Working as an interactive architect, I get to do a lot of different studies and research activities (that likely fall neatly into the “things-I-think-are-cool-but-most-people-think-are-nerdy” category). One task I personally really enjoy is doing content analysis. This typically entails taking a snapshot of all of the content on a website, and organizing it in a flat file (usually Excel) and reviewing it. The purpose is to provide an aerial view of the site, and, in the end, to more easily identify content gaps and abundancies, as well as a plethora of other pieces of information that, again, falls into the aforementioned category.
To be sure, evaluating all of the content on a site and figuring out it’s successes and failures is not an easy task. I’m constantly finding new ways to be wrong – and new ways to approach the whole event. In researching for a project I recently worked on, I came across an excellent article by Fred Leise entitled Content Analysis Heuristics. One particularly pertinent statement I found in this article is regarding audience relevance:
Content organization allows different audience segments to easily find relevant content.
While this sentence seems fairly straightforward, I’ve found that time and time again this is a really challenging way to think about content. As content administrators, we are far more likely to group information based on what makes sense to us, or who is in charge of the data, or what department that particular information falls into, as opposed to using the mental models of our constituents.
It seems almost too easy to forget that most site visitors don’t have much insight into the way an organization groups information or what department is in charge of what.
To combat this, I’ve started using a really simple technique. Whenever I find myself traveling down this road, though, I stop and ask myself “what would a user do?” It’s just a little litmus test, but it keeps me on track, and it stops me from making decisions based on assumptions.
Try it for yourself – I’d be willing to bet that it changes the way that you make choices on your website. At worst, you’ll waste a few seconds; At best, your users will walk away with a much better experience.