Web Content Structure
The written structure of Web content should possess many of the same characteristics of print content. With a myriad of competing Web sites across the Internet, there should be something unique about your site. Give people a reason to read and they’ll not only stay, they’ll come back for more. Your content should create and hold a user’s interest in the subject. Often this can be done by telling a story, sometimes with little more than a sequence of photos or graphics.
Content should also emphasize a call to action. For example, if your Web site is targeted toward politically active users, tell them in boldface letters at the top of the page what they should do to demonstrate their support for your cause. Then provide informational content to support the action you want them to take.
Structuring your Web content with the most important information first, telling a story that engrosses your users and entices them to continue reading, and providing a strong, clear call to action strengthens your Web content and helps both you and your users accomplish goals.
Web Content Layout
Most Web users quickly scan a Web page to determine if and how it is related to the information they seek. Scannability is the degree to which users can scan your Web page and easily understand the purpose and topic of your content. There are many relatively simple methods to make Web content scannable.
Using bulleted and numbered lists slow down the eye and can draw the user’s attention to important points. Generally, lists have a maximum of two levels: primary and secondary. Use numbered lists whenever order of entries is important and limit the number of items in a single list to nine. Unlike print content, Web sites can usually contain a greater number of lists per page.
Topic headers and sub-headers delineate how information is parsed out in your content, enabling the user to quickly skip to the information they seek. Putting key concepts in boldface also draws a reader’s eyes to the most important content.
The characteristics of the font are just as important as the way the content is structured on the page. In addition to using sans-serif fonts (Arial font is preferred), font size should typically be no smaller than “nine point.” For optimal viewing, use a dark text on a lighter background. Strategic use of “white space,” the blank spaces on the page, can help direct eye movement by creating “unnatural” hotspots which break the user’s routine, causing him or her to take notice of these areas. White space can also be used to create a more visually pleasing page. Chunk your paragraphs and leave blank lines between them for the ideal use of white space.
Web site content should be easy for users to navigate. Give the page an intuitive layout with a page title at the top and links (typically) on the left side. Different pages should have different titles. Pages about the same topic can start with the same words but should end with words that explain the difference between them. To avoid excessive scrolling, content that is not directly related to each other should be broken up into separate pages. Split each document into multiple hyperlinked pages rather than long, singular pages. For pages that require any scrolling, include a “Back To Top” link at the bottom of the page. Always include links for the user to advance forward or backward as well.
Links should be obvious since they are the quickest means to get a user to the most relevant information. Use your hyperlinks to provide supplemental or source information like definitions of terms or abbreviations, background reading, or reference information. In-text links should consist of a word or short phrase that is descriptive of the information that is found in the link. Do not use self-referential terms or phrases like “Click here” for your link. These can be confusing to users and are unnecessary.
Making your Web pages scannable by including the appropriate amount of white space, providing easy and intuitive navigation, and making your links simple to find and use will dramatically improve the user experience of your Web site.