It’s tempting to think that all you need to do to offer great web content is gather up all that material you already have—brochures, photos, press releases, direct mailers, etc.—and slap it onto your site. Presto.

But there’s more to it if you want your web content to reach and influence your intended audience. These days, you must structure your content and overall site in ways you never considered in the era of print.

Why? Because the way people find and use information on the web differs from how they consume print materials. Not only that—search engines and even other websites and apps that don’t read like humans need to understand your content so they help the right people find and connect with it.

To make sure you’re getting the most mileage out of your content, let’s review the macro and micro of structuring content to maximize influence and reach.

Site-Wide Structure

Before you get to individual pages, articles, or posts, consider a few things about your overall site.

Architecture

Architecture refers to how you organize your overall content, such as what sections you have and what content goes in each. What’s the hierarchy of the sections? Do you feature a few top-level sections, with smaller sections beneath those, or just one group of sections containing all the content pages?

REI Architecture
REI’s architecture moves through several layers of sections, from the general to the more specific, helping visitors easily find just what they are looking for.

Getting the architecture right helps people navigate through your site easily and intuitively to find what they want. For the machines and web crawlers, you’ll want to provide a sitemap that gives a top-down view of your site, listing all the pages and relaying their relationships and relative importance.

Apple’s sitemap, shown here, continues far down the page with headings for each of its major product lines as well as support. While sitemaps primarily aim to explain your site’s organization to Google and other search engines, they can help site visitors find what they are looking for, too.

Apple's sitemap
Apple’s sitemap

Content Types and Templates

Content types refer to the various kinds of content you offer on your site, such as blog posts, product pages, and support guides. Once you’ve defined your content types (by thinking about content that serves similar functions), you can create a template that lays out the elements required for each. We call this “chunking.”

The benefits of good content templates and chunking include:

  • Streamlining content creation
  • Easing the reuse of content in other formats or channels, including mobile
  • Enabling better content comparisons
  • Creating a more consistent design and presentation experience
  • Enhancing the “learnability” of your content, which can enhance your brand

Tagging

A well-organized tagging system works in conjunction with your architecture and content types to unlock potent content potential. When set up well, the combination of architecture, content types, and tagging can power:

  • Faceted search, which allows your visitors to filter and sort your content based on various criteria to meet their specific needs
  • Aggregation of content into topic hubs, trending topics, or other content discovery drivers
  • Highly targeted related content modules that also drive discovery
AutoTrader.com search
An example of a simple faceted search from AutoTrader.com.

Page-Specific Structure

Now that you’ve structured your overall site well, let’s look at what you can do with each page, post, or piece of content you create.

Layer Information

Some people will want just the basics on any given topic. Others will want all the nitty-gritty details. Without overwhelming anyone, you can satisfy both desires through layering—providing the simplest, most straight-forward information first in teasers, summaries, and overviews. Then, provide options to delve deeper through links to another page, pop-up help, or other tactics.

We sometimes call this a “bite-snack-meal” approach, which offers the added benefit of providing people a small digestible sample of the content to help them decide if they want to dig in further.

Writing Style and Format

People use the web differently than they read a book, flip through a magazine, or watch a TV spot. On the web, generally, they hunt for something, and they scan and skip around until they find it. That’s when they dig in more deeply. So your approach needs to reflect that, with scanability as a primary goal.

Follow these basic guidelines to enhance scanability:

  • Avoid large blocks of text
  • Provide bold, clear headings
  • Use bulleted lists, tables, infographics, and charts
  • Answer likely questions from users

Metadata

Yes, you should fill in all those pesky boxes for titles, descriptions, alt text, and the like. You may feel it’s redundant, but that data goes a long way in helping search engines as well as actual people discover what you have to offer.

Remember that search engines often display the meta-descriptions in search results, so create descriptions that help people decide whether the content meets their needs. Avoid keyword-stuffed gobbledygook.


 

These tools and techniques—architecture, tagging, and templates at the macro level, and format, style, and metadata at the micro level—give your content the structure and flexibility it needs to connect with your audience in varied and powerful ways.

Your visitors may never consciously notice many of these things, but don’t let that diminish its importance. Just remember that it’s the behind-the-scenes work that allows what happens on the stage to shine, connect with the audience, and leave an indelible impression.

 

The Author

Sally Taylor is an associate writer with Content Science Review. You can contact Sally at Content Science.

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