Sunday, May 16, 2010

Informational Design Considerations

This is part of Kate's Guide to Author Websites.

Informational Design Considerations

There is an entire academic and professional field called Information Architecture, which is concerned with organizing information in a way that it can be easily located, accessed, and consumed.  Although your author website is unlikely to have so much content that you need an expert architect, you shouldn't take your content for granted.  You also shouldn't treat it the same as your books or your blog.

In the Design Considerations prologue, I talked about putting yourself in your visitor's place and making it easy for her to do what you want her to.  Now we get to the specifics.

The Basics

First recognize that users do not read websites the way they read books or newspapers or even blogs.  Users scan websites.  You need to make your website highly scannable by doing the following:
  • Break up text with whitespace.
  • Use a lot of headers and labels.
  • If you can describe something with a one-word label instead of a sentence, use a label.
  • Keep paragraphs short and concise.
  • Use simple and direct prose; the scanning part of your visitor's brain has a sixth-grade reading level.
  • Redundancy is good, but saying the same thing in ten different ways, as you might when you want to teach something, impedes scanning.  If you aren't teaching, say whatever it is in the simplest, most concise way, and repeat that same wording on different pages as needed.
  • Be consistent in your layout, navigation, use of font styles, and overall organization. 

The Funnel

One of the obvious things people do when creating websites is separate the content out into different pages, and then create a navigation system of links to those pages.  There is a sort of instinct among writer types to approach this the way a librarian might, thinking only of the taxonomy of the information.  This is a good start, but I'm here to tell you that a commercial website is not a library.  It is a funnel.

Remember that the purpose of your site is to get your user to perform a specific action.  No matter how a visitor reaches your site or what their point of entry is, you should always be funneling them toward your goal.  This is more than having a navigation system that keeps them within a click of every other page.  It means punctuating every topic of content with a call to action:

Blah blah blah enough about me.

Purchase now at
Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Borders, Chapters,
or your favorite independent bookstore using IndieBound

If this strikes you as a little pushy, let me assure you this is how successful sites work.  I have tested the revenue generation and user satisfaction of site flows with and without these embedded calls-to-action, and I assure you the sites with them not only generate much more revenue, but users rate these sites higher as well.


Most of the time, a user is visiting a site with a specific goal in mind. Often, they have a specific word in mind, even if it is subconscious. As soon as they get to your site, they will scan for this word, starting with the top of the home page content, and then navigation. Create your menus to match the most likely words the user is looking for.

For example, an author site should have a top-level menu link labelled Books. A common mistake is to omit Books and instead include the actual titles. But if a visitor is not familiar with your work yet, a menu that reads like the one below is confusing, throws off their scan, and can even seem like a rude inside joke:
  • Home
  • Stephen
  • The Shining
  • Thinner
  • Rose Madder
  • Appearances
  • Contact
Your top-level navigation needs to have the simple keywords a new visitor would look for, and more detailed or custom keywords should go in submenus or other link lists.

I think a reasonable organization for a typical author website would look like the one below.  Omit those that don't apply, and remember that EVERY page should have an invitation to Buy Now.
  • Home (list the latest news here)
  • About the Author
    • Bio (emphasis on writing and relationship to subject matter)
    • Links to past interviews/video/transcripts/etc
  • Books
    • Title1
      • Description
      • Praise & Awards
      • Excerpt
  • Coming Soon
    • Title2  (or Untitled Work-In-Progress)
      • Description
      • Status
      • Release time frame
      • How to get announcements
  • Resources (Particularly if you write about coping, such as with alcoholism or a specific disability, consider including links to associations or communities dedicated to this subject.)
  • Appearances
    • Calendar
    • Links to past interviews/video/transcripts/etc.
  • Forum
  • Blog
  • Contact (email address, blogs, facebook, twitter, etc.)

Let me know what you think. 

Next up in this series: Functional Design Considerations.  That one will be short, I promise!


  1. This is such good stuff!

    As a reader I get frustrated if I'm on a website and I like the book I'm reading about but I can't find where I can get hold of it! So yes, the calls to action help the reader as well as the author.

    And I'm all in favour of plenty of white space. Everywhere! It makes blogs more readable too.

  2. By the way, I keep forgetting to tick the "subscribe by email" link. But I remembered this time!

  3. I don't have an author website (I do want one, though!) and this is wonderful info to know! Thanks.


  4. Thank you both; I really hope you find it useful!