Bob Johnson, our consultant on the Carewords project, sent me some updated information on their findings on what makes a Web site effective:
- Website management is about managing tasks, not content.
Do you know what people want to do when they come to your site? Helping people complete tasks should be the driving force behind initial site design and ongoing site management.
- Navigation is more important than looks
In Carewords surveys in any type of organization (government, private firm, higher education) it is rare for people to complain about the "visual appeal" of the website.
In almost every case, the primary complaint is about "confusing menus and links" that prevent task completion.
- It is impossible to create good navigation without knowing the tasks that bring people to the website.
It is impossible to know those tasks without asking web visitors what they are. Survey first, design second.
- Edit, Edit, Edit
A content management system (like SB3) is a mixed blessing as it often leads to content proliferation without regard to whether or not the content helps people complete tasks.
Too much content is dangerous to effective navigation and search.
Content creators should ask themselves a simple question: what task am I helping people complete by creating this content?
Much content is created but little content is ever reviewed and removed. To start, use Google Analytics or a similar program to identify pages on a website that are seldom if ever visited. Why are they still on the website?
- Brand reputation and Web experience is linked
Brand reputation depends in no small part on the experience people have on your website.
People who can't easily complete the tasks they wish to complete on your site will not hold your brand in high esteem no matter the snappy tagline, beautiful pictures, or success stories told.
While this xkcd cartoon pokes fun at most university Web sites, there's a lesson here for all ANR Web communicators. Take a quick look at your Web site or blog. How many times do you use the words I, we, and our?
Now how many times do you use the words you, your, or local?
Where are programs and services related to your top search terms?
Now, who do you think your Web site serves?
A couple of years ago, with the help of Bob Johnson, we surveyed a sample of our county clients about the information they're looking for on our Web sites. What was illuminating about the survey results, was not really the data, as it told us a lot about what we already know. Rather, it spoke to how little regard we give to this information when designing navigation and creating content.
You can get a quick snapshot of what your clients care about by comparing the Carewords survey results with search term results from your site. Those two sources will give you a good idea of what information should appear "above the fold" on your site. You can pull search terms using either Smarter Stats or Google Analytics. Hey, if you're feeling adventurous, you can do both!
Once you've made some decisions about page placement and navigation, look at the voice of your content. If you're writing from inside your perspective rather than an understanding of what your program can deliver to your clients - you're missing the boat.
There seems to be a bit of buzz building about the release of Site Builder 3.
The Toolkit Web site is one of the sites testing Site Builder 3 and so far we've been happy with the results.
I've sat in on two Site Builder 3 training sessions - and an often-asked question is "Will there be a migration tool so we can just 'move' our site to Site Builder 3?" While the WAT promises a transition tool in the future - I would challenge folks to think of the transition as the prefect opportunity to re-think their Web sites.
Rather than simply moving your current site organization and navigation over, this is a good time to think re-focusing your Web site in a more customer-centric way.
If you're not happy with your current Web site - this is the perfect time for a fresh start.
Evaluate your current home page.
- Does it reflect customer needs or is it simply a reflection of your administrative organization?
- Does it contain the information your clients need?
- Is the information easy to find?
- Is the navigation hierarchy in the order of what your clients think is important - or what you think is important?
- Have you simply defaulted to alphabetical listings to avoid the whole issue?
The Carewords data can help you make informed decisions about placement on a page.
Statements about what you do are less important that statements about what you can do for your clients. Keep these key customer questions in mind:
- Why is this important to me?
- How does this help me?
- What have you done for me lately?
You don't need to re-do your entire site. Much of your current content can be copied and pasted into your new site using your new navigation and organization scheme.
Next Friday, June 12, I'll be presenting a workshop on "Making Carewords Work for You" at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center in Rancho Cucamonga. This workshop was designed for Master Gardener content developers and web editors, but as a few spaces still remain, I'll open those up to others in the Division.
Last April, we surveyed our clientele to determine their web needs and preferences. This Carewords research revealed how our clientele use UCCE Web sites, the information they want, and what words on the Web page resonate with them.
By attending this workshop you will learn:
- 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.
Because of the hands-on nature of this workshop, registration is limited. Only 4 spaces remain open, so don't delay. Lunch will be provided. Credit card payments and departmental charges will be accepted. The cost of this workshop is $15.00 - which covers lunch.
Participants should bring a laptop computer with wireless internet capability so we can roll up our sleeves and get to work!
Unfortunately, travel support for the workshop is not available.
This is an encore presentation of the December 2008 workshop held in Davis.
And hats off to our host - Jackie Brooks - with the Master Gardener program in San Bernadino County!
By now we've all heard the mantra that visitors to Web sites don't read, they scan. This drives the need to keep your copy concise, the Carewords research, and the 10-second rule.
New research from Jakob Nielsen shows an even greater need to make sure your content gets to the point.
Nielsen's new usability studies show that on-line reading is characterized by an F-pattern. That is, people will read most of the first line of copy, but the portion of successive lines read will be increasingly shorter.
In fact, Nielsen's research indicates that only the first 11 characters of a word string are needed for most users to understand content.
When is this most apparent? When content is already abbreviated:
- Links and headings
- Search returns
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Product listings
- Lists of archived materials such as newsletters and media releases
For more information about the usability study - including examples of best and worst links, you can visit Nielsen's Alertbox.