Quick, what do you think when I say, “There’s a mouse on your desk!”

Now what about, “Watch out for that mouse on your desk!”

Well of course there’s a mouse on my desk, silly. I have a computer.

For one second, did you pause and look around your desk to make sure there wasn’t a furry rodent scurrying about?

What’s important about this exercise is to understand that just because you label something one way, doesn’t mean your audience labels it the exact same way. I have an 11-year old daughter, consumed by fashion frenzy, who is constantly asking me, “Is this aqua?”, “Is this turquoise?”, “Is it more sea green?”  Calmly my 5-year old son will reply, “It’s blue.  It’s just blue.”

 

Thinking about Labels

We have two major challenges to think about when writing and developing content for the web: Labeling and categorization.

  • Labeling is a challenge when we name our pages and think about other possible terms people may use.  For example: physician or doctor; degrees or majors; fitness club or gym, and so on.

  • Categorization is how we combine certain pages to fit in with an overall whole, which is critical to creating an intuitive information architecture. 

 

How to Label and Categorize your Pages

1.    Use search data: Ultimately, you goal is for your customers to find your content. So you need to use the words they use when they search. People search for terms that are familiar to them, until they move deeper into the search. As they learn more about what they are searching for, they become educated about specific terms and may switch to searching for those. You need to have synonyms in your content, and call things by what people call them.

But Ahava, you’ll say, we don’t get keyword data anymore. That’s true, but you can still understand how people search for terms using Google Trends. You can also look at competitors’ sites and try looking at Google itself—type something in and see what it shows you.

2.  Create multiple doorways: The beauty of the web is that you can create links from multiple places on the site. If you know from testing and research that people refer to things several ways, then create links off that page or give pages two places to live. In the long run, guiding people through different conversations on your site is your goal. If that’s the best way to do it, then embrace the flexibility the web provides.

3.  Test: The only way to know for sure is to perform usability studies at each stage of IA and content development. You can do this simply using a paper layout of your IA. Can you find the thing you’re looking for? Where would you expect to find it? Even by testing a small number of users (say 7-10), you can reveal where you may have misplaced or mislabeled something.

Most importantly, don’t be fooled by the “everyone calls it this.” Do you want your business to make the same mistakes other businesses make? Your goal is to get people to your content so they can have the conversations they want to have with you. If you hide those pages, or stuff them in the wrong places, those conversations will never happen, not with your competitors, but more importantly—not with you.

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