People go to company websites when they have a specific question. But instead of answers, you will find catalogs. That needs to change.
Let’s take a look at the initial situation: Websites with a high level of content often have tree structures. Contents are bundled according to topic, information hierarchies are derived from them and finally the page structure visible to the user is built up. If there is a topic that seems big enough, the tree structure is expanded in width or depth. The companies use the navigation as a table of contents and expect users to use the website like catalogs and to understand what is behind it. True to the motto: The content determines its structure.
But the greater the need for explanation, the more complex the structure becomes. Navigating back and forth between pages or long blocks of content frustrates users and doesn’t provide the right answers efficiently enough. If the expectation of the underlying content is not met quickly, the users jump off. In order to prevent this, many pages refer to related or more in-depth content – but have still not answered the user’s question.
An example to illustrate: Many vehicle manufacturers are experiencing the greatest upheaval in decades with the electrification of their fleets. Users also have completely new questions before they buy a vehicle. Many manufacturers dedicate their own areas and sub-pages to the topic of “electric driving”, but often forget to answer critical questions from potential buyers, such as about the charging infrastructure, directly at the points where they arise – such as on the model pages or even in the configurator .
When classic approaches meet modern demands
The handling of content provided by websites has to change: With traditional structures, companies can neither achieve their users nor their business goals. Increasing complexity and increasing need for explanation in many areas meet increasing demands – with the user’s attention span becoming ever smaller. Websites must therefore be understood as intelligent tools that adapt to the situation and motivation of the user.
The decisive step is to break away from the inner view of the provider and to take the perspective of the user. The methods that companies can use for this include, for example, so-called user stories, which in interaction with personas, i.e. prototypes for target groups, define very specific tasks for website users in order to be able to offer suitable solutions. The “jobs to be done” method works independently of personas: Here so-called job stories are formulated which are dedicated to precise situations, motivations and the associated expectations of users and represent a very empathic approach in terms of customer focus.
The aim is to lead the information architecture back to a real consideration of all content in content modules and consequently to connect, for example, with the mentioned job stories in order to be able to define in which situations users are looking for which answers. The information architecture is then no longer misused as an extended sitemap, but provides the clear, informative basis for the first steps to implement the actual navigation and page structure.
The progressive content approach
With the progressive content approach, companies provide content on their websites that is displayed to the user according to their behavior so that they can achieve their goal. This also means: If the situation and motivation of the user change, ideally the content module must also adapt to it.
This approach assumes that the navigation with as few levels as possible is only used for a rough introduction, but the pages themselves can then react much more efficiently than navigation and the complex structure behind it to the demands of the user. The foundation for this is strongly compressed content that leads to quick understanding and shows much better than tree structures which deeper information is hidden behind them – without piling up mountains of content. From here, users can access further content and stay directly on the page.
A good example of this is Tesla’s US site : navigation focuses on vehicles and energy as another product. Only a single, full-screen module is used for each topic block on the model side, which clearly outlines the topic. Each of these modules has a Learn More button, which can then be used to open the in-depth content. However, the user remains on the model page and can easily change the depth of the content at any time. In this way, the site succeeds in meeting as many user motivations as possible in the shortest possible time.
The progressive content approach can also result in content being offered several times, depending on the context, on different pages. In combination with clear, conversion-driven actions and call-to-actions, user and business goals are combined.
Modern content management systems, which no longer function in templates for fixed page structures, but as interfaces of building blocks for every type of content, facilitate precisely this path for modern websites. Because these systems no longer only think in terms of predefined modules or entire pages, but in terms of content modules that can be adapted to the situations and motivations of the users in their form and depth. A smart CMS can therefore keep important information ready in the system at any time and react to user requests in real time.
A look ahead
The next level of the progressive content approach is not only to think of content in clusters, but to react directly to obvious user needs – that is, not only to deepen the existing content, but to offer decisions and thus solutions. This model can be optimally combined with tracking and analysis data in order to develop pages that can be adapted to requirements in terms of form, content and visual appearance: Personalization takes place in real time via a dynamic page structure – indirectly via user behavior as well as directly via Interactions.
Then the website will finally go from a catalog to a tool that provides users with holistic solutions – and companies have shown that they understand what their users want.