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Online Northwest Keynote: Why Good Content Must Suck

Does your web content suck? If not, maybe it should.

Web usability pioneer Jared Spool delivered the keynote address “Why Good Content Must Suck: Designing for the Scent of Information” at the Online Northwest 25th Annual Conference last Friday in Corvallis, Oregon. Here are some key points from Spool’s presentation. Keep these concepts in mind when developing your own web content or evaluating third party web resources for your library.

Informavores – People hunt for information online by tracking its “scent.” Have you heard the rule that no page within a website should be more than three clicks from the homepage, because people lose patience when they are forced to click through too many layers of information? This is a myth, according to Spool. The best sites have a lot of content but are easy to navigate. People do not mind clicking on several links as long as each link takes them closer to the content they are seeking.

Trigger words – These are the link words that suck people in, or to put it another way, terms that give off scent. Only about 40% of click streams are successful in getting web users to their desired content. Navigation panels are often not very useful because short, one or two word links do not emit much scent. According to Spool, seven to twelve word links (or links with annotations) are better because they are more likely to contain the specific trigger words that will draw web users into the site. Incorporating a search box gives users the chance to enter their own trigger words. Search logs can provide valuable insight about how people are using or trying to use a website.

Iceberg syndrome – Have you also heard that web users hate to scroll? This is a myth, too. Web users are happy to scroll unless they encounter a page with iceberg syndrome. Pay careful attention to content that appears “above the fold” on the part of the page that is viewable without scrolling. Web users tend not to scroll when they do not find any useful content above the fold, or when the content above the fold does not give a good indication of what is further down on the page. Other scroll stoppers include horizontal rules, big white spaces just before the fold, and tiny fonts.

Banner blindness – Thanks to commercial websites, users have come to subconsciously expect an advertising banner to appear across the top 15% of a web page. As a result, images in that area of the screen are often overlooked even when those images are links to core site content.

Information masking – Informavores look for patterns in the hunt for information. If they find the first few trigger words in a particular region of the screen, their eyes will be drawn to that region on subsequent screens. Other page content will be rendered less noticeable. To keep web users on the right track, navigation links should have consistent placement in the site design.

For more information about web usability:
User Interface Engineering – Jared Spool’s research firm

Usability.gov – comprehensive guidelines developed by the National Cancer Institute (includes information about accessibility and Section 508 compliance)

Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – By Steve Krug. A quick and very worthwhile read. This first edition of this book is available for request from the NN/LM PNR Lending Library.

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