Nielson on 'should your website have concise or in-depth content?'

Long pages with all the text, or shorter pages with links to extended texts – this question often comes up in discussions about our websites. It's the kind of question that can be difficult to answer by looking at the stats for existing sites because raw numbers mask all kinds of factors, and so far we haven't had the time or resources to explore this with our different audiences.

In Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy Jakob Nielsen says:

  • If you want many readers, focus on short and scannable content. This is a good strategy for advertising-driven sites or sites that sell impulse buys.
  • If you want people who really need a solution, focus on comprehensive coverage. This is a good strategy if you sell highly targeted solutions to complicated problems.

But the very best content strategy is one that mirrors the users' mixed diet. There's no reason to limit yourself to only one content type. It's possible to have short overviews for the majority of users and to supplement them with in-depth coverage and white papers for those few users who need to know more.

Of course, the two user types are often the same person — the one who's usually in a hurry, but is sometimes in thorough-research mode. In fact, our studies of B2B users show that business users often aren't very familiar with the complex products or services they're buying and need simple overviews to orient themselves before they begin more in-depth research.

Hypertext to the Rescue
On the Web, you can offer both short and long treatments within a single hyperspace. Start with overviews and short, simplified pages. Then link to long, in-depth coverage on other pages.

With this approach, you can serve both types of users (or the same user in different stages of the buying process).

The more value you offer users each minute they're on your site, the more likely they are to use your site and the longer they're likely to stay. This is why it's so important to optimize your content strategy for your users' needs.

So how do we adapt commercial models for a cultural heritage context? Could business-to-business users who start by familiarising or orienting themselves before beginning more in-depth research be analogous to the 'meaning making modes' for museum visitors – browsers and followers, searchers or researchers – identified by consultants Morris, Hargreaves, McIntyre?

Is a 'read more' link on shorter pages helpful or disruptive of the visitors' experience? Can the shorter text be written to suit browsers and followers and the 'read more' link crafted to tempt the searchers?

I wish I could give the answer in the next paragraph, but I don't know it myself.

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