notice that quite a few websites have been changing. Other websites seem old and stale. Do our customers notice? I ask this because I often go directly to the content of sites that I am familiar with. Most of us do not explore new sites, but rather visit a certain set of sites. We need the familiarity to navigate through easily, but change in the site keeps our interest.  We have the forces pulling at our site; moreover, small business sites have to catch the eye of the new user (customer) on a budget.  When looking at my own site, I questioned the usefulness of every element, which led me to a change in the design.
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Using Space: Making the Most of How Your Website Is Displayed

Do you look at your website, and think: I could add this cool widget on the side, or how can I use that footer? Have you considered how your website appears on a mobile device?  Making the most of the site may mean considering all of the space viewed on the screen.

We have a problem when it comes to web design. On the one hand, you want a new user to move through your site to their goal in the hope that this will benefit you.  This means that we do not want them to think about the architecture. On the other hand, when we create for the lowest common denominator, we produce an environment that does not engage the user. To engage the user helps them to buy into the site, I feel. You may remember from a writing class a statement declaring do not write down to your audience; you will loose them. Of course then they taught you to write in a style which fit with the standard style. Unfortunately, my love of structurally complex sentences was not proper in this style. Not writing down meant word choice rather than structure. Going back to the idea of architecture, we can use the idea of a house as a good metaphor for a website.
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Guiding Consumers to Their Goal

Consumers want to be informed, but they also want to obtain their goal easily. How do you create a website which allows exploration while permitting a quick transaction?

I have a situation. I want to buy a product that is intangible, and I want to go through the process quickly; however, like many consumers, I want to know that I am getting something good. This could be any service product, but I am thinking a long the lines of electricity service, a website hosting provider, or a social community site. In each of those cases, I receive a service, but I do not really interact with it. They are services which are in the background of my life. I was specificly looking at the sites of various electrical service providers when I realized that one site appealed to me because its design allowed me quick access with three basic buttons.
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Guiding Users through Appropriate Tagging

What do your post tags say about your site, and do they help the visitor find what they are seeking?

Using a related posts feature can help with internal link building; however, many WordPress users complain that no articles are being shown. When one person was griping about this fact, I went to her site to see what was happening. I noticed a few things about the posts, and I tried to help her, but she decided not to listen. When going to some other blogs, I found the same issues cropping up yet again. I decided to compare sites that were successful in guiding users to other posts, and sites which do not do so well. A main problem that I found involved how the articles were tagged.
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Internal Linkbuilding

We leave our website’s url all over the net to build links, but we forget how important it is to build links internally.

I was running SEO SpyGlass to examine my links and that of my competitors. After running a report on semrush, I thought upon my site’s architecture, and how different users move via internal links on that site. External link building is improtant, and new site owners are geared towards building those links; yet they forget that internal links within their own site can help them out. One fact which struck home when looking at the semrush report is that pages are ranking well for a given term; however, these were not always the page or keyword that I wanted to emphasize. I began considering how I want people to move through my site, and how they actually might wish to use the site.
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A lesson in designing the User Interface on your site

Why does a user come to your site? Is a new user able to accomplish that task quickly? Maybe my wife should check out your web presence.

I wanted to relate an experience that I had this weekend with my wife. She recently signed up for online banking. Now, to let you know, my wife does not deal with banks if she can avoid them. That has left most banking in my hands, and I am not comfortable with the fact. She should have her own relationship with a bank, in case something happens to me. The day after she had signed up for this wonderful way to bank, she goes to log into her account, but she cannot. In fact, she is quite upset about trying to navigate the site.

After a few minutes, she has decided that she is on the wrong site, so she is about to leave. I step in to show her where the log in is located. My wife may be typical for many internet users. She knows her way around certain sites, but she does not go to many places on the net. She mainly checks her e-mail, and she goes to her employer’s site for various tasks. For a new site, she needs to see the navigation quickly, and the cues need to be written in clear language (her first language being Spanish). She was using a monitor that could handle a 800 pixel width easily (an older monitor) while the site was designed for 1000 pixels (which may be larger than many of the newer monitors that people have). There was a good deal of marketing on the site, but she is already a customer who is using the online account, so this marketing was useless/annoying to her. The login was at the top of the site, but she would have to scroll along to find it. This was not an action that she performed often. You may be thinking that this is obvious; that was my reaction, but then I considered the implication.

You will have different users coming to your site, and you have to shape calls for action to each group in such a way that makes their experience pleasant. In the case of the bank, I can guess that encouraging their customers to use online banking or other services would be a prime concern. It would reduce costs while increasing profit. I can also guess from their website that most of their customers do not use this service. This gives us two basic user groups that we want to satisfy: convince new users to expand their relationship with the business; and keep current users happy with the relationship to keep them using it. If the login is not in quick sight when the page loads, the newly converted customer will have the same reaction as my wife: why am I using this service? This could be followed by the answer: I do not need it. What do you want your customer to do? This is a call to action, and you need to place these calls in spots that any user will locate without effort.

Do want a visitor to become a regular reader of your site? Then have the means for them to subscribe to the feed or email newsletter where they will be sure to observe the action that they need to perform. When thinking about your site, write a list of actions you would like the user to do. Next, go over what their experience on your site will be like, so when will they perform this action. For example, will a visitor want to print an article after they have read it, or will they want to print it before reading it? This effects where you would place the print command. I give this example, because you may have several different calls for action on your site that will differ in importance. Printing a form that a customer needs to place an order would rate higher than printing an article about how they can order the item. Real estate on your site is expensive. You only have a few moments to capture a new visitor’s attention to keep them on the site. The visible part of the page should contain your most important calls of action, and here we have to consider what equipment will be used to access the site: an older monitor with a lower pixel width; on a plasma screen television; or on their phone. Cluttering your calls to action in one area will cause confusion, so give each space to breathe.

As I go forward, describing how to change a theme to suit your needs, think about my wife and others like her. There are many great things that you can do with your site, but it may not help the consumer.

Information Architecture and Your Website

Giving a site focus is vital to the user and it can help them hear your message.

How big will your website be? With a blog, where you are creating posts regularly, the articles that you upload need to categorized for people to find them. Imagine going into a library, and you know that you want to find a book on marketing for your small business. If all the books were arranged only by the date that they were published, you will not be able to find those books unless you sift through everything. By title or by author? Same problem continues, so libraries organize by category. However, some readers may want the latest published work, some a specific author, and some may know a title. There has to be a method to finding the post that the user wants. This is where the concept of information architecture comes into play. It is how content and data is structured on your site.

Even if you have only a few pages, and you are not adding posts, you still need to think about where information is placed. Sure you could save space by not creating another page and jamming content on the same page. For example, you decide to be kind to your customers by having a resources page on your site. Let us say that you are a landscaping firm, and you want your customers to know about the best places to find plants, seeds, fertilizers, and maybe even some lawncare equipment. You would also want them to contact you. Since you are a resource for them, you decide to put your contact information at the bottom of this page. We have two problems with this setup. First, the resource page is meant as a place where your customers can find services or content which is not coming from you. They will not look for your contact data there. Next we have a situation peculiar to how a web page is viewed. The user may not scroll down the list of links that you provided, so they never see your contact data. We want important content that we want to be seen to be placed “above the fold”. This expression means any data visible to the user when your page loads in a browser. Mainly this would be the header area.

Exploring this concept of “above the fold” can be a bit trickier than you might think. How your page loads can depend on the browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, or other) and the version of that browser (IE6 or IE8 load differently). Generally it is safe to say that the entire header will be above the fold. You will notice in the header of this site, I have my name and my phone number. Above the header I have my page navigation, so fixed content is quickly found. The latest published would be in the archives, while posts from a certain topic are listed in the category section. These are placed in the sidebars, because a user on a specific quest will look for them a bit more than a casual visitor. At this time, I am the only author, so I do not have an author’s page.

Hopefully you are thinking about how to organize your content, and at this point you should consider what content you will have on your site. If you go with a blog format, you may feel the need to post often. You may hit upon a topic that you are passionate about, but it has nothing to do with your business. For example, I knew that part of my readership at where other industry professionals. After having written a few articles about marketing and techniques for improving a website, I began to receive many inquiries on the topic, which inspired me to write posts about what I was doing. In my mind, that blog site was for experimentation, and I was happy to share to have these readers come back. These posts distracted other users though. My business was home inspections, so a possible client would come to this site expecting to find a post on that topic, but they are reading about how to create a survey on the web. I lost their interest. That is why I dedicated this site to my love of websites, while focusing on home inspections on the other site. This can happen on any site when you do not consider the focus of your content. Your small business has a focus, but the drive to create content may lead you away from that core idea.

Write down twenty aspects of your business. Can they each be a category or a fixed page? Could these be organized into a set of five to ten category items? These questions help to start shaping the structure of content on your site. You may want to write a list of twenty pieces of information that your clients should have. Where will this data go on your site. Can some be grouped together? This will be the beginning of your pages.

This post will start you on your way, but this topic needs more attention. I will give examples on other posts which will detail ideas expressed here. This step has to be done before you start your website. Having a clear vision of what you want to share helps your customer navigate your site, winning them over to you.

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