Last October I had the pleasure of hiring international author and web expert Gerry McGovern to provide a custom training session to staff at the University of Saskatchewan. Gerry has spoken, written and consulted extensively on web content management since 1994. He has written such books as The Stranger’s Long Neck , Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide. Trust me, Gerry really knows his stuff.

Provided below are five key lessons from Gerry’s talk:

1. Website visitors are on a mission

People are not coming to your website to browse for general information. They are coming to complete tasks. Nobody starts a search with, ‘hmmm I wonder what that organization’s philosophy is’. Instead they are trying to do things like looking up phone numbers, finding email addresses, buying products etc.

Gerry explains, “Imagine a visitor is like a person coming down an escalator. They aren’t looking for the brochure counter. Instead they want to find ‘Trains, Tickets or Toilets.”

2. Not all content is of equal value

90% of the value on your website is delivered by less than 10% of your content. The rest of the content is generally useless. You need to abandon the mindset that everything in your organization deserves equal weight on your website. Realize that making something easier to find inherently makes something else more difficult. Focus on providing what really matters. Abandon the rest.

3. Navigation should move a user forward.

Many navigation systems are more complex than they need to be as they keep all levels of navigation available at all times. However, web users are forward thinking. Once they’ve made a choice about their general direction you can help eliminate navigation clutter by removing earlier navigation choices. Despite popular belief, users generally don’t mind clicking the back button or hitting the ‘home logo’ if they’ve made an error in choice.

4. Great websites are audience-focused

Don’t try to make your website for everybody. Consider having two separate websites if you have two distinct audiences. If you can’t have two different websites, then put your secondary audiences in your tertiary navigation. Remember you can always train your internal audiences to use a different website or more subtle navigation. But, you have no opportunity to train external, and often first-time, audiences. If they don’t find what they’re looking for they will bounce.

5. Focus on continuous improvement

A website is not something that needs to be done. It’s something that you actively do. Start with a first iteration and then continue to tend to it on a daily basis. Those small improvements add up. Don’t get bogged down in paralysis analysis or carry the weight of a massive redesign. Iterate early. Iterate often.

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