For a long time in web development planning, the industry has focused on building sitemaps to organize website content. You know, charts that look like corporate org charts. Sitemaps allowed us to put content into different hierarchical buckets in an attempt to guide users through a website from:
a) the homepage to
b) a secondary page to
c) a tertiary page
with the appropriate calls to action on each page to get from point (a) to point (c).
This worked fine when visitors followed the desired path, exactly as planned. However, this is not how people navigate sites anymore. More often than not, visitors enter a site somewhere other than the homepage. As more and more visitors access deep links and interior pages serve as their first impression and jump-off point for the site, we need to change this linear thinking. Every visit needs to be treated as a first impression, regardless of the page on which the visitor lands.
From there, the content journey begins. And by content, I don’t mean flat content – the content journey includes ecommerce, tweets, apps, and all on screen interaction.
The journey. It’s fun to think about. The iPad has taught us to flip, stretch and scroll rather than clicking from one thing to the next. We’re now explorers rather than chronological clickers.
I like to study retail websites. I see them as the trend-setters for web behavior. The best retail sites have reinvented navigation. From any landing page, the user has the ability to customize their web experience to display content that’s relevant for them.
Zappos.com is my favorite – without clicking from one page to the next to the next, I can navigate and filter on any page. Right before my eyes, content shuffles around and I’m left with exactly what I was searching for.
That’s not all, sites like Zappos.com and Amazon.com do a brilliant job cross-selling and up-selling based on your selection. These principles go way beyond shoes and retail. The same thinking can be applied to almost any website. We call it function mapping, rather than content mapping.
The more we focus on the content journey, the more successful we’ll be at retaining web visitors and providing an experience they will remember and want to repeat. Isn’t this the goal of every site?