November 28th, 2005
When users are searching for content on a site, each page they encounter must do one of two things. Either the page provides the content they are seeking or it delivers them closer to the page that does.
As we’ve watched users search for their desired content, we’ve realized there are patterns to the pages we see. We’ve started to catalogue these patterns and have concluded there are essentially 8 types of pages a user can run into, when searching content-rich sites.
These different page types turned out to be important as we discovered users behave differently as they encounter each one. If the design of a given type doesn’t support the user’s behavior, then the user is less likely to succeed in finding their target content. Often, pages fail because designers don’t realize they were designing for the wrong type.
The eight types (in a loose most-to-least importance order) are:
- Content Pages: The most important page on your site, assuming it contains the content the user seeks at that moment. Also known to contain lateral navigation, allowing users to jump from content page to content page to gather more information to support their activity.
- Galleries: A listing of links to content pages, this page is the most critical “link in the chain” of pages. Most navigation failures we see are due to poorly-designed gallery pages. Users want to decide on the content page from within the gallery, to eliminate pogosticking.
- Departments: Sites that have too many links for a single gallery need to have a Department page, which lists all the galleries. While you’d think these would work the same as galleries, users somehow understand that a list of galleries is different from a list of content pages and use these pages more for winnowing their selection down.
- Stores: Really large sites (such as those with more than 50,000 content pages) find that they need multiple departments. If they have enough departments, they’ll need multiple pages to describe them–we call those store pages. News sites, for example, often have store pages (such as US, World, Business, Sports, and Weather). Stores are segmented content areas that users rarely bounce between, therefore requiring everything that user needs in one location.
- Gallery-level Search Results: The most common of search result pages, the Gallery-Level Search Results page are similar to plain-old galleries, except they contain the search engine generated results. This means they don’t benefit from the handcrafted selection process of real galleries, but instead are computer-generated and, therefore, have a harder time presenting the necessary information for choosing.
- Department-level Search Results: On really large sites, it’s not uncommon for the search engine to try to divide the results into departments, creating what we call Department-level Search Results. These results are presented to assist in the winnowing process.
- Search Entry Page: The page where the user enters their search query. (Sometimes it’s a standalone page, but frequently it’s just a section of a larger page, such as a gallery or a department.)
- Home Page (Landing pages): The least important page on the site (unless it contains the user’s content), the home page (which, in this day of Google & Yahoo is often a landing page and not the top-level URL page) is tasked with orienting users in the right direction–sort of a Munchkinland at the start of the yellow-brick road. Depending on the size of the site, it’s like the home page will also be a content, gallery, department, or store page.
These different pages are very important to understanding how the Scent of Information works. It’s something you’ll find us talking about a lot over the next few months.
For those of you who love to see these things demonstrated live, Christine and I will be sharing a lot of our research on the eight types at the Web Design Foundations Roadshow, showing examples from dozens of sites, such as Lands’ End, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Ericcson, and others.Tweet