Building your site: Tertiary pages—When more is more

pencil2.jpg

In the Planning your Web site articles I wrote on first and secondary pages, I recommended not overwhelming the user with too many choices or too much information. That less is more approach works very well to ensure that critical information is not lost in a crowd of words, and helps us set up an easy to maneuver navigational system. But as we get deeper into specific areas of the site, our goals and strategies change.

Once we have carefully guided our visitors to our third, fourth and deeper level pages, it is time to reward them with in-depth content that

  • answers their questions
  • helps them make decisions
  • shares your knowledge and expertise
  • or otherwise helps them achieve the goals they had in visiting the site.

At this point we don't need to worry about short-attention spans anymore than would a novelist. Our visitors have come this far to find out X, and we should supply them with the necessary information to understand X, whether that can be done in 2 paragraphs or 20 pages. A user with a goal will read through 20 pages if that is what it takes to achieve the goal.

For example, let us return to the fictional Department of Cartooning site. On this site I've created a tertiary page on mechanical pencils. It includes a few paragraphs about pencils, a photo and a list of additional resources. When planning this site I had decided to include an area of resources that would include information on tools of the trade as well as other references. One such tool is the pencil. It was my thought that visitors to the cartooning site might include

  • Potential students wanting to learn and practice with the tools before beginning their coursework
  • Professional cartoonists wanting to learn more about the tools and history of the craft
  • Skeptical users of wooden pencils
  • Drawing teachers
  • Art supply salesman, etc.

With that in mind, I must now ask myself if my site provided sufficient information to help these visitors achieve their goals. In this case, I do not think that it has. While I've been fond of mechanical pencils ever since I was a toddler dissecting the ones I found on my father's desk—much to his dismay—I don't actually know that much about them. I also have no idea whether cartoonists prefer them or not. I do know a bit about line art and printing, but I could have elaborated more. Additionally I could have shared some history, and given users tips on matching the right pencil and lead to their projects. I did include links to additional resources, but I would have a better chance at satisfying my visitors if I took the time to do additional pencil research.

I use this example because I think an imperfect page helps to illustrate that feeling that users get when there goal hasn't been met. After navigating through the site, and finding the right page, they then discover that it doesn't fill all of their needs and they have to continue their quest somewhere else.

This happens to me quite often. Whether I'm searching for autoparts or the best apple kuchen recipe, I will get frustrated if I jump through all the hoops only to discover that something is missing—the recipe lists all of the ingredients, but doesn't tell me what size pan to use or how long to cook the kuchen.

Yet when the reverse is true, I am quite pleased. Two years ago my dryer stopped working. I determined that the problem was in the on switch because it wasn't clicking into position properly. I took off the cover so I could look at the part, compared that button to the others, wrote down the part number, then hopped online to visit the GE website. Given that product code numbers had changed since I'd first bought the dryer, it took some hunting, but over time I was able to narrow down my search and track down the part I needed. I was also able to confirm that it was the correct part because they included an illustration and a list of models that used this part. With credit card in hand, I ordered my part and it arrived in just a few days. It took me less than five minutes to install and I was able to dry my clothes without the expense of either a repairman or a new dryer.

Although it took me more time to find the part on their website, than it did to install it, I was happy to have gone through the process, because when I did find the part, it was what I needed and it saved me both time and money. I was happy, G.E. was happy for the sale, and perhaps they are happy now that I am recounting how happy I was to find my part on their Web site. When considering future appliance purchases I will probably consider G.E. again, because I know I can count on them in regard to their parts and equipment. In other words everybody won.

As was the case with me and G.E., when we help our visitors to achieve their goals, we help them to achieve our own goals as well. If you keep this in mind when creating your pages, I expect you will have similar success.

p.s. Whether writing for the Web or for something else you may be interested in reading Mano Singham's latest blog entry. He offers some great insight into the process of writing.

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