Designing Content for the Caveman

Before I begin I want to emphasise that I am not saying dumb down your content as a few people mentioned when I spoke to them about this matter in a recent meeting. I am simply saying you need to allow your readers to taste the simplicity of your subject matter. Lets start with the "non-content" of a site, these are things that aren't really content but can have a huge effect on your end user experience.

Scanable Navigation Navigation is something that I have often battled to make effective in a design, more often than not I fall back to the standard links across the top or down the left hand site ... but sometimes I play around with navigation to make the design of a site more effective and hopefully increase the users exposure to the real content. There are currently three websites in my online design portfolio (I am currently redesigning how they are shown so there is just 3 not the 8 or 9 i want there) each with a unique but effective navigation, as with the portfolio site itself. Now that you've seen some samples of navigation I think you will be seeing that each has 4 characteristics; it is easy to read, easy to find, not made in Flash (or with excessive JavaScript) & doesn't have links that aren't needed. Once you get these 4 things correct your navigation will flow and help your site more than you think.

Snappy Loading The load-time of your site and its various attributes is something of high contention between designers, developers and web-site owners. Some argue that it doesn't matter how slow your site is these days as "everyone has broadband" - my message to these people is your argument is not only wrong but is also flawed in another way, if you go down the route of load time doesn't matter why would google webmaster tools now allow you to see how fast your site loads for their spiders? Answer: they wouldn't speed is important to both search engines and humans. As well as this factor there have been several studies that show you have less than 17seconds to grab the attention of your user before they walk away (hitting the back button), you need to load fast and grab the attention of the user (see the next main point for one way to do this).

Now we move on to the content itself, this is not written in stone as with anything on the web but following these points will certainly help increase the user experience and search engine robot experience.

Make Your Headlines Punchy! This may sound like common knowledge but the shorter, snappier and more creative your headlines and subheadings the more you will attract the user. However this doesn't matter if you don't make them look nice and of course use the heading tags <h1> <h2> etc. If you can master this simple point you will gain some nice attention from your users having captured their attention and the search engines will be happy that they can breakdown your content into various sections.

Know Your Audience! Now this may sound like a bit of a stupid point because as a designer, developer, copywriter or website owner you may think you know your audience. But do you really? Even if you've worked in a particular industry for many years ask yourself have you studied your audience, been given feedback on the design and content from your audience, and does your content centre around them or are you search engine heavy in design and content. This last point is really important because you should never ever focus on the search engine when copywriting, you should focus on the user, the readability of your content and attracting the users, it is only after you have done this you can begin to focus on external matters such as search engines.

When considering your content (as with creating you design) you need to ask yourself one very important question, and if the answer is "no" you need to go back and reiterate the content.

Does your content or design meet the exacting needs of your user?

Evaluating this can be a hard battle, the most common of which is the calls to actions on a site. The best way to test this is through a process of statistical analysis of all pages and the content as it changes, sound like months of hard work?  well it can be I admit but Google have a solution that you can use for AB testing - this is the Google Website Optimizer - be warned however that there is a fair chunk of coding to make this happen properly so you will need a developer to hand to make this happen. Having used this a few times I can tell you the results can be amazing and really help a site gain ground fairly quickly.

And finally...

Keeping Your Content Simple If you are using industry jargon or phrases that are overly complex then you are likely to scare away your users, add to this very few people will search your jargon-ised terms and you like me will be asking why make things complicated for users?

So you've read this article and you know a little more about how to make your site easier to use and how to grab and keep the attention of the user. In my view most of the above is the job of a good web designer, they should be able to juggle the complexity of a site with skill and grace to bring the best outcome. It is then the job of the website owner &/or a copywriter to draw the attention with headlines and content with a similar skill and grace.

Before I press publish I want to share with you a quote I found whilst researching this article:

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler" - Einstein