Structuring Your Information

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How your site is organized is critical to your visitors and to search engine spiders. In general, WordPress does a good job of keeping your content organized. After all, that should be a core function of a Content Management System. However, you do have to put a little thought into the overall structure of your site.

One of the first things we ask clients who want to redesign their site, or develop a new one, is to have them create an outline of the pages or content for the new site. This forces the client to think about the structure and organization of the entire site from a 10,000-foot view. Including what type of content each outline item represents also helps in structuring the overall flow of the site. Using this outline, developers are able to stub out an information architecture of post categories, pages and parent pages that will align with client's outline and make creating the site a smoother operation. This also allows the client to see the layout of the site with dummy copy, like lorem ipsum, early in the process to make any structural changes as needed.

Once upon a time there was a golden rule for web sites that no page in your site should be more than three mouse clicks deep. This was back in the days when dialup connections were the most prevalent form of Internet access. Though we are not fans of deep sites, we are not sure if this rule is still true today. It is not that the attention span of the visitor has increased at all; in fact, it has probably diminished. And certainly broadband is more widespread nowadays, but it is not page load times that are affecting our opinion here.

The short answer is: search has largely replaced top-down navigation. In our opinion, people do not go to a web site's index page and run through the global navigation to find the particular topic, article, or product they are looking for. Rather, they go to a search engine. The search engine provides a link to the exact page, or as close as it can get, regardless of how deep in the site it is.

So, though we still favor "everything in three clicks'' as a design rule, it is only because it adheres to the K.I.S.S. methodology and makes your site easier to use. But do not think this is a hard-and-fast rule, and sites are far more complex and encompass more content than they did when this rule was in favor. Putting in effort to make your content easier to find through search engines, and then structuring the content itself with the "three clicks rule'' will jointly improve the user experience.

This is also the ideal time to evaluate what the individual pages or sections are titled. Here is a sad truth of web design: no one actually reads your content. In a 2006 study by Jakob Nielson (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html), the researchers found that visitors scanned the content of a web page in a very fast F-shaped pattern, meaning their eyes scroll down the left-hand side and skim the headers searching for the content they are looking for.

Again, this is not a blanket statement. Obviously, people do read the articles and content on web sites or there would be no reason to have them. But, when you are still trying to attract visitors and get them to stick around on your site, what should you take away from this study?

Headers matter. Headers should be concise and descriptive. Your content should start with the most important and evocative information and then get more in depth. They should also be properly formatted to use the different levels of HTML headers (more on this later). Headers should contain action words. They should be interesting and make visitors want to read your content, assuming that is your goal. Recognizing that visitors are scanning your site, having actions and descriptions in your headers will allow the visitor to get the overall gist of your page, help them find what they are looking for, and possibly entice them to read the rest of the section.

For example, which of these outline structures is more meaningful and interesting? > How to use WordPress

> Overview

> The Technology

> Software

> Hardware

> How to Get Started

Or this:

> Publishing your Content on the Internet using WordPress

> What Steps are Involved?

> Installing the Applications

> Configuring the Server

> Getting Started Publishing

As you can see, with the first outline, you grasp the general idea of the web site. But the second outline is much more engaging and draws you in with actionable tasks. You can also see the structure of the site, and how it flows.

Remember back in school when you had to write an outline with several levels of headings? This is the same endeavor. Your content should have structure and headings and supporting paragraphs. If a heading intrigues a visitor enough, he will read the supporting paragraphs. If not, he will scan on to the next header. Funny how school actually taught you things you can use in real life, isn't it?

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