I consume a lot of news.
I read the online editions of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times daily. One of my standard guidelines for good Web communications is consistently violated by the Los Angeles Times, and always adhered to by the New York Times.
It's simple: When directing visitors to a site outside your own, make it open in a new window.
You've worked hard to get those eyeballs. Why would you let them go to another site?
At the breakfast table this morning, it was politely pointed out that users could set their browser to do this. Yes, this is true. But you don't want to rely on the user a) knowing that they can do this and b) actually doing it.
In today's LAT there's an article about the 40th anniversary of the children's book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In this story there are three external links. The first directs the reader to the LA Times Festival of Books site. Almost not worth mentioning, as the festival is coordinated by the LAT.
The second, however, is a reference to an article about The Very Hungry Caterpillar in Newsweek. Why, would you let your readers stray over there without an easy way back? (The "back" button doesn't count.) You're reading news; you're directed to another site with news. It would be very easy not to come back.
And the third, a link to the author's Web site.
Now over at the New York Times, they're very careful about this. Sometimes even internal sites open in new windows. Here's a challenge - find an external link in the New York Times that doesn't open in a new window.
I'd love to know how many readers the LAT is losing for not paying attention to this very simple thing.
If you're using Site Builder, here's a refresher on just how easy it is.
And if you're working with straight HTML, it's easy as well:
A couple of weeks ago my post was about an article in the NYT about Marissa Mayer of Google. I neglected to post a link to her fascinating interview on the Charlie Rose Show a few days later. Of all of his interviews from Silicon Valley that week, I thought this was the most thought provoking.
Now, lest you think that all I do is read newspapers and watch TV, there will be no posting next week as I am off to the International Master Gardener Conference. Let's sell a lot of books!
Gerry McGovern's blog posting this week cites an interesting study conducted by the Open University in the UK titled "Search is now normal behavior. What do we do about that?"
After all the emphasis on navigation, I've often struggled with this. The Open University study opens with an often-repeated maxim: "Search represents a failure of navigation." I couldn't disagree more.
As search engines have become more powerful and better able to deliver relevant results, it's little wonder that it has emerged as the dominant method of finding one's needle in a haystack.
And so it goes that it seems like more emphasis is now placed on search engine optimization than navigation. In order for search to be effective, content developers need to pay even closer attention to those key words and phrases that resonate with their audience.
The study finds the classic pattern of "sharp peak, long tail, and persistent themes." This classic pattern is echoed in our own Carewords research:
- A small number of popular terms
- A large number of infrequently used terms
- Even in the long tail, the most popular themes persist
A concept like Carewords not only helps you engage visitors once they're at your site, but it can help visitors find your site when using a search engine. While Carewords are not search terms per se, they are related. Not all search terms are Carewords, but many Carewords are search terms.
That said; ignore navigation at your peril. Bad navigation can cause a visitor to click off of your site faster than you can say "Google."
So what does a content manager with limited resources do? I would spend more time making sure you have relevant content that resonates and the most robust internal search functions you can. Make sure your basic navigation works, and works well, but don't get wrapped around the axel making sure every little possibility is covered via navigation.
You can read the entire study:
Earlier this week I was in a lively conversation about the role of the home page. If search engines are the primary way people find information on the web - what is the purpose of the home page?
The home page plays a vital role in branding - setting a tone through visual landmarks like color, fonts, and navigation themes. Your home page is also the key place for message delivery.
We also know that you have about 10 seconds to make an impact. People don't read on the web, they scan. So it's vitally important that information that resonates with your visitors be front and center of the home page.
(Hmmm - that sounds suspiciously like a Carewords plug.)
This morning I did a random scan of some Statewide Program Web sites and some UCCE Web sites - and here's what I found:
UCCE home pages are still largely organizing programs alphabetically. I know this method is the easiest way to avoid hurting anyone's feelings, but it's not the most effective use of your real estate.
Look at the Carewords data and make some hard decisions about how the programs you offer should be listed on the page. Also think about the words you're using to describe your programs. The words your clients care about may not be the words we use to describe ourselves.
Mission statements are important, but most web communications experts agree that they should not be placed front and center on home pages.
Likewise, lengthy descriptions of who you are and what you do are better served with a navigation link than space on the home page.
Beyond branding - the main role of the home page is to get people off of the home page and on to the information they're looking for.
How clear is your search box?
How clear is your navigation?
Many of these changes don't require a complete overhaul of your site - just some tweaking.
Speaking of Carewords - I've been thinking of offering workshops on how to use the Carewords data to improve the content of your Web site. These workshops will be intensive, hands-on workshops with limited enrollment.
These workshops will cover:
• Carewords results for your geographic area
• Words that resonate with your key audience and cross-over audiences
• We’ll individually analyze your current web content and suggest changes that you can make to create content with impact using the Carewords results
If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, send me an e-mail or post a comment.
The UC Delivers page has some of the highest traffic in the Division's Web presence and most ANR Web sites have at least one navigation link to UC Delivers.
These stories are powerful demonstrations of the value of ANR to Californians. But how can you make your UC Delivers stories stand out on your county or program Web site?
Here's a step-by-step way to easily focus on local impact through UC Delivers. I'm going to create a new link in the left navigation bar that connects to a new page listing the UC Delivers stories that I want to highlight.
This method is for Site Builder sites that are not using the Expanded Programs List option. I think most sites look neater and are easier to navigate by not activating the Expanded Programs List option. And you have more control over the left navigation bar.
1. First, create a new Program page. In this example, I'm using a test site for Tuolumne County.
My navigation link is going to be called UC Delivers in Tuolumne County, so I'm going to give my Program page that name too.
2. While you're in this window, you're going to write some snappy copy for this new page. I recommend using a variation of the copy used on the UC Delivers site as your introduction.
Now create direct links to the UC Delivers stories that you want to highlight. You can either use the existing story headline, or write a new one. Then make the headline a direct link to the story - not to the main UC Delivers page.
I recommend making the link open in a new window, since visitors will be leaving your site and going to UC Delivers.
Here's how the page on the Tuolumne test site looks:
And the link opens to this page:
3. I don't want this new Program page to appear in the main body of the home page, so I'm going to deactivate it.
Now this progam appears at the bottom of the Programs menu.
4. One last step in this window of Site Builder, is to copy the URL of you link and paste it onto your clipboard.
5. Now, go back to the Edit Home Page link and select "Edit Navigation Links."
Now you're going to name your navigation link and paste in the URL of the inactive program page you just created. Click on "Add a New Main Menu Link"
Type in the name you want for your link (it's called a category on this page), and paste in the URL of your new Program page.
6. Save the category.
You now have a new navigation link that appears at the end of your list of active links. Use the up and down arrows to move the new navigation link into the order you'd like.
7. As a final step, go to your Dashboard and re-publish your site.
If you'd like to see this example in action, you can view it on the Tuolumne test site. Keep in mind this site is a shell where I try things out - it's not a complete site.
One of the most useful books I've found on Web usability is Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. (No, I don't get a percentage, I just like the book.) Awhile back some ANR folks came back from the Stanford Publishing on the Web Workshop raving about this book. I read it and have been recommending it ever since.
Why do I like this book?
First, it's short - Krug states that he wanted the book to be short enough to read on a long plane ride. I can attest to that - I read it cover-to-cover on a flight from Anaheim to Sacramento.
Second, I'm a shopper, and he makes a great comparison between trying to find your way around in a bricks and mortar store and trying to find your way around a web site. Who hasn't gotten lost in Home Depot trying to find something? When you're on the Web, how do you find your way around? How do you overcome some of the "oddities of Web space" like "no sense of scale, no sense of direction, and no sense of location."
Third, it's funny - Krug's corporate motto is "It's not rocket surgeryTM" I like someone who can make me laugh while simultanously pointing out how wrong I am about something.
Now, granted, a lot of the navigation issues are covered if you're using Site Builder; but you'll still find a ton of useful information on topics like testing, how people use the Web, and why the home page is really out of your control. It helps you look at answers to some obvious (or not so obvious) questions like "What is this point of this website?" and "Is this content really necessary?" and put the answers to work.