Monday, November 15, 2010

The Art of Doing Less on Websites


In her essay, The Art of Doing Less, communications consultant Lynn Fraser uses a great term to describe our information overload: data smog. She also distinguishes information from communication.

The best websites I’ve seen have less content on their sites, not more. They are so sure of their brand, so confident of what to communicate, that they do so without apology.

Google is a good example. It begins with a sparse home page. There’s hardly anything there and there doesn’t need to be. People just need to search. When I click further in, say, to Google's Advertising Programs, or their “about” section, it’s still fairly minimal. Just enough structure and content to quickly get you what you want.

It can be tricky, this “less is more” mentality. Organizations demand, and web professionals provide, hyper-dense website content. But do our analytics support all this volume? Do our users really expect it? Or are we just afraid to reduce all the noise for fear of not being heard at all? One utility’s site displays 19 (yes, 19) separate clickable sections on its home page alone.

I suspect organizations struggle with excess volume for the same reason they do everything else. They have too much to do and not enough time to do it. So instead of really planning for how to optimize a smaller volume of content, we throw it all on the site and hope it works. I’ve done it myself and understand the temptation.

It takes courage to say “no” to more content. I’m currently encouraging a website client to live within some volume boundaries, both for brand promotion and better site governance. But to achieve sustainable content limits, we must have a content strategy. That way, we can more easily run proposed content through an already-determined filter before posting it. The filter will require the content to jump through some hoops before it’s posted. Does it support our goals? Does it communicate real value to the user?

Most organizations only do one thing. Law schools educate lawyers. Freight companies move goods. Bowling alleys provide recreation. All their organizational tactics (sales promotions, recruiting techniques, publicity, etc.) simply support the one essential purpose. Perhaps organizations that believe they do many things instead of just one are more likely to overload their website.

What is the one thing your organization does? Once you answer that, you can make all your website content serve that one purpose and more easily drop the excess weight. In so doing, you’ll be more likely to achieve the art of doing less.

Upcoming Post: Let’s switch from stock to emotionally rich photos

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! I can't count the times I've had the strategy v. expediency debate with my colleagues and higher-ups. A documented content strategy, with a strategy/style guide to support it in real life, are a must-have in these conversations.