Today's installation is this:
What's in a Layout?
In the original entry, I mentioned page layout as something that both users and search engines will either thank you or shun you for. I think you know what I'm talking about: when you are searching Google for something important--a location, a recipe, a definition, a product-- you don't want to end up on a site with tons of graphics, contrasting colors, long, run-on paragraphs and no discernible beginning or end. You want to find your information where you expect to find it and in a format that suits your needs.
This is where layout comes in.
It starts with the design process: making sure that your site's overall layout is simple enough for users to scan, click and get what they want. This includes making sure that the navigation of your site makes sense and is very visible. It also includes the placement of images on a page (images should tell a story, not be the whole story), as well as other elements.
After the original design of your website, content layout (if you are working with a content management system, which we highly recommend) is up to you. Content layout includes text, bullet points, lists, links, headlines, video and images within a page's changeable content area.
Some winning layout tips for content:
- Make sure to use headlines and sub-headers. This splits your content into subcategories of content and allows your user to scan and locate the information that they want very quickly. For example, perhaps the user on your location incentives page is looking for Enterprise Zones. If so, and if you have a subheader that reads "Enterprise Zones" and is followed by information about these zones, you've just simplified the user's search, making both the user and the search engine (remember, helping one helps the other) happy.
- Images should help tell your story. Make sure, when using imagery, that it doesn't take over your content area and that your readable content doesn't get lost around it. Images and text should work together to lead the reader to the conclusion of their question or search.
- Use your sidebar. Make sure, when someone is developing your website, that you have the ability to add a sidebar. This layout tool allows you to offer snippets, links and other shortened forms of information for your users. Every sidebar is going to be a bit different, depending on your goals. For a couple well-used sidebar examples, visit Indy Partnership (we built a video sidebar for their site, allowing users to actively watch video in the sidebar, as well as clicking on the links or reading the short captions they've included) and Greater Phoenix (in addition to having pages with great downloads and links, GPEC uses their sidebar, where appropriate, to highlight testimonials).
- Combine creativity and innovation with clarity. Use the latest tools available to you (embed a video on your site, get an image gallery, add searchable maps, integrate social media and blogs), but make sure to do so in a way that is simple for your users. Too often we see websites trying to do too much on a page, use too much new technology or set things up in a way that isn't intuitive. If you aren't sure if a user will "get it" - test your ideas on people who weren't involved in their conception. If the intern and the CEO can't figure out how to use your interactive maps, rethink the setup, rethink the instructions or rethink what else is on the page.
Most of all, make sure that your layout is being coddled and watched by someone who understands your audience. And watch your statistics, which can show you which links are being clicked and, even, with the right program, which downloads are being downloaded, how many times your video was viewed and/or which properties were searched on your searchable maps.