We have recently completed a number of usability testing projects for clients with large information sites i.e. non-transactional sites. These have included organisations as diverse as a major UK charity, a manufacturer of precision measuring equipment, and an EU institution.
A common issue with all these sites (and many large information sites) is a lack of focus on key user goals. The sites are seen as a place where the owners can put all their content even if it is rarely, or in some cases never, accessed! Site owners seem unaware that there is a ‘cost’ attached to putting too much content on a site: the more there is the harder it is for users to find what they want. On most sites Pareto (or worse) applies: 80% of users want 20% of the content. These are the top user tasks, the things the site should focus on. The other 80% of the content is often getting in the way of users finding what they want. The more content there is, the harder it is to build a successful information architecture; inevitably links start to give off false or conflicting scent for users’ tasks. The evidence we have from building and testing information architectures on large information sites it is very hard to get task success rates above 70%.
As a result, we will often argue that a site does not need to provide all the content needed to support every conceivable user goal. For most organisations there are other channels that users resort to when they can’t find what they want e.g. they pick up the phone. It is much more cost effective to let the 80% of users self-serve for the 20% of most popular content, and support the other 20% of users another way, especially if the low usage content stops most users finding what they want and they ring up anyway!