When planning new websites, we often run into one of two problems related to content. The first is that the company doesn’t have enough content and needs to produce much more to fill out the site. The second is too much content. To be clear, it’s a good problem to have, but it often results in conversations around how to organize everything. The answer, in a word, is a hierarchy.
The clients I’ve worked with that have plenty of content tend to view it all as equally important. They expect website visitors to read through every word of every page and walk away completely understanding the company’s ethos and ready to buy their product or service. Unfortunately, visitors rarely interact this way; they tend to have a short attention span and/or simply don’t care about much of what the website has to say. This is why, as challenging as it can sometimes feel, it is important to prioritize.
In order to understand what a site hierarchy looks like and how to be successful in creating it, we need to consider the status quo for many sites. Content creators often consider their sites to be a linear progression of ideas, with users following the same general path:
Many times, these ideas correspond both to pages on the site and to links in the main navigation menu. In addition to becoming unwieldy with more than a few pages worth of content, the other problem with this approach is that visitors will often see ideas in a different order, whether by choice or based on where they land from a search query or other inbound link. If someone has to see Idea 1 before Ideas 3 makes sense, the visitor may simply leave rather than go back and read Idea 1.
In contrast, a hierarchy creates a logical grouping that works no matter what order a site is read in and allows visitors to choose how deep they’d like to dive into an idea.
Users may progress through the site in any order they like, even skipping pages completely. The content always makes sense, and they can see exactly as much or as little of the site as they like.
So, how do we actually go about creating a hierarchy? The first step is breaking your content down into fundamental ideas. The exact number of ideas is going to vary depending on your site, but here are a few guidelines to consider:
With your main ideas broken out, we’ll start to use the exercise I just alluded to; each one-or-two-paragraph summary will form the first main page of your idea. From here, you’ll break out your remaining sub-ideas into an outline and link to them from this page. (I highly recommend not adding these sub-level pages to your navigation menu; it tends to just clutter things up.) Complete your outline and be sure that all of your content maps this structure. Here’s an example based on our Empower Ideas website.
Main Ideas: E-commerce, Design, Marketing
Sub Ideas for E-commerce:
(Notice how, in this case, all of the new content gets lumped underneath “Insights” whereas the evergreen site content is broken out separately.)
Depending on the level of complexity of your outline, you’ll determine how to link to your various sub-ideas. Here are some options:
If you can keep the general idea in mind of introducing a topic, then providing more and more detail as the user drills down deeper and deeper, then you will be able to create a successful hierarchy that makes your site easier to navigate, easier to understand, and more successful. At Empower Ideas, we’ll help you walk through this process during the design phase, basing our recommendations on the amount and type of content you have as well as the overall structure of the site. Since search engines love content and organization, this strategy will also often help improve your search engine performance.