The structure of your website is all wrong (probably)

Yesterday I mentioned the need for a serious planning stage before approaching a website designer (or more accurately, a website builder). So what needs to go into this plan?

There are two parts, as I see it. One is defining the structure of the site; the other is specifying the functionality.

The structure of the site is the key to everything. At the top, you’ll have a home page. At the bottom, you’ll have lots of product pages and call-to-action fulfilment. What you need to do is to design a way which gets strangers, as quickly as possible, from the top to the bottom without getting lost or giving up on the way. This will require a good understanding of who’ll be visiting the site, what they already know, and what they’re looking for.

What you don’t want to do is to design the website around your company structure. Unfortunately this is exactly what most websites end up doing. The home page says: “Here we are, aren’t we great, and this is what we’ve got”.

Instead, your home page needs to say: “You’re here because you need to do (whatever), and here’s how we can do it for you”. It needs to be application and end-user focused. As with so much in marketing, your home page and site structure needs to replicate how your best salespeople would approach a prospect.

In a traditional website structure, we see that division A makes product range B which contains model C. To get from the home page to model C, the visitor needs to work out which division makes product range B, then which product range contains model C. And that’s assuming they know that model C is what they want. Most won’t.

Good salespeople would never ask a prospect: “Which of our divisions do you want a product from? OK, which of that division’s product ranges do you want a product from? OK, if I list all the models in that product range, can you choose which one you want?” They’d ask application-oriented questions to work their way down to the appropriate product.

Replicating this in a website is hard, which is why so many companies bypass the step. The resulting structure isn’t a convenient pyramid. There are multiple routes to any particular call-to-action. But not only does this approach get people to the right place more reliably, it allows them to see supporting material too.

For example, who has a section on their website called “News” or “Blog”? And have you dared look at how few people look at that section? It’s not very encouraging. With a customer-focused approach to website structure, supporting material like this (and case studies) takes its rightful place, integrated into the journey through the site. It doesn’t just live on its own (rarely visited) element of the pyramid, it’s linked-to from pages which are relevant. Need to reduce the size of your blue widgets? Here’s a product which can do this, or here’s a case study of how someone has already done it (which then leads to the product…).

Tomorrow I’ll look at specifying the functionality of the site.

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