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Content Management: Design For Rule, Not Exception

by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

If your website tries to be all things to all people, it will fail. It�s very easy on the Web to try to do too much. You need to relentlessly focus on what most of your readers do most of the time. Don�t let anything else get in the way.

The 80:20 rule is one of the most important rules you can follow on the Web. Your target audience represents a small percentage of the web population. A small percentage of your content is going to satisfy their needs. Most of the time, this audience wants to carry out a small set of tasks.

Every time you add something to your website you take something else away: attention. Think about Google for a moment. When you come to Google you can immediately focus on searching. There is nothing else that gets in your way.

Every time you add another link, graphic or piece of content to your page, you are adding a potential distraction. This may result in slowing people down or in stopping them doing the primary thing you want them to do.

I came across an ordering process recently that told you how many minutes you had left to complete the process. When I showed this to a group of potential customers, they shuddered. It was like Mission Impossible. Complete the order within five minutes or the screen will self-destruct.

The organization had what seemed like a good reason why it published that information. Because the product had high sales volume, it would only hold the product for a certain length of time for you. If you got up and had a cup of coffee without completing the order, and then later went back, you would have to start the entire purchase process again.

Ninety five percent of people didn�t have a problem with completing the order in the time allocated. Five percent did. The number of minutes left was published to help this small group. The problem was that by publishing this information to help the exception, the majority was upset.

If you try and deal with every possible circumstance, you are likely to create a very complicated and confusing website. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. Trying to do so will mean that you annoy most of the people most of the time.

People move around your website as if were driving down a motorway. If you want to communicate with them you need to be very clear and concise. That means making difficult choices. That means designing for the rule, not the exception. Give the exception an email address or phone number where they can make their special request.

Designing for the rule does not just apply to business. It�s as applicable to government, university or hospital websites. If you try satisfying everybody, you end up frustrating everybody.

Every time you add a piece of content you make your website a little more difficult to navigate. There will come a point where your website becomes too confusing. People are impatient. Give the majority what they want. Make it simple. Make it clear. Make it fast. Otherwise, they will reach for their favorite button: the Back button.

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking 2004. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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