Usability and Content

Most Web site owners seem more willing to spend money on usability than content – maybe because it’s generally much easier to quantify the impact of usability improvements than content improvements.

However, the secret is that many usability concerns are also content concerns. This is especially with regard to microcontent (all the short bits of content on the site, such as link text, and page titles; as well as information-bearing images).

A Nov. 10, 2003 article from Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen lists his Top Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines. More than half of these usability/design issues overlap with content or microcontent issues…

From Nielsen’s list:

1) Emphasize what your site offers that’s of value to users and how your services differ from those of key competitors.

4) Use graphics to show real content, not just to decorate your homepage.

5) Include a tag line that explicitly summarizes what the site or company does.

7) Include a short site description in the window title.

8) Don’t use a heading to label the search area; instead use a “Search” button to the right of the box.

9) With stock quotes, give the percentage of change, not just the points gained or lost.

… These kinds of issues show how useful it is to have content professionals work together with design/usability professionals. People with editorial expertise could – and should – be involved with formulating your site’s microcontent, and also consulted with regard to information-bearing images, page titles, and other less-obvious but still critical types of content. This is where the choice of a single word could significantly impact the effectiveness of your site.

9 thoughts on Usability and Content

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  1. reference:


    An Internet Editor’s Bible:
    Checklist for the Prose Pieces
    Used as Content on Websites

    Editorial rules for building effective communications on the Internet.

    Editors should never listen to the art director or programmer — the editor is the boss because he or she has mastered the following rules.

    Authors should listen to the editor and know the rules listed below before
    writing for the web.

    All written work must be rewritten and revised until it conforms to these rules.


    For original written text to be published, it —

    Must follow the reverse pyramid form, with the article’s major conclusion
    coming before the body of the argument and text.

    Must be in bullet-point form (with parallel phrases) or modified-point form (using a short key sentence as an intro to each topical section).

    Must combine the lead with the conclusion for all major topics, even though the concluding line of text then becomes repetitive.

    Must have only one main idea per paragraph.

    Must be organized around less than five basic ideas.

    Must repeat the supporting arguments. (Creativity shows most in how supporting arguments for ideas or conclusions are marshalled inside the basic framework of the written work. Repitition can entertain.)

    Must be personalized in perspective without using the word ” I ” too much.

    — Your Publisher

  2. … Regarding the post below—the advertisement spoof for a bloated eZine—the editor of the daily E(mail) (maga)Zine actually printed my submission (see below). It had much more punch being posted inside the very Zine it was mocking.

    (The version below has many cosmetic pseudonymes and faked descriptors to protect the innocent.)

    We should all be as open as that eZine’s editor. Though he was not quite ready to laugh at himself aloud, he had the frank yet fair approach when he introduced the mockery with “I am running a submission that makes me look completely ridiculous.”

    I have noticed that, over the last few days, the Zine has more short, original intros to articles plus only the URL . The sender is resorting less to pastes of the entire New York Times articles (or whatever source it is).

    These things do get long! The editor is semi-retired and spends four hours a day pasting cuts together and editorializing all the way. It takes careful readers at least a couple hours to read/skim the whole thing. But sometimes it is still worth it.

    Chalk up one small victory for succintness; and we all had fun in the process.

    Oh, regarding RSS. It might be dangerous in the hands of the editor above. He would have used feeds(if he knew how to receive them and before I gave him the spoofed nudge) to jam even more stuff into every eZine! Recipients of RSS, on the other hand, find it easier to drop such a feed like his eZine if they get tired of the content.

  3. Speaking of short and to the point . . . Find below the paste of a fictional advertisement I just wrote for a fictitIous eZine, the generic sort that grows ever more BLOATED as readership grows and egos on the editing side inflate.

    I cannot get the actual editors of such eZines to run this spoof ad. Too bad, it would lighten up the tone just a smidgen.

    — An E-zINE advertisement —

    Read the XYZ North Country Education Review (The XYZ NiCER), its FREE ! An e’Zine for PROGRESSIVE educators.

    XYZ is the e’Zine on EVERYTHING . . . EVERY DAY!

    [We won’t let you down. The only thing it takes (up) is your precious mornings, hereafter to be spent squinting at black and white text on an expensive color monitor, not to mention losing all the space you have left on your 60-gig hard drive.]

    But NEVER FORGET, you’ll come away (with a slight squint) having memorized the names and biographical quirks of everyone who ever did more than push a broom at any and all of North Country Vermont and New York’s forty or more Boards of Education — INCLUDING all the university administrators you’d ever want to meet in your LIFE.

    Catch up now on the scandalous misdeeds in America’s North Country, that infamous “Sodom & Gomorrah of Mis-Education”, while your e’Zine editor CHEERS in defence of the suffering North Country MASSES — WHO WON’T TAKE IT — Lots of thoughtful post, and in that inimitable and peculiar dialect only a REAL POST-MODERNIST ANARCHO-FEMINIST history professor can deliver.

    Send us your e-mail address pronto, then turn off your spam filter, and sit back and enjoy for the rest of YOUR life [or until the guy responsible for XYZ NCER gets HIS LIFE back].

  4. I agree with both of you guys — focus on the words (more accurately, the content, which may include information transmitted through means other than words) AND keep it short and to the point.

    And yes, Terence is correct that detailed information usually works best when segregated onto separate pages. I’ll be writing more on that point later in CONTENTIOUS.

  5. I generally agree with the above comments, but in my opinion (and this may be just me) if there are too many words, people will gloss right over it. I would keep the wording short and to the point, and not get too detail oriented…or if you want more detail, have a seperate page for that!


  6. Hey Amy,

    Your analysis is spot on – it’s the words on a site that drive people to action, and bring them back again and again.

    I have created a Guide To Corporate Web Sites that includes 122 guidelines for building effective sites. The report makes it clear that Location, Navigation, and Presentation guidelines are all there to support the Features (words and tools) that are the Purpose of the site.

    Too many developers (and their clients) focus on the pretty pictures, funky navigation elements and forget about the words. If there was one over-riding best practice I’d recommend it would “focus on the words”.



  7. Homepage content usability
    A couple of people (e.g. Contentious) have pointed to Jakob Nielsen’s new Alertbox about the top ten most violated homepage design guidelines. Almost all of the non-trivial violations have to do with content. The guideline most often broken was “Emphas…

  8. Homepage content usability
    A couple of people (e.g. Contentious) have pointed to Jakob Nielsen’s new Alertbox about the top ten most violated homepage design guidelines. Almost all of the non-trivial violations have to do with content. The guideline most often broken was “Emphas…