The internet is a very large information resource and users have many options for the same type of information. While some users will seek out a particular resource or site often the information seeking request begins with search engine, such as Google. Also the hyper-linked nature of the web means that users move from known resources to new resources with ease. The extremely large potential audience and the hyper-linked environment can deliver a website an incredibly diverse audience. The audience of any large information website will bring different levels of skill at navigating and information gathering.
An often repeated comment in website development is “content is king.” Apparently this phrase was coined by Bill Gates when writing about the future of the internet. It should also be noted that the Gates’ conception of content as king is ably disputed by Andrew Odlyzko, in his essay fittingly titled “Content is not king.” The philosophical argument between Gates and Odlyzko, about what is the essential driver of the web is an interesting one, but is not really what web developers and designers mean when they state “content is king.” What the website builders mean is that all the bells and whistles cease to be relevant if a user doesn’t find what they want when they visit your website. At its core a website is an information delivery vehicle, that information could be stock prices, kitten videos, poems, articles, etc. The important thing to remember that people are essentially coming to your website for the content it provides. That makes the content king of at least the website. It doesn’t really matter how well laid out a site is, if the content is not what the user is looking for then they will move on. This is especially true if moving on is a simple as clicking a button. As well the content is a big factor in bringing the users to the website in the first place. While search engines do use the metadata* of a webpage, they also crawl the content to help properly index the site.
First time users to a website spend a very short time deciding if the site is worthwhile. Jackob Neilson, when discussing the topic writes “gain several minutes of user attention, you must clearly communicate your value proposition within 10 seconds.”While 10 seconds seems like a very short time, it should be noted that people routinely make much more significant decisions in much shorter time periods – need examples read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.
To successfully retain visitors the page they arrive at has to clearly communicate the purpose of the site. In his excellent book,The elements of user experience,, Jesse James Garrett (2011) uses in an interesting conceptual framework to demonstrate that good user experience starts with understanding the sites objectives and moves to the visual design. If at the outset of the design process the site’s purpose or strategy is used to guide decisions about the intermediate layers (scope, information architecture, and skeleton) and the surface layer, then a user will be able to quickly judge the purpose of the site.
This post is quickly becoming too long – while content is king, knowing when to limit the content is part of improving user experiences. A couple of points I didn’t get a chance to discuss but are included in the recommend readings sections are:
a) User skill and experience will alter how they use the web and a website (Lai,Yun, & Tan, 2009).
b) In the initial 10 second assessment the user is deciding to trust the website. The article by Zhang, et al. (2009) focuses on how the entire site’s architecture impacts user trust, but I believe that a without the initial trust factor delivered in the first 10 seconds no user will stay.
c) David Hailey’s(2011) fascinating article on Combining Rhetorical Theory with Usability Theory, discusses how the tone of the writing will influence how a website’s user perception of the site.
Garrett, J. J. (2011). The elements of user experience: User-centered design for the Web and beyond. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
Gates, B. (1996) Content Is King. Microsoft Website. Retrieved from CraigBailey.net http://www.craigbailey.net/content-is-king-by-bill-gates/
Hailey, D. (2011). Combining Rhetorical Theory with Usability Theory to Evaluate Quality of Writing in Web-Based Texts in Albers, M. J., & Still, B. (2011). Usability of complex information systems: Evaluation of user interaction. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 17 -45
Kim, K.-S. (2001). Information seeking on the Web: Effects of User and Task Variables. Library & Information Science Research, 23, 3, 233-55.
Lai Lai, T., Yun, X., & Tan, F. B. (2009). Attributes of Web Site Usability: A Study of Web Users with the Repertory Grid Technique. International Journal Of Electronic Commerce, 13(4), 97-126. doi:10.2753/JEC1086-4415130405
Nielsen, J. (2011). How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?. Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox. Retrieved from http://www.useit.com/alertbox/page-abandonment-time.html
Odlyzko, A. (2001) Content is not king. AT&T Labs – Research. Retrieved from http://www.dtc.umn.edu/~odlyzko/doc/history.communications2.pdf
Zhang, Xiaoni, Victor R. Prybutok, Sherry R. Ryan, and Robert R. Pavur. (2009). A Model of the Relationship among Consumer Trust, Web Design and User Attributes. Journal of Organizational and End User Computing.