How to Structure Your Website

Visitors skim read web-pages, seeking answers to their questions.  So don’t structure a website like a brochure, business report, or magazine article.  Instead:

Answer Vistors’ Questions

People visit your website for a reason. Usually they want their questions answered. So people typically:

  • Skim read your text, looking for an answer;
  • Spend about 30 seconds looking at your beautifully crafted page;
  • Leave your site within 2 minutes, if they don’t find an answer.

Characterise Different Types of Visitor

Around Cambridge Pragmatic’s product management approach is popular. Some of their models help produce better websites. The secret lies in understanding the people who buy, or influence those who buy. Understanding your product or service is less important. So:

  • Characterise different types of visitor in terms of “personas”. This means describe their goals, tasks, values, expertise, and more importantly, the different questions they ask. For instance, Geeky Gordon, Skint Simon, Facebook Fiona, or whoever is appropriate, are different market segments.

Pathway Pages point where to go

Pathway pages help visitors find the right content page. Note:

  • 10 word descriptions around a link may help;
  • Little text is actually read;
  • Visitors usually select the first link that looks half sensible.

Home Page

Home pages are a special type of pathway page. Home pages:

  • Set the style and personality of the site or your company;
  • Signal what the site is about;
  • Send every visitor off in the right direction – They know their answer isn’t on your home page.

The challenge is that home pages, being pathway pages, should not contain much text. Unfortunately, a good Google ranking requires good content, which suggests lots of text. For small business’ I usually summarise the whole website. In general:

  • Unless you are selling news, don’t put news on the front page
  • Use the words that visitors use to direct them to pages with answers
  • Focus on your visitors’s needs, not your company’s internal fiefdoms

Content Pages

Content pages provide the answers visitors seek. Imagine a giant F covering the whole screen. That’s where visitors look. Generally, visitors pay little attention to the:

  • Sidebars;
  • Banner across the top;
  • Anything above the banner.

Visitors do pay attention to the:

  • The first paragraph;
  • Top lines of the second paragraph;
  • First few words of subsequent paragraphs;
  • Key words at the start of each bullet;

Breaking up the content

Breaking up the content is tricky. Some ways are:

  • Persona: for instance, you might have different pages for different types, e.g. geeks, business managers, users probably have different questions;
  • Information Type: e.g. Can I?; How do I; Must I? type questions;
  • Sequence: enabling visitors to find the step that is most important to them;
  • Task: typically a single page for each task.