Content architecture is how tasks and information about those tasks are categorized and organized − whether it's one web page, or spread over dozens of pages. Good content architecture suits your users' needs and expectations so they can quickly find what they need.
Consider page length
- Users do scroll down the page
- Scrolls are better than pages when reading single articles or topics
Historically, content was broken down into smaller chunks and spread over numerous pages, as users did not scroll down. This is no longer true today. Although a user spends most of their time viewing information above the fold (the part of a webpage that is visible without scrolling), a strong scent of information prompts them to explore the rest of the page. Users need a reason to scroll. Organize your page structure in a way that highlights the most important information at the top, so that a user has an interest in reading information below the fold.
Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold.
During the Web's first years, users often didn't scroll Web pages at all...Today, users will scroll. However, you shouldn't ignore the fold and create endless pages for two reasons:
- Long pages continue to be problematic because of users' limited attention span
- The real estate above the fold is more valuable than the stuff below the fold for attracting and keeping users' attention
So, yes, you can put information below the fold rather than limit yourself to bite-sized pages. In fact, if you have a long article, it's better to present it as one scrolling canvas than to split it across multiple page views. Scrolling beats paging because it's easier for users to simply keep going down the page than it is to decide whether or not to click through for a next page of a fragmented article. But no, the fact that users scroll doesn't free you from prioritizing and making sure that anything truly important remains above the fold. Information foraging theory states that people decide whether to continue along a path (including scrolling path down a page) based on the current content's information scent. In other words, users will scroll below the fold only if the information above it makes them believe the reset of the page will be valuable.
Although people weren't used to scrolling in the mid-nineties, nowadays it's absolutely natural to use the browser's scrollbar. For a continuous and lengthy content, like an article or a tutorial, scrolling provides even better usability than slicing up the text to several pages.
What do users hate more: long pages full of information that require lengthy scrolling or having to drill down through multiple—albeit shorter—pages to find what they need? Ask them, and they’ll often say, "We hate scrolling." But usability tests say otherwise. Folks don’t seem to mind scrolling, as long as they believe that it will eventually pay off.
In the trade-off between hiding content below the fold or spreading it across several pages, users have greater success when the content is on a single page. However, if you’re going to go with longer pages, you’d better make sure that your users can easily find the information they need.
Create pages that are easy to scan. That have a consistent structure. That allow users to jump right to where they want to be.
We don’t go to a page, see useless and irrelevant content, and scroll out of the blind hope that something useful may be hidden 5 screens down. What we find at the top of the page helps us decide to continue scrolling, navigate to another page, try another site, or abandon the task altogether. […] Users can be encouraged to scroll by giving them good reason to do so. Visual elements can draw the eye down the page. Compelling content can draw the user in. If the most interesting information is at the top of the page, users may be enticed to visit the bottom of the page as well.
Organize your content
- Categorize your content
- Prioritize your content
- Organize your content in a consistent structure
Organize your content by topic, task, or audience to best suit your user's needs. Each user is there to complete a task; ensure your categories always lead to a task. Organize your content so the most popular tasks are the easiest to find. Keep the structure simple, logical, and consistent so users quickly become familiar with it. Users can then navigate through your content quicker and easier. For example, use numbered steps if the content is procedural, and the user needs to follow each step from start to finish.
Remember that web users are task-oriented: they come to a website with a goal in mind. Information organized by topic or by frequent tasks is often easier to navigate because it immediately addresses what people seek. […] Audience-based navigation demands additional cognitive effort from users, as they must determine which category to choose, what information to expect in each category, and whether there is other useful information in different audience groups. It forces users to identify themselves instead of presenting topics upfront. But by ensuring that categories are mutually exclusive, and that there is sufficiently unique content to justify a new section, designers can reduce the risks of this type of navigation.
Organize your page structure
- First – conclusion, summary, or task
- Second – supporting information
- Third – background and details
When organizing the information on a web page, place the most important information at the top of the page where users can easily find it. The rest of the information should then follow in order of importance to your users. Start with the conclusion, summary, or task, followed by supporting information and, finally, background and details. This is known as the inverted pyramid methodology of writing. It is also important to keep your page structure simple and consistent with your overall content structure. Refer also to, Page length and scrolling
Provide content at the point of need
- Provide just the right amount of information in a specific context
- Provide all the information that is important to complete a specific task or a segment of a task
- Do not duplicate content
Providing information “at the point of need” means placing the right amount of information – no more and no less − in the context where a user would expect to find it. To provide information at the point of need, you need to know what information users would expect to find together in one place to help them complete a task and what information they would expect to find in a different context, without loss of meaning. You must also effectively balance it with the principle of progressive disclosure; refer to Present information gradually though progressive disclosure.
Requirement to provide content at the point of need does not mean you can duplicate content! Refer to Reuse, recycle, and reduce content.
Present information gradually through progressive disclosure
- Limit the number of choices
- Do not overwhelm users with too much information at once
- Introduce extra information gradually
According to usability expert Jakob Nielsen, progressive disclosure improves three of five usability components: learnability, efficiency of use, and error rate. Progressive disclosure reduces complexity of user interaction as well as their cognitive load; it helps with decision making and increases efficiency and ease of use of the interface. To apply this principle effectively:
- Focus on the information the user needs to complete a specific task
- Provide the right level of detail at the right time; consider if you should move from abstract to specific, from basic to expert
- Limit the number of choices to reduce potential confusion
- Don’t overwhelm users with too much information at once; they will waste time trying to figure out what information is relevant or what links to click on, amidst the many options
- Make additional information available within reach
The following example is taken from the structure of a furniture store website.
|Ineffective group of information||Effective use of hierarchy of information||Limit the options|
|Don’t dump all the different types of information you have in one place without any order or grouping; this overloads and confuses the user:
||Do use hierarchy or other methods of grouping to represented different types and levels of information:
Do limit the number of options a user has to make up front; more options can be presented within reach, after the initial choice is made:
The term cognitive load was originally coined by psychologists to describe the mental effort required to learn new information. Though web browsing is a much more casual activity than formal education, cognitive load is still important: users must 'learn' how to use a site's navigation, layout, and transactional forms. And even when the site is fairly familiar, users must still carry around the information that is relevant to their goal. For instance, when planning a vacation, the users’ cognitive load includes interface-related knowledge and specific vacation-related constraints that they may have (such as price and timeframe).
When a computer can't handle our processing demands, we can simply upgrade to a newer, more powerful machine. But to date there's no way to increase the actual processing power of our brains. Instead, designers must understand and accommodate these limits.
Researchers have often debated the maximum amount of items we can store in our conscious mind, in what's called our working memory, and a new study puts the limit at three or four.
Working memory is a more active version of short-term memory, which refers to the temporary storage of information. Working memory relates to the information we can pay attention to and manipulate.
The mind can only sort through so many options and make so many choices before it starts to run out of steam.
Write in complete blocks
- Write each page as if it is the first page users read; ensure it can stand on its own
- Create a separate page for common and supporting information, as needed
Site visitors do not access the same web pages during every visit, nor do they access them in the same order during every visit. For this reason, write each web page so it can stand on its own. Don't make assumptions as to what users have previously read or will subsequently read. Web usage is never linear.
In some instances, you need to repeat phrases or sentences across many web pages so that the information on each page is complete. If you repeat a lot of supporting content, you may want to create a new page for that information and link to it from the other pages or you may have to reuse and recycle content in another way.
When we look at a webpage, we tend to see it not as a whole, but rather as compartmentalized chunks of information. We tend to read in blocks, going directly to items that seem to match what we're actively looking for.
An eye-tracking study conducted by Nielsen revealed an eye-movement pattern that could further support this idea that web users do indeed read in chunks: We swipe our eyes from left to right, then continue on down the page in an F-shaped pattern, skipping a lot of text in between.
We can do several things to accommodate these reading patterns. One strategy is to break up long articles into sections so that users can easily skim down the page. This applies to block reading (because blocks of text are denoted by headings) as well as the F-shaped pattern, because we're attracted to the headings as we move down the page.
Know when to alphabetize
- Organize information by priority, importance, and popularity – not alphabetically
- Alphabetize only when the users know the exact wording of all the options
Alphabetizing content is rarely a good idea. It is successful when the information has stable naming conventions, like people's names, or geographical locations. All other information is best organized by priority, importance, or popularity.
If the user is unsure which letter their desired information falls under, then his or her experience with your content is the same as if it were in random order.
...you can let the importance or frequency of use guide how you prioritize long listings rather than default to less-useful alphabetical sorting...But typically, when you reach for an A-Z structure, you should give yourself a little extra kick and seek out something better.
(Alphabetical order is good) only if the users knew the wording of the links. The exact wording. This works well for people's names, states, cities, car models, and sports teams.
Where it falls apart is for things where users may not know the exact wording. In that instance...they must scan every link to make sure they can see what is relevant and what isn't. The moral of the story: Unless you can be absolutely sure that users will know the exact terms in your list, alphabetical order is just random order.
- Do not create extra pages of content (such as FAQ's) to compensate for lack of order and structure of old content
- Edit and re-organize existing content to help users find the right information quickly
- Provide answers to users questions in context with related information
FAQ pages are often created as a band-aid solution to an otherwise messy content environment. Contrary to improving discovery of important information, FAQ's are generally not user friendly. They tend to:
- Separate information from the context in which it needs to be understood
- Duplicate information
- Make users look for information in multiple places
Since most FAQ's are long and contain varied information, users find them frustrating They have to go through a long list of questions without knowing if they can find the answer they need. Also, multiple pages equal more waiting time, as each page has to load.
In general, users’ questions are best answered in context with other information on the same topic. Instead of having multiple pages on a single topic, find where the content already exists. Restructure the page to include the necessary information. Do not create an extra FAQ page.
How you organize the page depends on the page content and the users. For example, procedures and processes are best organized by tasks. In most other situations, topical organization can replace questions and answers. If you feel that your information is best organized with questions and answers, ensure the page breaks up questions into logical topic sub-sections, and has a meaningful and descriptive title.
|Tasks||Topics||Topics then questions and answers|
|Apply for child benefits online:
||Child and family benefits overview:
||Child and family benefits overview:
Frequently asked questions usually aren’t questions asked by the reader, but rather are important information dumped in the FAQ section by the content editor. In most cases, FAQ content is not where users expect to find it, which makes users’ experience frustrating and less than informative.
If you’re thinking about adding FAQs, consider reviewing the content on your website that is generating questions and think about how you can change the content or design to answer the question — or provide an answer in context to prevent people from visiting an additional webpage to find the answer.
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