What does your audience want?

Think about what your audience will want to find on your website and how they will find it.

Why do they visit?

Most people who visit a website are looking for information to complete a task. This may be:

  • A very specific task, e.g. I want to find out Fred Smith's phone number, or
  • A more general task, e.g. I want to find out about postgraduate sociology degrees, or
  • An open-ended task, e.g. I want to know if I should consider applying to Leicester, or
  • A process-related task, e.g. I want to apply online.

How do they find information?

There are three ways someone can find information on a website in order to complete a task.

(1) Search

Every Plone page has a Google search box in the top right corner, which searches the whole University of Leicester website. If you tick the 'Only in current selection' box the search is restricted to the folder or subfolder currently being viewed.

Search has one big disadvantage, it only works if the search term exactly matches what is on a page. For example, someone searching for 'history' won't find something about Historical Studies. This problem can be addressed by thinking ahead about what words or phrases a site user might look for and then use them in the text, and especially in links and headings.

(2) A-Z index

An alphabetical list of everything on a website is usually not a useful way of finding things. As with Search, it depends on a user knowing the precise name of what they are looking for.

The situations where an A-Z may score over Search would be if someone was looking under H for History they would notice Historical Studies. 

An A-Z cannot list everything on a website. The more detail provided in an A-Z list could help the user to find precisely what they are looking for - but this can be counterproductive because it makes the list longer and harder to use. Sometimes categorisation can help; for example, rather than listing all of the forms available, you could put Forms under F.

(3) Navigation

A well structured website allows visitors to find what they want by following links through layers of content. If you group your content into categories, it will help visitors to refine their search at each level by choosing from a short list of options.

Navigation vs Search

If you go to Amazon, you could search for Casino Royale and be presented with a list of items including the Daniel Craig movie on DVD and Blu-ray, the 1960s spoof and various editions of the Ian Fleming novel. Or you could navigate to the item by choosing DVDs, then spy movies, then James Bond films, then Casino Royale. Both alternatives should work on a good website.