We don’t cover enough metaphysics on this blog, so here’s something to ponder: If content is published but no one can find it, does it still exist?
We’re being tongue-in-cheek, but the point is the ecosystem where your content lives needs to support findability. Otherwise, you’re undermining your own success.
Architecture isn’t just for bricks & mortar
Effective findability on a website depends largely on defining a well-structured information architecture and intuitive navigation. This work usually falls to a user experience designer or a content strategist or, better yet, collaboration between them. Before determining how to bucket, label and display content, however, you’ll need to do some research during the discovery phase to inform your decisions. The goal is a site structure that minimizes the time and head-scratching users have to endure on their quest for content.
- Why and how do users come to your site? This needs to be answered with research, not internal hunches or assumptions.
- What are they trying to do or learn? Knowing the most common tasks and topics users seek will influence site structure, information hierarchy, and page content.
- What words do they use? Sometimes site navigation is baffling simply because the language used in key labels, buttons, and links doesn’t resonate with the audience. Think like a human and avoid industry-specific terms. If users know something as “bird feeders,” don’t call the section “avian nourishment dispensers,” even if your internal nomenclature says otherwise.
- What next steps do you want them to take? You don’t want to force users toward content the business values most (make a purchase, create an account), but you can build your site to nudge them in that direction.
Allow for serendipity
You cannot completely control the path users take through your content; it won’t be linear and likely won’t even start on the home page. Embrace that reality and find opportunities to surface content that balances business objectives with user needs and interests. While you give the audience room to choose their own adventure, there are ways to gently guide them too:
- Hero spaces – Feature your most enticing content in prominent areas to motivate click-throughs and refresh it regularly.
- Template elements – Design modules for information and actions that are most important to the business, such as persistent call-outs to sign up for a newsletter, contact a salesperson, or register for a trial.
- Cross-linking – Connect users to other places where they can dig deeper into topics of interest and discover more of your great content.
- Related resources – Highlight your best, most relevant content by recommending it to users who are already viewing material on the same subject.
- Strong CTAs – Eliminate dead-ends and make it clear what users can do next, whether it’s reading the next blog post, sharing feedback, or requesting more information.
Every page is page one
People will find you and your content through search, social channels, links from other sites, links in email and newsletters and so on. Once you’ve got visitors on your site, you want them to understand what else they can do and learn before they leave. That’s yet another reason why it’s so important they understand your navigation and labeling at a glance. Each page or piece of content needs to stand on its own as a starting point but also provide context within your larger brand narrative.
Before you develop something new, you should identify where that to-be-created content will eventually be published. If there isn’t an obvious area of the website, social channel, blog, etc., maybe it really shouldn’t exist. It’s worth going back to ask again whether the content has a clear business objective, is audience-relevant, is consistent with the brand, and addresses an appropriate topic.
Finally, you want to make sure the robots can find your content too. Quality content is the No.1 way to influence search rankings, but you’ll improve results by applying keywords to page titles, headlines and navigation labels; by following a URL strategy; and by creating metadata.
- Keywords – Sprinkling keywords all over pages no longer wins you points with Google search and can, in fact, do just the opposite. Instead, focus on keywords in places that site crawlers do notice: H1 tags, headlines, subheads, and navigation.
- Metadata – Writing a meta description for each page communicates valuable information to search engines and, in many cases, will be picked up as the text displayed with your link in search results.
- URLs – Structure URLs to mirror your site map and information hierarchy. For example, rather than http://www.domainname.com/deluxe-bird-feeder, use http://www.domainname.com/products/bird-feeders/deluxe-bird-feeder. This tells search engines more about your site’s content and also helps users orient themselves.
So, don’t just create quality content. Make it easy for users to find it, consume it and then find more.