3 Questions for a Simpler, Better Website

Steps for a simpler websiteWeb designer and blogger Paul Boag is a big advocate of making things simple to be usable. It’s not just to help your visitors — simpler sites help your website work better for your business.  (His own company’s newly streamlined site saw more requests for quotes afterward.)

I couldn’t agree more: a business-boosting website presents everything as simply as possible. That includes functions, features, design, navigation and content.

How to Streamline Your Website Instead of Butcher It

It’s ironic that Paul uses old content to raise the battlecry for simplicity. The very first step he offers to encourage simplicity is: Remove elements. Obviously it matters a great deal what you cut. Some of your older content may be clutter – or it may be the most valuable material you’ve published. So before running off for the scissors let’s have a good close look at Paul’s recommendations for pursuing simplicity.

Before he gets to the 3 ways to simplify – he asks us to think through 3 questions to prepare –

  • How many people are asking for it [a given functionality]
  • Who is asking for it
  • How will it effect others?

These 3 questions make up such a small part in his post. But they deserve their own discussion. They point to the most important part of simplifying: Knowing what to remove.

The difference between butchering your website and streamining it is in knowing what to change.

That’s why I’d like to revisit the short but critical step of asking yourself 3 questions to encourage simplicity.

Let’s dive into

3 Questions to Ask to Simplify Your Website

1) How much is this page, function or feature used? To answer this question, you need good analytics. That is, you need good data about what parts of your site people are clicking, downloading, or spending time using. If you don’t know how to read your visitor statistics — or even if you’re collecting them — stop now and get a handle on gathering visitor info. You need hard feedback if you want to run a successful website – or else you’re driving blindfolded.

2) What is the target reader using? Is the intended audience using the stuff that’s getting the most activity? You might get the most visits for a blog post on a topic of past concern to you – but it keeps bringing in a notable stream of visitors. If you don’t plan to build your business around that old topic — you can take the bold step of removing that post. What are you losing if the traffic from it wasn’t good for your business. You’ve cleared the way to make the stuff intended for your target audience more visible.

3) When adding something, what happens to the content that’s already there? When you add on, is there room for it to fit with your current items, or are you squeezing it in? If your navigation bar is full, for example, you’ll need to re-work some of your menu items before you insert something new. If you’ve set up your site to show just the latest update on a category – you’ve got a system for showcasing new content. Take the time to plan for growth in your content — resist the temptation to try to make everything of top level importance. Take advantage of your publishing tools, which can often post the latest feature, and link to previous features — automatically.

To help you know true simplicity when you see it, I recommend the very popular and easy to read web usability book, Steven Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think.  (Paul recommends it too.)

It’s tempting to jump into Paul’s 3 tactics for simplifying.  But the first step is to plan what to reduce.  Once you know that, you can follow his steps, which I think of as Cut, Collapse or Carve off to a new page.

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