|This image was shown during Peter Moville’s talk about IA 3.0. What is interesting about it is how he linked this to Christopher Alexander’s text about design in architecture and also Peter Merholz’s essay Metadata for the Masses. In which he highlights ‘desire lines’ how paving is built once you see the paths that people tread.
If we look at online behaviour, user paths give us a solid idea of routes to content, where they return to and where they tend to go next. Human behaviour tends to follow patterns, see this article about mobile phone usage for an example of how predictable we tend to be.
Engagement is Conversation
This pattern of behaviour is something that good web analytics managers can see by interrogating their data. Alec Cochrane and I recently presented on the subject of building and measuring engagement and he summarises our talk here.
Metrics can tell you the most popular paths to frequently visited pages and we can change the interface accordingly. This can help us formulate our persuasion architecture but of course there are other things to consider…
No place like home
The homepage on a site suffers in a different way as it’s a starting place, a returning place and contains areas created as a diversion (meant for conversion) by many different stakeholders.
Add to this the fact that many users from search, email or RSS may never see it and it is an area that seems to be in a state of struggle. Serving the purpose of communicating a message from the site owners as well as serving the user.
Of course the more routes you have to your content the better the overall measure of the engagement your site has with your community of users.
Elements of engagement
A concept model can describe elements of engagement that need further exploration
But if we look at this in another way and think of the home as a place that should react to user’s wishes regularly, then it would be far easier to create an engaging experience.
Personas can help here but going back to the concept model would bring the greatest clarity about what needs to be presented. The concept model describes the whole site but also captures the key elements of engagement, and the parts that need representation on a homepage.
Taking this into account a typical homepage needs to offer;
- Fresh content that is regularly updated with visible changes aided by the use of images. (Users check back frequently for news)
- The use of themed areas and a cluster of stories around a subject area
- If Jobs are offered they need a better promotion with an idea of the amount of job types displayed to the user
- A consistent placement of sign-up areas throughout the site, this will enable conversions to occur and conversations to begin between you and your users.
- An improvement of the graphics and images used on the site needs to be made to convey quality and of being a trusted authority. (Maximise promotional areas and do not give too much emphasis to ‘most popular’ widgets. These regions can take up large amounts of screen area and though they drive some traffic, without accurate measurement we can never be sure of the effectiveness of these devices)
- Research material (white papers or case studies) need to be placed in an obvious position with more ‘evergreen’ content in the form of useful research that is graphically promoted.
- Use blog content in a way that enriches themes or offers other angles on an existing story (also helps in changing of content on homepage). Opinion pieces also help in conveying authority and tone at the place where some users are visiting for the first time and also engage with returning users looking for an opportunities to converse.
Context, placement and pathways
The points above are based on news sites that offer different elements and in turn different modes of user engagement. Obviously looking for a job is not the same as researching and looking for case studies. So context is always the major factor when we think of what elements to display.
Put together the user’s path through the site, the context of where they have come from and what they are interested in and you have the ingredients to build the best engaging experience. The tricky part is to have an adaptive interface that will allow you flexibility.
By being aware of context, placement of content to reflect interests and user’s paths it will give a road map for engagement success.