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what the voices in my head tell me to write

Friday, September 29, 2006

IA in the age of deep linking and google, or, why your front page is irrelevant 

At ingenta the main trend in our logs is that people are entering our site at the bottom of the heirarcy instead of the top. We have a good relationship with Google so our content is very well indexed indeed. This usage pattern goes against all conventional IA wisdom which is dominated by the drill down approach to finding content.

In this new way of working the user doesn't care about your carefully constructed navigation and design. The odds are they have either found the content required straight away or perhaps more likely they haven't and are going straight back to google to search again and will never be back.

This was always the case to some extent but you could rely on a well crafted site layout and structure to entice people into your site and get them browsing as more often than not they entered at or close to the top of your navigation structure.

Your main goal now is to make a user stay on your site and use the features of your site to find the information he or she needs without going back to google and then going somewhere else. Crucially though your users will not be starting at the top but at the bottom of your sites structure unlike before.

Its not drill down its "drag up". Turning your carefully considered IA literally on its head. Increasing numbers of users will come to your site and never see anything but the page for an individual product. If they return to your site it will be to the product page once more.

There are good examples of how to not just design for this problem but expoilt it. Conside a page ofr a book in Amazon.com. Notice how there has been a proliferation of "recommendations" and lists links appearing on the page in recent years. Its all about getting your users to stay on your site and not go elsewhere. So if you are searching for books on global warming on google and you click a link to amazon you are not just beening presented with one book but perhaps 8 or 10 books to choose from.

The key is "related information" as apposed to out and out meta data. This encourages browsing and gets your user away from searching and keeps them on your site. For things like books this is easy as books are easilly classfied and like Amazon you can do "here are a whole bunch more titles about global warming".

For many sites this is easy to do as their content is simillary strictly catagorised. But the difference is instead of having a link from a page about a single type of widget back to the category of widgets you have a series of links to the other widgets in the catagory.

This only works if your content is well catagorized. If you sell a wide range of widgets that are not always related to one another this is more of a problem.

Help is at hand with another sort of related information that is generated for you by the users of your site. Again look at the links in Amazon for "people who bought this book also bought these books". Again it doesn't always follow that a person looking for an particular widget will want the same widget as another person doing the same search. It doesn't work that way that often for Amazon too I am sure but the conversion ratio has to be worth the effort to implement the feature.

The key then is finding data you can easily extract from existing users of your site wheather it is browsing behavours, purchase behaviours, some sort of remeber this item for later behaviour to enable you to provide information about products on your site that are related in some way. Then you have to present this in a way that is engaging enough to make a casual user want to click on the links without swamping the user with redundant information.

Do this well and hardly anyone will bother drilling down through your site. Let google do all the hard work of driving customers to you and providing the navigation. Google is your friend here. Then find a way of maximising the conversion ration between visitors to the individual item pages and purchases. Then make sure you have a good ratio between people coming from google for the first time and people who actually register and use the site frequently. Do this and you will have a successful website.

Permanent link and Comments posted by Rob Cornelius @ Friday, September 29, 2006

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