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5 ways to improve information-rich websites

5 ways to improve information-rich websites

 How to improve information-rich sites

Users of information-rich websites may find the website overwhelming, confusing, time-consuming and ultimately not worth the time and trouble.

This article is for anyone developing or maintaining an information-rich website (public or intranet) such as a:

  • corporate, educational or government site
  • trade association or special-interest site.

Information-rich sites contain lots of data and knowledge

Information-rich sites usually contain both:

  •  “data“, i.e. concrete information such as facts, technical information and instructions, and
  • knowledge“, i.e. abstract or complex information such as know-how, insights, theories, opinions, advice, etc.

The information is often communicated in a mix of formats: articles, posts, data sheets, ebooks, PDFs, videos, graphics, etc.. Whatever the format, there’s a lot of text.

What makes a good information-rich site?

It contains a great deal of information and the information is USEFUL, UNIQUE and USABLE.

  • Useful means the information helps your audience.
  • Unique means that it’s not available anywhere else on the web (at least not in the same way).
  • Usable means that the user experience is enjoyable: it’s easy to find, discover and absorb interesting information.

It’s an added bonus if your content is actionable and shareable, but that’s outside the scope of this article.

THE PROBLEM

Difficulties of information-rich sites

Information-rich sites have… too much information! For users, it can be an information overload.
Managing the content can also be challenging. Stakeholders may have very different opinions about which information is most important or what information is connected. Over time, classifications become muddied and categories become confused.
Information is often hard to classify Websites require a simple, easy-to-follow navigation, which is built by classifying content into clear categories and subcategories. Data (concrete information) may be easy to classify, but knowledge (complex information) is difficult to pin down into clearly-distinct categories and subcategories. So from the outset, it’s difficult to create the IA (information architecture) for information-rich sites. It’s even more difficult to keep content organized as new content is continually added.
Information is often subjective Even when information can be classified according to objective criteria, the way people think about information (especially complex information) can be very subjective.
User testing is open to interpretation User testing of some information-rich sites can be frustrating: users may navigate content in very individual patterns according to their interpretation of the information.
New content can mess up the structure As new content is added, it may not easily fit into the decided IA, which then needs to be tweaked and adapted.
Other issues
  • complexity of information
  • quantity and depth of information
  • different formats and templates for information
  • many different contributors
  • many different stakeholders
  • constantly growing content.

As a result, users of information-rich sites may find the site overwhelming, confusing, time-consuming and ultimately not worth the time and trouble.

How can you prevent that from happening? Unfortunately…

… redesigning your website won’t help!

Good design is crucial to represent your brand and drive user satisfaction. And yes, a redesign may be necessary when a site is outdated or performing poorly. But redesigning the interface won’t fix fundamental content issues like those noted above.

Be careful not to confuse web design with IA. Develop your content strategy and IA before any design work starts. The design should follow the architecture, not the other way around!

THE SOLUTION

5 ways to improve information-rich sites

Follow these 5 tips to minimize information overload and improve the user experience on your information-rich public or intranet website.

1. Revise your content strategy: focus on USEFUL and UNIQUE

2. Fix your IA: focus on USABLE

3. Make everyone accountable for UX

4. Create and produce content professionally

5. Review, revise and update content regularly

1. Revise your content strategy: focus on USEFUL and UNIQUE

The more complex the site, the more you need to rely on a solid content strategy. It should be the keystone of your daily content management, well understood, constantly referred to and continually implemented.

A good content strategy should include clear definitions and explanations of your company and website purpose, scope, goals, stakeholders, contributors and target groups as well as a detailed content plan.

Many content strategies are unfocused and generic. Bring new life to your content strategy by asking two questions:

  • “How can we ensure that every page of our site provides content that is USEFUL for its target audience?”
  • “How can we ensure that our site provides content that is UNIQUE?”

The content plan should also define the different:

  • levels and types of information (e.g. guidelines, principles, actionable information, passive knowledge, educational, operational, influencing, etc. …)
  • formats and templates used
  • target groups for different types of information
  • desired objectives/outcomes for different types of information.

If your content strategy includes multiple different and distinct purposes and target groups, consider making your homepage a portal to several self-contained sites.

2. Fix your IA: focus on USABLE

It’s never too late to review your information architecture. But don’t keep tweaking it to fit new content. If your IA needs frequent adaptation, or if you’re often unsure where to place new content, it’s a clear sign that your IA is not working for you or your audience. Consider doing a complete overhaul of the IA, including user testing.

See also: Top 5 tips for organizing website content.

When new content is planned, always map the content to the existing IA before even starting to produce the content.

Implement your IA rigorously. Every website should have a “gatekeeper”; an individual or team responsible for making sure that every piece of content uploaded to the site goes in the right place.

Note: an overhaul of the IA does not necessarily mean you have to redesign the whole site.

3. Make everyone accountable for UX

UX (user experience) is how a person feels when interacting with a digital product. The fundamental principle of UX is that if website users are not satisfied, they won’t like or use your site and/or they won’t like (or do business) with you.

UX is not “something for the techs to take care of.” All stakeholders and contributors need to identify how they are contributing to UX and understand how they can help improve it.

Educate them about online communication. It’s a guaranteed way to improve the website content and the user experience. Thus helping you achieve your strategic goals for your site.

For example, it helps if:

  • all stakeholders have a basic knowledge of the content strategy
  • content contributors know and understand the content strategy
  • content reviewers have at least a basic understanding of usability principles
  • contributors supervizing or providing written content have a basic understanding of the principles of writing for the web. This will help them provide better feedback on content produced by internal and external professional communicators.

Educating stakeholders and contributors doesn’t have to be complicated. Even a short workshop and/or simple internal communication can pay off in the long term.

4. Create and produce content professionally

Work with communication specialists to turn good information into effective communication.

Save time and money by creating standards, guidelines and templates for content. Use the standard templates for all new content. Ensure that contributors are familiar with the templates so that they prepare content appropriately.

5. Review, revise and update content regularly

Conduct regular content audits, review the analytics data and evaluate what content is working or not working. Revise, update and delete content accordingly.

Even a quick phone survey of selected users can provide valuable and actionable insights.

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BelEdit Consulting offers content strategy, content creation and training services for information-rich websites. More…

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