The golden rules: back to the basics
Usability and user experience design are not black magic or rocket science, but there are some rules from the age before the web that still hold true.
If you have a site or a blog, you probably feel that you have to publish something new often. I disagree. If you focus only on what you wrote today or yesterday, you’re forgetting most of your content. You might have a goose laying golden eggs hidden on your site, and you don’t even know about it.
I’m talking about long tails. And not the kind of long tails pictured above, but the content that isn’t affected by time. The stuff that stays fresh for years. Without much of an effort on your part.
I have a background as an analyst in news organizations. Their business is the type of content that ages quickly. Who cares about yesterday’s news? But on these news sites, content could be found that rarely made it to the daily or weekly top lists, but kept getting traffic year after year. Maybe it was the seasonal stuff (think ‘recipe for a holiday treat’ or ‘how to prune those bushes in the yard’) or just something that never gets old (say, ‘how to change the tires on your car’).
It doesn’t sound like the most clickable stuff on the site, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not supposed to go viral. It’s supposed to stay fresh and up-to-date. That’s why it’s the most read stuff when you look at a longer period of time – years. Try it now; have a look at what content has gotten the most pageviews over, say, the last three years. Or five. Did you find it? Did you have any idea it was your most read piece over the last few years?
The content of your long-tail might surprise you. It usually surprises me.
Frantic has a blog post, written by our Senior Designer Henri Block, that keeps racking up page views year after year. It was published in January 2013, over five years ago. It’s this one. The post is a clear summary of the eight classic and academic rules for user interface design.
I first noticed the blog post when I was looking for typical landing pages on our website. Quite a few sites rely on social media for traffic, but this landing page got its traffic only from organic searches, which seems to be the rule-of-thumb for long-tail content.
The ones landing on this page are certainly sure of what they are looking for. They are very specifically googling for “eight golden rules” and the like.
Frantic does have other long-tail content on the site also, and it’s fairly timeless stuff. Who doesn’t dream of summer in the middle of a bad Finnish winter? Or who doesn’t get a little provoked by this headline?
Unfortunately, the long tail traffic doesn’t seem to translate to reading a lot more on the site. They come, they read the post, and then they leave. I wonder if they even know whose site they were on?
Retaining the users that land on your page is the challenge with long-tail, but you can work on that. I can’t give you an exact recipe for what to do with the traffic your long-tail content brings to your site, because it depends on what your objective with the site is. But I can point you in the direction of the data that might help you come up with ideas.
The readers of your long-tail content might not be your usual audience. Have a look at the ones reading that piece. Did you find it’s your normal audience – same demographics, same devices? If so, you are probably in the minority. In the case of Henri’s blog, the crew reading it is a tad older than our usual users.
Maybe you want more signups for your newsletter? Put the sign-up widget right under the long-tail content.
If you have lots of long-tail content, maybe even of the same kind (like recipes or something similar), then maybe a different subset of material on the site? Lead from one article to the next one? Or maybe send out that golden egg in your next newsletter? Remember, just because you think it’s yesterday's news, doesn’t mean that everyone else will.
If they do read something else on your site, what is it? It probably isn’t the longest top list you’ve seen, but you’ll get a feel for the crowd. Are they reading the same kind of stuff or doing something completely different? Did they do it during the same session, or did they come back? And if they did come back, from which channel did they arrive?
It’s funny how we think that we have to recreate the content of the site “every day”. And we think only the new stuff is interesting enough. For most of your users, it’s all new. After all, it might be their first time on your site.
What’s my point, then? –Widen your perspective, don’t just look at the top list from the previous week. And remember that you have more than one type of users.
Image: Kari Linden