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A Sense of Place

What makes you want to stick around? If you decide to take a walk in the woods on a Sunday afternoon, aren’t you more likely to take your time and meander around if you are on clearly marked trails, each with a beginning and end with which you’re familiar? This would be in contrast to getting off trail, or lost somehow. When we get lost, our objective becomes urgently clear: get found and get out. If you all of a sudden find yourself lost in the woods, chances are your walk is going to end up being a lot shorter than it would have if you felt safe and comfortable the entire time.

The same is true for websites. Because most of us use Google to find information on very specific topics, we often times find ourselves on web pages that are buried deep inside of websites we’ve never visited. If you are in charge of your firm’s website, you need to be very cognizant of the fact that most people visiting your site might never actually see your home page. If you’ve got an effective content strategy in place, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of pages on your site that Google is more interested in than your homepage, and Google is going to be directing people to those pages far more than your home page.

What does this mean? Well, as Eric wrote a few years ago, it means that every page is your home page. I suggest that you go through your site today, and analyze how usable each page is based on its own merits. Look at each page as if it were the only gateway into your site.

If you landed on one of your site’s deepest pages via a Google search, would your company’s mission statement be evident? Would you know what kinds of information are available throughout the rest of the site? Would you be able to act on a clear and compelling call to action from that page? Would you instantly develop a sense of place, feel confortable where you are, and be encouraged to delve deeper into the site?

This type of thing doesn’t happen by accident. The only way new visitors can develop an intuitive and comfortable sense of where they are on your site is through a very well constructed Information Architecture. Wikipedia defines Information Architecture as “the art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities, and software to support findability and usability.” I think that sums it up quite nicely. Now, the science of actually creating a great IA is a much deeper topic than I can cover in this post, but we’ve got some great resources elsewhere on the site.

The benefit of creating a site that rolls out the red carpet on every page is that your visitors will evolve from one time viewers who read a paragraph and take off, to engaged potential buyers whose interest has been piqued. By treating each page as your home page and making sure that you have simple, thorough, and consistent navigation systems in place, you will foster longer initial sessions, more frequent return sessions, and more conversions on your calls to action.

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