Breaking Up Large Documents for the Web – Part 2
This article is an excerpt from Ginny’s book Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works.
This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Click here to read part 1.
Deciding How Much To Put on One Web Page
We’ve been looking at how to break your web content into pieces-by time or sequence, by task, by people, by type of information, and by the different questions that people ask. Once you have the pieces, you have to decide how many topics, articles, questions, or pieces of information to put together on one web page.
One page or separate pages? When faced with that decision, ask yourself these questions:
- How much do people want in one visit? How connected is the information?
- Am I overloading my site visitors? How long is the web page?
- What’s the download time?
- Will people want to print? How much will they want to print?
How Much Do People Want in One Visit? How Connected Is the Information?
I see many web pages where topics are stacked together on one web page when they are answers to different questions that different people ask at different times. The topics fit together from the organization’s point of view, but the web user wants only one when visiting the site.
(Note, September 2009: Dymocks has changed their web site. It no longer has this page or this problem.)
A page like this is built for the scenario, “Mario wants to read all of our customer support policies and procedures at one time.” That scenario doesn’t seem likely. It’s much more likely that site visitors will start conversations like the following with the site.
From the web user’s point of view, a more useful design would be a pathway page with topics each leading to a much shorter page that covers just that topic-the way it is done by Powell’s of Portland, Oregon
Am I Overloading My Site Visitors? How Long Is the Web Page?
We’ve just seen when you should break up web pages that cover many different topics. A web page on one topic can also be too long. Consider again the example at the beginning of this chapter: the 32-page document on Weight Control and Diet. That’s just too much for any person to absorb at once.
Most people today do scroll vertically if the page layout indicates that the page continues. But they won’t scroll forever. Think of three or four scrolls’ worth as a maximum length for a web page.
To break up longer pages, use the guidelines earlier in this chapter to find a good way to group and divide the information into subtopics. That way, you can make a series of pages with a table of contents on a previous (pathway) page.
What’s the Download Time?
A third consideration in deciding between putting information together on one web page or separating it onto separate web pages is how long it will take for your site visitors to get what they need. Remember that many people still have slow connections and pay by the minute.
People are going to be annoyed if they wait a long time for a page that has much more than they need. On the other hand, if you break up the information onto many small pages and your visitors want all those pages, waiting for each one to load may be annoying. And the time between pages may interrupt their putting the information together in their heads.
So you have to think about the issue of download time together with the issues of how much of the information people want and how connected it is in their minds.
Will people want to print? How much will they want to print?
And the fourth question to think about in deciding between one page or separate pages is what people might want to print.
- If people want just one section and have to print pages and pages to get it, they waste toner, paper, and time. That’s frustrating.
- If the document is broken into pieces that are so small that people have to print several web pages in succession to get what they need, that’s also frustrating. They waste paper and time, if not toner-and it takes many clicks to finish the task.
So you have to consider how much people want in any particular visit to your web site.
If you have some people who want to print only a little, some who want to print more, and some who want to print an entire document, offer options. Figure 5-13 shows how the U. S. National Cancer Institute makes some of its content available.