Recently I’ve worked with a number of non-profits creating a redesign for their websites. All of these groups seemed to have a similar problem. Many businesses, both non-profits or otherwise, created their original web sites over a decade ago. The web site creator was a contract hire who has long since left the company. Since the page inception, data has been continually added to update and supplement the initial starting site. Everything sits on the landing page, all at once, and few things are deleted. The result is a cluttered page with valuable information hidden under a bunch of excess, much like antiques hidden under a hoarder’s clutter.
If we view the web page as a closet, simply envision this closet as new and empty when the owner moves in. Over the years the closet fills up. Occasionally some spring cleaning happens and an item will get thrown out. Most of the time however, when company comes over we hurriedly shove things to the back and pile the new items on top of the old. If this occurs for long enough, we eventually forget what we have and lose all the new things underneath the old.
For web content, this means a loss of vital calls to action and confusion for the consumer. Excess links and redundancies will drive users away from a web site that is otherwise up to date, accurate, and appealing. A frequent fear I have encountered is that in eliminating some of this clutter, we could be depriving the user of necessary information. Similar to a real life hoarder, it can become easy to be paralyzed by the fear of trashing something we would later need. To defend against unnecessary loss, here are some guidelines to help make smarter choices.
Create an inventory of content to get a true picture of exactly what your site consists of. An inventory can be done quickly with the Content Analysis Tool (CAT). An inventory provides the basis for an information audit and allows for a complete picture of all items on the site. A great inventory will include links, images, metadata, scripts, and errors.
It’s important to remember that not all information needs to be on the front page. Just like stacking plates in your cupboard, information has a natural order to how it fits together. By taking your information and sorting it into a hierarchy of data you can create intuitive paths for your users to drive them beyond the home page. Your categories will also prompt the creation of group titles which you can use to populate and structure the design of the landing page.
Personas may seem silly or frivolous, but beyond the fun of creating an imaginary person are the real world results that the definition and creation of personas can bring. A persona should be based on real life data, after research into what your user wants and needs from your site. Combining this research into a visible character will allow you to define the goals of an actual individual. Compare your content to this individual’s needs and decide whether to “keep or toss” based on how this user would react.
Clear the Clutter
Information hoarding is a disorder usually brought about by overly cautious web maintenance and fear of losing vital content. To prevent this clutter it is important to regularly “spring clean” your website through the smart use of inventories, hierarchies, and personas. A proper view of what your content is, how your content is organized, and why your content is important will keep your landing page clean and clear to the user.