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Have you ever looked over the shoulder at someone who is trying to find something on the Web? Well I have (I actually get paid to do it) and it seems that like a baby following a typical development: tripoding, sitting up, lunging, crawling, cruising, walking, most people pretty much search the same way, in the same order.

Scenes from a usability study:

  1. Furiously mouse over any links as they search for their trigger words (called minesweeping) (Shout out to Jared Spool for the terminology)
  2. Clicking furiously everywhere, and hitting the back button till they find what they want
  3. Stare at the screen, hoping for the answer to magically appear

As a Web writer, what concerns me about this behavior is that I really want my users to find the pages that I spend a lot of time writing; namely what I call content found!!!! pages (Cue the trumpet music). What usually happens is that users can’t find those pages, because there are too many other words on those inbetweenish pages between the home page and the content found page. Those inbetweenish pages (the ones you spend too much time on, trying to figure out where to go) should really be gallery pages, lists of links. Those pages should be about getting users where they need to go–the content found pages–rather than opportunities for companies to talk about, yet again, how amazing they are.

For example, let’s say a user wants to learn more about how to apply for a car loan (we need a new car). The navigation looks like this:

  • Mortgages
  • Car loans
  • Boat loans
  • About Us
  • Financing
  • Federal lending practices

Most users would probably select car loans, right? But that page is a long list of different car loans available, with some marketing material stuffed up top about how great is it to get a car loan from this bank.

Don’t stop the conversation
In theory this works. But as Ginny Reddish says “Find marketing moments when the site visitor is ready- DON’T STOP THE CONVERSATION.” By stuffing the marketing information at the top of the inbetweenish page (what should just be a gallery page of links, titled with Car loans and a short blurb describing each one so the user can make an educated guess before actually committing to the click), the user has to wade through all that “aren’t we fabulous” before they can get to the content found!!!(trumpets) page they really want to read.

Won’t search save us? (When are we going to give that one up?)
Some devil’s advocates (who are these people anyway?) may argue that people find those content found pages on search anyway and just click on the search result in Google/Bing/Yahoo to find the relevant page. But I would argue that some people actually do (gasp!) start at the homepage of a Website. In fact, 50% of users use search and 50% use navigation. If half of my anything is going to be wading through all that marketingease, I better make it good and relevant. Put it on the content found!!!! (trumpets) page, where the user is interested in that part of the conversation.

“Oh, so those are the four different types of car loans? And there’s a handy calculator on the right there to figure out each one? Cool. How do I get in touch with this bank?”

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