Writing hierarchical web content with clear objectives

Written by: jstiles

October 10, 2011

Writing hierarchical web content with clear objectives featured image

A website’s user interface ultimately needs to fulfil a purpose. Often it can have a single goal such as creating an enquiry or can often need to perform a selection of useful functions like searching, booking and purchasing. However big or small your requirement might be, well structured user interface design and a considered website content strategy will always come into play.

All too often we see websites that perform lots of tasks adequately, but rarely fulfil the objectives of a) the site user and b) the website owner.

Websites, especially business to consumer or business to business websites, need clearly defined objectives, backed up with simple user journeys in order to effectively complete visitor’s goals. It’s all well and good providing huge amounts of detail on what you do, who you are, where you work and why you are great, but without a clear call to action signposting visitors to your key objectives, this content (however painstakingly produced) becomes much less valuable.

What do you want your website to do?

Ask yourself this question constantly as you address the website’s design and structure and when writing the content. Keep the key objective(s) close by and remember them whenever you make a decision about the site. It’s easy to get suckered into feeling that everything is equally important – that you need to shout about all you have to say. Unfortunately from a designer’s perspective this is impossible to do effectively. You need to be strict, ruthless even, and concentrate on the key website objectives. This will help you understand and prioritise content in terms of the website design and content structure. Design techniques like the large ‘hero’ style banners are great on your homepage as they grab the attention of your users. We’ve heard it mentioned that this is simply a trend and that next year we’ll all be doing something else but the concept is deeply rooted in design tradition; that form should follow function. In the case of the homepage ‘hero’ these call-to-actions provide a great example of how well structured hierarchies in design and content can prioritise your content and help your visitors to make easy decisions on what’s important.

Getting what you want from your website

Below we have tried to identify two of the common objectives that work for most business owners:

Driving sales enquiries

So you want the website to keep you or your sales team busy? That’s a clear and concise objective and is especially common on what we label as ‘brochure’ style websites. The user experience of this type of site should be about instilling enough confidence in the user to click on the ‘Get in touch’ or ‘Get a quote’ button.

First of all the website needs to look and feel good. It needs to inspire confidence in the user in the same way an Aston Martin inspires more confidence than a rusty old camper van when getting you from A to B. The user also needs to get a sense that you care about what he or she thinks of you. You have a reputation to maintain and you don’t want to blow it because there was a broken link on your website homepage.

Secondly, they must be able to contact you (via an enquiry form, by telephone, etc) and it should be done in a way that makes them feel like you WANT them to get in touch. How many times have you been on your bank’s website and found yourself searching for a phone number so you can simply call them?

Thirdly your content needs to reinforce your professionalism and succinctly tell the visitor that they are in the right place. Refer to things consistently and in the tone that works for your business and brand. Make sure there are no typos and your grammar is spotless. It doesn’t hurt to go the extra mile and have a professional write your content because it’s that important (and difficult!) to get right.

If you do use a contact form, then be clever about it. Users don’t like to be asked a hundred questions. Forms that are too long are too time consuming to complete and it’s infuriating if the page is lost halfway through filling it out. Leave the detailed questions to your sales staff and focus on getting the visitor’s basic details right in an easy and friendly way. Ideally you’ll want to inject the enquiry into your CRM as a lead and notify your sales team to get back to them promptly. If you are getting too many poor quality enquiries then you can use the form to qualify the leads by asking pertinent questions and effectively putting off the poor quality leads.

In summary, put as few barriers as you possibly can between you and the visitor by having a clear design and content hierarchy that funnels users towards making that enquiry. A direct user journey with a single click to the enquiry or contact page is a great tool to drive sales enquiries and should be a given for this type of site.

Make more online sales

The typical objective of E-Commerce websites is of course to sell more products. So feature your products in the best light possible.

It always amazes us to see E-Commerce website’s which don’t clearly display products on their homepage, or feature new products and best-sellers, instead featuring other content (such as news) in pride of place.

John Stiles, MD, Hutchhouse

Important as your non-product content is (and news for example is very very important), it does not directly help your visitors find what they are looking for and, ultimately, make a purchase. This is where you can really help your visitors by identifying the main product categories, displaying good product imagery and encouraging visitor loyalty by displaying strong guarantees. Merchandising your shop online, as you would one on the high street, is very important. If your products don’t look exciting or if they don’t grab your visitor’s interest then the likelihood is that the desire just won’t be there to make the purchase.

Making the purchasing process as easy as possible will also promote sales. Don’t ask too much of your visitor, allow quick and easy ordering. It’s fine to give your visitors extra options like leaving feedback or displaying related products, but it’s not the key goal and is non-essential. The idea is to clear away any hurdles and allow your visitors to complete your objective(s)

As the buyer’s journey often starts with a search engine, make sure that your product pages are well optimised so they can be easily found. Follow the same journey through yourself, making sure you’re happy with the process and that it feels right. Make sure it’s easy for visitors to get all the information they need to make a decision on the product detail page and they’ll ultimately buy from that page.

The role of website analytics in meeting your website objective(s)

To coin an often poorly used phrase; launching a website is an ‘evolution not a revolution’. Now this isn’t something we are trying to hide behind, we are simply stating the fact that your website should be changing and growing continuously. You should be looking to keep your website in peak physical fitness in terms of its content, design and technology. There are a number of tools at your disposal to help you make the right decisions about the direction you should be taking. If your budget permits extensive usability testing and focus group research then it’s invaluable stuff and you should take advantage of it where you can, but for the majority of website owners the best aid for guiding your strategy will be with website analytics.

Website analytics such as Google Analytics provide a great insight into how your visitors use your website. You can use the analytics to make decisions about tone of voice, layout, content priorities and also the exact language used to label important calls to action. By measuring your objective conversion rate and by making simple changes (like changing ‘click here’ to something more relevant like ‘get a free quote’) you can radically improve your objective conversion rate.

There’s much more we could talk about here, but needless to say, analytics should be regularly referred to as a quantitative and qualitative guide to improving your website’s conversion rates.

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