I’m at the 2008 Information Architecture Summit where I attended a great session titled “Content Page Design Best Practices,” presented by Luke Wroblewski, Senior Principal for Product Ideation & Design at Yahoo!
I’ve tried to quickly summarize Luke’s points here, and provide some actions you can take today to improve the UX for visitors to your content pages.
In the process of building and maintaining a Web site, it’s easy to be internally focused and get hung up on site hierarchy. Much time gets spent debating where pages should be placed in the site, and which links win space on the homepage.
It is equally (or perhaps more) important to remember that pages are individual units that exist in the vast network of the Web. For each page of your site, you’ll find a unique mix of visitors that arrive from internal and external sources. The users who arrive from external sources are there because of a recommendation from:
- Friends or family (via IM, e-mails, conversations)
- Communities of users (through content aggregators like Digg or Del.icio.us)
- Other sites, blogs, or publications
- Search engines
All of these sources make a promise about the content on your site. The context of the recommendation leads the user to believe the answer to a question or solution to a problem is on that page.
The content of that page should therefore deliver on the implicit promise of the recommendation: this link will address your need.
Within the content page, Luke highlighted four types of information:
- Content – This is (or should be) the purpose for the page’s existence. It’s the reason users are coming to this page.
- Related – Additional information, links, and calls to action that are highly relevant to the main content
- Context – Elements that situate the content within the purpose of the site, such as the site logo, some amount of navigation
- Overhead – All of the other stuff that ends up on a page, e.g. advertising
The content should be the dominant element of the page. If you like hard numbers, calculate the percent of “square pixelage” dedicated to each type of information on your pages.
Related information and calls to actions engage visitors, but they must be highly relevant to the content of the page and the context of the visit. Presenting too many options can lead to decision paralysis.
Finally, the context elements should be the minimum amount necessary to answer the key questions “where am I?” and “what can I do?”
Here’s your assignment
- Go into your Web analytics reports and find the ratio of internal to external referrers for your content pages. Is it 80 internal to 20 external or the reverse? How well is your site integrated into the network? Pay attention to this and watch the trends.
- Pick some of your content pages with the most external referrers and investigate the pages users are coming from. What is the promise that is being made? Is the page they land on fulfilling that promise? If not, why not?