Above the Fold is obsolete (and digibuy is a good company)

We’ve been working on a major overhaul of our new website for about a year now. One of the big issues with this redesign has been trying to figure out our audience. As a branch of government, we finally came to the conclusion that we simply have a gigantic audience to deal with. As such, attempting to come up with specific personas wasn’t necessarily going to help us as much as it does in other projects. The issue was simply that we had dozens of personas to address and, short of designing separate sites for these folks, we had to deal with the fact that a lot of content had to be presented to a lot of different users.

In addition, our first stab at doing this last year led us to at least attempt to define some personas and we found that it just didn’t work. Too many folks fell outside of our common personas and people were simply getting frustrated with having to define who they were before they could get to the content.

Long story short, with the new site, we decided that more links was better than not enough and decided to go with a rather long, but organized, navigation bar for the site. Of course, this created some backlash mainly from internal people. And, even to me, it seemed a bit counter intuitive. We’ve always been taught the truism that we should never give people more than 7 options at once and it’s better to funnel them through smaller sets of options rather than give them too many at once.

At that time, I came across a recommendation online for the report Designing for the Scent of Information from Jared Spool’s UIE. If you work on sites with a large amount of information, then this is a must-read, IMHO (and, at $31, quite affordable).

The primary thesis of the report is that people will stick with a site as long as they feel that they are getting closer and closer to their goal of finding the information they want. As long as the scent of the trail is there, they won’t give up. The key is to make sure that the scent remains. A common way to break that scent is to stop giving them the options they are looking for.

Some highlights of the report that I find go against what we web developers have long just assumed were the right thing to do include:

  • ‘Above the fold’ is obsolete. In their study, they found that people are more than willing to scroll to find the information they want. This goes against the marketing departments favorite mantra “EVERYTHING must be above the fold!”
  • Shorter links aren’t necessarily better. The study indicated that link lengths of 7-12 words are most likely to take people where they want to go.
  • Site structure isn’t important to the end user…they just care that they find what they are looking for (based on that UIE suggests that the home page should always be the LAST page designed on the site)

There’s much more to the report than just that, though, so definitely grab a copy and give it a read.

As for Digibuy, that is the vendor that will actually handle the purchase of the PDF report for you. The reason I called them out separately is that they do a great thing for the customer: They send a reminder email that I had purchased this particular report, using a particular credit card. Why is that useful? Well, they explain it in the email:

Our customers have found this notice useful in confirming otherwise unknown credit card charges.

It’s a simple, but brilliant bit of customer service. Indeed, my wife did call me to ask me what this odd charge was on the bill. More than once I’ve been stumped with that type of question. ;o)