User attention is a finite resource. Once it’s used up, if they haven’t found what their looking for, they hit the dreaded “back” button and bounce off the page. You lose a sale. Sad trombone noises sound in your head.
Information Architecture is the discipline that critically examines your site/information and organizes it based on user preferences or around the activities they perform on site. When designing a new site this process is especially important, but shouldn’t be neglected as updates are made.
Organization is Key:
Your website is like your kitchen: when you move in, you put everything away in it’s place. The kitchen is spotless and well organized. It’s easy to find whatever you need. Then you buy a new mixer, and it needs to be on the counter because you’re sure that you’ll use it all the time.
Oh, the coffee grinder should be on the counter, too. You make paninis sometimes, so the press comes out along with the griddle. Soon, your kitchen is a disaster, and that original order is gone. You can’t see your mixer because all the other stuff is in the way. Clean and simple is the way to go when organizing your website layout.
Remember to Prioritize:
We worked on a website recently that exemplified this problem. The site is in desperate need of a redesign; it’s visual style is dated, but mostly it’s just hard to find anything as a user. We got an email that is symptomatic of just this type of problem. “I got a call from a user that couldn’t find the such-and-so button. Please make it bigger and higher on the page.” it read. Never mind that <10% of users need this functionality, the squeaky wheel would get it’s grease. Despite our protests, up went the button, pushing down featured content and overwhelming the navigation visually. The panini press went ahead of the mixer.
When you are designing or maintaining your site, keep in mind: people see everything in front of them, and have to sort it visually to establish priority and meaning. Be deliberate, and make sure the thing you want them to see is in a place where they can’t miss it.