Organising content for readability and user experience

Principles of good content structure

When we begin working with a new client, the very first thing we do is a baseline review of the website. This gives us an understanding of:

  1. why the client has a website in the first place, how they expect it to support the aims of the organisation and how they’d like to measure its effectiveness
  2. how well the website is performing against the client’s expectations, and how we can improve its performance

In this second area of “now we know what the site’s for… how well is it doing?” we look at four broad areas:

  • how easy is it to find the site?
  • how easy is it to use the site?
  • what’s the competition like? (How strong are competing websites and difficulty will it be to rank for our target keyword?)
  • how good is the site’s on-page technical health?

“Ease-of-use?” I hear you cry, “what’s ease-of-use got to do with SEO?”
Well quite a lot, as it happens.

First, Google uses machine learning techniques to assess how satisfying and enjoyable it is to browse your website, and includes this as a ranking factor. Second, at Cicada we don’t believe there’s much sense in driving people to your website if they can’t achieve their objectives once they’re there. Third, websites that are easy for people to read are generally easy for search engines to understand. And making life easy for Google goes right to the heart of SEO.

So as well as search engine optimisation we’re big on ‘conversion optimisation’ and the way in which your content is organised plays a critical part in this.

Today I’d like to share with you a slide that comes up in every baseline review feedback session that I’ve done to date: “Principles of good content structure”.┬áHere it is:

Principles of good content structureThis pyramid structure applies equally to the way pages should relate to each other on your website, as to the way content should be written on your web-pages.

Organising content across your website

First, let’s look at content at site level. Remember: people are pretty impatient when they’re online. They’re looking for something and they want it now. But in terms of their content needs, we can think of people as falling into two broad groups:

  • those who can make up their minds quite quickly, and need relatively little information, and
  • those who need detailed proof-points before they can make up their minds.

Your website needs to work equally well for both groups of people.

“Level 1” information is about pithy summaries, bullet lists, and overview paragraphs. Blog homepages are often organised in this way. Level 1 pages include category pages and any other pages that sit on your top-level navigation.

They should not provide detailed information, but they can of course provide helpful signposts to “Level 2” content.

“Level 2” content meets the needs of the second group of people. It also provides additional substance for the first group if they want to dip into it. Level 2 Information could include product pages, case studies, client stories, detailed descriptions of the services you provide, and blog posts.

Organising content at page level

Talk to any good journalist or copywriter and they’ll tell you that a great way to open a story is to provide a synopsis: tell the whole thing but in a very condensed way. Once you’ve hooked ’em with a brisk summary, they’ll be much keener to get into the detail.

Your synopsis might just be enough for the Level 1 folks who are bouncing around your site, sampling pages and getting a feel for your organisation. It’ll certainly provide a decent lead in for Level 2┬ávisitors.

Of course there’s more to it than that. For example, writing good content for online consumption requires liberable use of white space and sub headings. I came across the “three line rule” recently which says: for easy readability keep paragraphs to three lines deep, or less.

When we review websites it’s amazing how often we find ourselves being directed straight into deeply technical, complex content. Readers are often presented with great swathes of words, that are not broken up with sub headings or white space. It can be hard going!

Be kind to your visitors. Use shorter words where you can, and shorter sentences. Use a conversational tone-of-voice and you’ll be well away. Have we missed anything out? Tell us about it in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Organising content for readability and user experience”

  1. SEO Marketing Gold Coast24th October 2012 at 6:56 am reply

    Hi Ned,
    This is a very good article thanks. As a web developer (who never wanted to be a journalist!) I’m often having to “switch mental gears” from digging around in code to copy writing and dealing with site structure, so I will keep your very helpful diagram in mind.

    1. Ned Wells25th October 2012 at 11:23 am reply

      Hi there, glad to be of help!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.