the 5 Ws of reviewing web content.

Usability isn’t the most sexy subject. When pondering Web sites, people often get hung up on the look, bells and whistles, other shiny objects. But creating a good-looking Web site that doesn’t work for your users is like buying a beautiful sports car that doesn’t run.

On the Web, content itself is king. With that in mind, and working with our users, I’ve developed the following 5 Ws of content usability while reviewing existing pages:

Who? If you have contacts on your pages, are they accurate and updated? I found that an email address on one of our primary pages did not work because the department discontinued it without telling anyone. This also applies to the important consideration: Who is your audience? Are you writing for that audience, or for yourself?

What? Or Wha? Or Huh? As in: Does this make sense? Just because a page sort of made sense when you wrote it (especially in a hurry) doesn’t mean it will when viewed from a distance. Or perhaps what you wrote last year no longer applies. Which leads into …

When? Pet peeve: Web sites that talk about fall 2009 events in the future tense. This is sloppy, and makes you look lazy. Or clueless. If you’re doing something event-based as a major part of your site, note on whatever calendar you use (iCal, Google, Franklin Planner, crayon) to update that information after the specific event or semester.

Where? Where do your links go? Are those pages still valid? Or, even worse, are any links broken? How long does it take to check a link? A few seconds. How long will a user be ticked off if they click a broken link? Much much longer. And in terms of navigation, are you taking your audience where they want or need to go?

Why? At the risk of sounding philosophical, what’s the reason for this page’s existence? Is it for something that is no longer applicable? Does it duplicate another page? Does it merit its own page, or can it be succinctly spelled out on a higher-level page? Since we’re looking at migrating pages to a new content management system, this part is the equivalent of throwing away unused or unnecessary items in your attic before loading the moving van.

Admittedly, we’re all busy, so checking back on pages isn’t always the highest priority. But think of the cost of frustrating, outdated or hard-to-navigate pages — the prospective students, customers or potential clients who give up because you don’t have your act together — and you’ll find reviewing your pages and using the 5 Ws of Web content usability well worth it.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “the 5 Ws of reviewing web content.

  1. Ron

    Good post to start out the year, Tim. Thanks for this one.

  2. This is why it is so critical to establish a general timeline of reviewing/updating existing websites. Why this is such an uphill battle to convince our campus clients of this necessity, however, is something I’ll never know. Like you said, it’s hardly sexy, but absolutely something you shouldn’t procrastinate doing.

  3. This is so very helpful. I’d add to the “When” section — many applications can be built and used to tell you when a date-sensitive page needs updating. Our academic and final exam schedules are automated to switch (database back end, ColdFusion (soon to be PHP) front end) on specific dates as scheduled in our database. For static pages, our CMS allows us to “schedule reminders” that will e-mail us to remind us when a page we set up has date sensitive info that needs to be updated. The old crayon factor certainly works, but I’m all for automating when tools are available to do so.

    Thanks so much for this post — I plan link to it from our university’s site where I have resources for co-workers inquiring about updating their sites.

  4. Nicki

    This is a great article. I am going to share it with friends. Thanks!

  5. insidetimshead

    RON: Thank you, sir. As Jeeves would say, I endeavor to give service.

    CHRIS: If you ever discover the answer, that would be as big a breakthrough as splitting the atom. So many would rather create something new and shiny than do the meat and potatoes. Sometimes this involves them creating new pages and just ignoring/not updating the old ones … which, of course, still show up on site and Google searches.

    RACHEL: One thing I’m looking forward to with a database-driven system is the opportunity to make such dynamic changes. Of course, the ability for timed updates existed in the old system, not that anyone used it. : / As always, I appreciate the positive feedback and am flattered you find it a link-worthy resource.

    NICKI: Thanks! I encourage sharing!

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