In the modern information age, we’re all experiencing information, or cognitive overload. The sheer volume of information we’re exposed to and the frequency with which it arises can be an issue, but researchers tend to agree that it’s not the volume of information; it’s how it’s organized that’s the problem.
When a person gets lost in a maze of information, they lose the ability to process that information correctly. This often leads to difficulties when it comes making decisions and carrying out desired actions. This is why organizing information is extremely important – it determines our ability to place essential concepts and understand the world around us. This happens a lot on the web. Like a maze, you might end up going in circles trying to find the easiest path to get information or to reach your goal destination.
Discovery: The Essential Component to Reclaiming Your site
If your website visitors feel as though they can’t keep up with your website, they will simply lose interest and navigate away from the page. This has very real consequences in higher education. Prospective students today are overwhelmed by choices and expectations, and your website should serve to simplify the complex process of selecting and applying to your institution.
To avoid sending your prospective students elsewhere, it’s essential that higher education institutions keep their websites fresh, focused and easy to understand.
Address Your Mess
We often find that clients aren’t too keen on the Discovery aspect of a website redesign project. We hear things like, “When does the design phase start? That’s the part I’m really excited for.” We agree, but stress that good design rests upon a solid foundation.
Obviously restructuring a complete site is not a task of single afternoon. It will always requires a pre planned strategy before diving into. It’s hard to find order amongst the mess, but it’s worth it to achieve the latest techniques in web development and improvement in user experiences.
“It’s hard to decide to tear down a wall, take off the roof, or rip up the floorboards. It’s hard to admit when something architectural isn’t serving you. It’s hard to find the words for what’s wrong. It’s hard to deal with the time between understanding something is wrong and fixing it. It’s hard to get there. It’s hard to be honest about what went right and what went poorly in the past. It’s hard to argue with people you work with about fuzzy things like meaning and truth. It’s hard to ask questions. It’s hard to hear criticism. It’s hard to start over. It’s hard to get to good.” ― Abby Covert, How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody
Bringing Order to a Higher Education Site
A week or two back, Sanmita’s team had the awesome opportunity of sponsoring and attending the 2016 Cornell DrupalCamp. At the Camp, usability research expert Anthony D. Paul presented on a handful of topics, including IA and usability. In a talk titled, “Bringing Order to a Content Hoarder,” he prescribes a four-step process to organizing your website in a way that is not only useful to your visitors, but actually feels welcoming. We have added a fifth step to our process, but today we’re focusing on the first phase: Inventory.
Step 1: Inventory
In this post, we aim to introduce you to some of the tools and approaches you’ll need to start restructuring your website. Don’t be afraid to try new things. There are usually several great options rather than one right answer.
In the first stage of the process, you’ll want to conduct a thorough inventory of your website as it exists currently. Your information-gathering should seek to answer questions such as the following:
- What content types exist on your current website?
- How many Pages do you have? What are they?
- Look at some of the more specific details of those pages. What calls-to-action are they using?
- How is your site performing currently?
There are a few ways to gather and keep track of this information:
- HTTrack (Windows, free): HTTtrack is an easy-to-use offline browser utility that allows you to download a site to a local directory, building recursively all directories, getting HTML, images and other files from the server to your computer. HTTrack arranges the original site’s relative link-structure.
- SiteSucker (MacOS, free): SiteSucker can automatically downloads websites from the Internet by asynchronously copying the site’s webpages, images, PDFs, style sheets, and other files to your local hard drive, duplicating the site’s directory structure. Just enter a URL (Uniform Resource Locator), press return, and SiteSucker can download an entire website. Tip: Don’t forget to turn off robots.txt
- Slickplan (Online, free trial): Slickplan crawls the front-end of a site automatically build a sitemap from an existing website directly in the application so you can make quick edits. Slickplan won’t crawl your member portals – only the content that is publicly accessible. You can also use Slickplan to design your website’s page information architecture using the intuitive and feature-rich Sitemap Builder
- Paparazzi! (MacOS, free): Paparazzi! is a small utility for Mac OS X that makes screenshots of webpages. It’s written in Objective-C using the Cocoa API and the WebKit framework. You can batch screen capture at a specific pixel width, but it might crash depending on the current quality of your website
- Google Sheets or Excel: This is a great option for capturing Page content on your website, but falls short when recording other types of content. Sanmita recently developed a Content Audit Template that has worked very well for us. I want to offer it to you as a free resource to use for your site. It’s available here for download.
- Handwritten Notes: Index cards or sticky notes work very well for these purposes. You can use these tools to conduct physical card sorts and identify who each piece of content is directed towards on your website. Then, you can identify different categories or clusters of information with the help of your team.
The goal here is to understand the current state of your website content. Later on in the “Exploration” and “Clean” phases (Parts 2 and 3 of 5) of Anthony Paul’s process, we’ll use the same audit template to determine what content is relevant, what is missing, what can be merged with other content and what can be safely removed. You can then analyze the information and organize the content based upon your users feedback, industry trends and site analytics. Theoretically, it seems a very simple process, but in practice, conducting a site audit can be a messy exercise if you don’t have a plan in place.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Exploration!
Contact us today for a free consultation. We look forward to working with you.
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