How to Evaluate Your Website: Content
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A lot goes into making a good website, so you want to make sure that whoever visits your site has a good experience. But how do you know if the website you’ve created or use is effective? You can perform your own usability test using the checklist below. This week's topic: Content.
25: Audience Adaptation
Know your audience. This is one of most important things you can do for your website. Understand who they are, where they are from, how old they are, what their interests are, what their expectations are, what their internet knowledge is, and so forth. This knowledge will affect your design aesthetic, word choice, images, technology, social media, and so forth. Spend the time to research, interview, and conduct case studies with people who are likely to use your website then adapt ALL your content to them.
26: Tone, Style, and Voice
Your tone, style, and voice will be affected by who you determine your audience is. But don’t go about determining these without thoughtful consideration. Remember that your website functions like a conversational robot: your visitors will ask it questions, and they expect those questions to be answered, but in an appropriate conversational tone. Is your tone serious or funny? Are you trying to alleviate concerns (like with a return policy) or get people excited (about the upcoming fair)? Will your headings be in third person (“How to Return Your Merchandise”) or in first person, as a question (“How Do I Return Stuff I Don’t Want?”) Every word choice matters and all the words and tone should be consistent throughout the entire site.
All content needs to be up-to-date. Nobody likes going to a website that is out-dated (and remember that in internet years, anything over a year old seems outdated). If you have a copyright date in your footer, make sure it is the current year. If you have news articles, make sure they happened within the year. Don’t leave old promotions, coupons, or other ads on your site. Keep the content fresh and keep making changes to entice your visitors to come back.
28: Page Names
Every page should have a name. When someone clicks on a link called “Women’s Shoes,” they expect to be taken to a page that is named such. Don’t let your visitors guess if they clicked on the right link: show them by naming, with a large heading, the page they are one. This gives reassurance and confidence. Make all page names match the link name that took visitors there.
29: Happy Talk
“Happy Talk” is a term that web usability guru Steve Krug uses to describe text that blabbers on about the organization, especially on the homepage. Think about it: if you go to a plumber’s website, and on the homepage there are six paragraphs explaining how their service is great and they’ve been in business for 35 years, and it is a family-owned company, and blah, blah, blah, would you read it? Maybe, but not if it was written in six paragraphs. You need to be credible, but you can’t write a bunch of text thinking that people will actually read it. Most will not. And the text ends up making your page seem busy, which in turn makes it lose credibility (see #12).
If your website uses a blog or updates news on a regular basis, pay very close attention to the headlines. You want to grab attention, so think of phrases that will actually get people to read the content. Check out CNN.com or ESPN.com to see how they have mastered this.
Content needs to be organized into clear chunks. When you have pages that have multiple paragraphs, be sure to separate them with headings. And don’t make your headings “float.” In other words, don’t leave equal space above and below the heading (which makes them not look like headings, but rather comments between paragraphs). Make your headings flush against the paragraph below it without extra space. The extra space goes above.
Typefaces are important for readability and for site personality. But don’t go crazy with them. Most websites use a sans serif font (like Helvetica, Arial, or Century Gothic) for the content. You might want a different font for the headings. But don’t use a font that most people wouldn’t have on their personal computers and don’t use more than two fonts for your entire website (with the exception of your logo’s font, which would count as a third).
This might seem like a no-brainer, but make sure that your content is relevant to your audience. If you are a pharmaceutical company, you don’t need a photo gallery of the national parks close to your business. The content won’t seem to mesh with your site’s purpose, and visitors will find it strange, annoying, and unprofessional. Only put on content that visitor’s likely came to the site for in the first place.
34: Content Load
Be careful of content overload. Remember that people skim and satisfice. If you put too much text or too many images, people will fill lost in the amount of content. And, as a result, they won’t read any of it. Give information in chunks, in short sentences and phrases. Too much information on a website ends up being no information at all–because no one will read it.
35: Linked Documents
Sometimes an easy way to not create pages is to have your visitors link to PDFs and Word documents. But this can be annoying, since people have to download them and many visitors are wary to download anything from the web. You should give your visitors the option to download PDFs (like for a brochure) if they want, but also try to provide all content in text on the site itself as well.
36: Image Content
Images are just as important, if not more important, than your text. People will see photographs first, so make sure that they are relevant, professional, and related to your content. Make sure that they are cropped appropriately to highlight the most important element in them.
37: Image Resolution
All images should be 72 pixels per inch. This is a low-resolution file size that loads fast on the web. If you are loading images straight from your digital camera, chances are they are 300 pixels per inch. If your site is full of a bunch of high resolution photos, it will load very slow. And most visitors won’t wait more than three seconds for a page to load. That’s right, THREE seconds!
All sentences should be short and to the point. For most commercial and non-profit websites, you want your text to be written at a six-grade reading level. This doesn’t mean to write like a sixth-grader, but rather it should be written so that just about anybody could read it.
39: Grammar, Mechanics, and Spelling
Don’t have any errors! If this isn’t your strong suit, hire someone to edit your pages. Nothing looks more unprofessional than errors.
Use punctuation sparingly on websites. Websites aren’t typically the place for fancy prose, which requires a lot of semicolons, colons, and dashes. Also, exclamation points are usually annoying, so avoid them as well.
40: Lists and/or Tables
Remember that people read quickly. Tables and lists are good ways to separate, chunk, and shorten content. When you have a lot of a paragraphs, see if you can actually put the content into a list or table. People are much more likely to read it if it is.
There is a bit of a misconception that multimedia (particularly videos) add value to your website. While videos certainly have a purpose and there are great reasons to put them on your site, don’t post videos just to have videos. When you think about your visitors wanting to scan information, realize that videos are even worse than a lot of text because there is no good way to skim a video. Look at your videos and determine to yourself: would actually want to take the time to sit and watch this and am I confident that by spending the time to do so, I’d get all that I was hoping for?