Organizing Web Content for Usability

By Sandeep Virmani

Readers generally move on to another Web site if they cannot easily find the information they need, so organizing content can help them find the information they are searching for and enable them to easily scan Web sites.

Online communication development in recent years has concentrated on a Web strategy that is based on concept and content quality. The content includes any type of digital information that is included on a Web page, such as text, images, graphics, video, or audio. In other words, anything that can be published is likely to be found across the Internet, Intranet, or Extranet.

There are four main aspects of Web usability that can help users get the right information without spending unnecessary time on Web sites that have a lot of data:

•Information architecture
•Content and Actions

Information Architecture focuses users on high-priority content, and helps them by organizing the content through correct labeling and grouping. This also helps the content to have the correct navigational scheme at each level. Information Architecture uses techniques like the inverted pyramid style of writing to present your content in a way that makes it easy to understand your Web site and company goals. The content focuses on the business goals, strategy, and tactics to support the flow of the content on the landing page.

Content Actions are triggered by “primary nouns,” which are the things that users can take action on or manipulate. Generally, users need one to three things to complete a task. For example, on any particular page, users might ask the questions “Where am I?” “What is this page about?” “What can I do here?” “Where can I go next?” Primary nouns help users understand the interface, know what actions are available and connect the tasks with the navigational model used on the Web site. Primary nouns also help to form the navigation models. For example, there might be hundreds of locations available. These locations could be viewed as a list, and users could perform the action of clicking the list view or using the search button.

Based on primary nouns, Web designers create scenarios for how users interact with the system and what they need while performing a certain task. Scenarios can further drill down to task analysis, which focuses on what users are trying to accomplish and how the task flow is organized, such as whether it is sequential or non-sequential. It is particularly important to deal with potential problems that might cause users to drop out or leave the task unfinished.

Content formation and task analysis focus on organizing screen elements for consistency. This can be tricky when you are defining a navigation system. A card sorting technique can help to ease this challenge and help in defining a good navigation system. With this technique, you write each content set or page on an index card or sticky note. You then sort the cards into groups based on how the content should be categorized, and you can also use the cards to group and organize your content based on user input.

There are three navigation systems that users use to interact with the content on a Web site: the Primary Navigation system, the Supplemental Navigation System, and the Multiple Navigation system. Each type of system is used at various stages to allow users to interact with content and the navigation flow. You need to be thoughtful while designing the navigation system so you can help users to move around in the Web site and to help them return to the place where they started.

Content presentation should use the Visual, Intellectual, Memory, and Motor method, which helps you provide answers to questions that make Web sites easier to use: Is it easy to comprehend? Can users find what they are looking for? Can users perform the actions they want? You also need to design for internationalization and use language that is easy to localize as you adapt the interface for users worldwide.

To summarize:
•Focus the user on high-priority content through inverted pyramid style writing.
•Organize all information into groups and labels, focusing on the task action for the user.
•Assign and plan the navigational scheme at each level through the card sorting technique.
•Present content in an easy-to-understand way while engaging the user.
•Validate the content and usage by using the Visual, Intellect, Memory, and Motor method.
•Make sure your design and wording is easy to localize.

About the author:
Sandeep Virmani works at Novell Software Bangalore as a Specialist UI Graphics and Visual Designer. He specializes in designing UI icons and prototypes, composite 2D Illustrations, graphics design, and branding design for software applications and products documentation. He is also an active photographer and won the first prize from India in 2007 for a photography contest (Windows into Asia) conducted by National Geographic and Sony Ericsson.