Of the three types of work that go to make a website – editorial, design and coding – editorial must come first. I would say that, wouldn’t I? But here’s a case study to show what I mean:
A small charity website had grown rather haphazardly. No-one had had much time to think about it and now they wanted a new site. “Wait a minute”, I said, “Let’s see what we can do before you go to a designer or a coder.”
We identified four areas I could work on:
1. The home page consisted of two paragraphs of text describing their activities. The only textual link was an invitation to contact them.
2. The navigation menu was long, because so many items had been put at the top level, and it was taking up a lot of space at the top of each page.
3. Some of the pages were very long because more and more information had been added over time.
4. Photographs had been uploaded into Galleries, a top-level link, with little text or explanation of the photos’ relationship to the rest of the site.
I set about these four weaknesses. As so often with websites, the solutions overlap:
1. Why should users contact you? You need to give them a reason to do so. I broke up the information on the home page into shorter paragraphs and bullet points so that users could see more clearly what the charity offered. I added links on the page, reinforcing those in the main menu, to take users to pages about the charity’s activities.
2. It’s tempting to put a lot of links at the top level, but it’s a myth that everything you offer must be accessible in x number of clicks or touches. You have to prioritise, otherwise users are simply confused by the wealth of choice.
3. You can break up a long page by making it a landing page. You might call it a section or category page. On the page about the charities’ main activities, I removed the detail of each activity and put it on a separate page, with the photographs that related to it.
I kept a brief summary of each activity on the landing page with a link to the page about the specific activity. That enabled users to see what was on offer at a glance and to click or touch through to details of the one they were interested in.
4. By putting the photographs with the activities they illustrated, we’d got rid of Galleries as a separate category and top-level link. Some other items that were in the menu could be put under the heading “About us”. We reduced the number of top-level links to five. That made the navigation logically easier to take in and visually clearer.
I changed hardly a word of text. The editorial work involved restructuring the existing information, which improved the navigation, and changing the layout on some pages to make the information easier to take in.
Now that the website had a clearer focus and was more usable, the charity could think about improving the text, bringing in a designer and coder to make the site look more up to date and introduce new features. The important thing was to do the editorial work first.
I would say that, wouldn’t I? If you think I could help you with your website, I hope I’ve given you enough reason to contact me.