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I've got a content management system that isn't the most usable at the moment, but it is pretty intuitive for the end user. The front facing content is a mess, however, and someone decided that most of the pages should be styled like craiglist - tons of links.

Google Analytics is telling us that the bounce rate is high, so I think a restructuring is needed.

I've gathered as much as I can without direct user testing to find where users are clicking the most - instead of having information vomit in the form of a bunch of links, my approach would be to create some graphic buttons or something similar to highlight the top four pages that users are clicking on, and creating some verbiage that incorporates the links to other areas of the site.

I'd like to know if there are any good guidelines in regards to content and data presentation or even some websites that do a great job of organizing pages that are mostly link dumps.

Edit: Here's a good example of something similar to what I'm facing. This particular page is less front-facing than mine (so probably less used) but doesn't have the best layout nonetheless.

http://www.mylakehead.ca/programs/?mn=4

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It might be good to tell us what kind of content it is. –  Nick Bedford May 26 '11 at 1:57
    
@Nick Bedford What I'm looking at right now is a landing page with a small, informative bulleted list and three columns of text links to even more informative text. Is that enough to go off of? –  Nic May 26 '11 at 2:03
    
Your question is too vague and broad. Restructuring content to be more user friendly, in general, can be done in thousands of ways. I think you'll get better answers if you specify in your question what you're dealing with. A screenshot would help a lot too. –  Rahul May 26 '11 at 13:16
    
@Rahul my apologies - due to policy I can't provide pictures of my site, so I'll try to find something similar. The answers so far have been very helpful, though. –  Nic May 26 '11 at 14:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

craigslist is sophisticated in its layout - better than mylakehead. It's a design that has evolved from classified ads in newspapers. It's hard to beat for high density of links.

Some of the key points:

  • Clear subdivision into sections.
  • Sections arranged to avoid column breaks
  • Semi-alphabetic. Uneven sub-column widths pack more entries in, whilst still giving easy scanning.

mylakehead

  • Visual dissonance. Too many different styles close together. And why are there two banners?
  • Vast tracts of wasted space separating columns that belong together. The space isn't being used to set high importance information off from the rest.
  • Overly long-tailed arrows for 'bullet points'. It's not good to attempt to draw the eye to every single item on the page.

I'm not suggesting that you adopt Craigslist's look for an 'apply to us' page, but the principles suggest why craigslist is easy on the eye and user - even though it has vastly more links than mylakehead does.

Design for 'apply to us page' with many links:

Compare http://www.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/ with http://www.mylakehead.ca/programs/?mn=4

  • Entire page fits in 620 pixels height (and resizes for narrow screen width) vs a fixed layout requiring scrolling on 1280 x 1024 monitors.
  • Horizontal links bar, at top, easier to read and use than the vertical one.
  • Course titles delegated to subsidiary page, with three natural ways to get there.

This page is doing the kind of thing you are wanting to with graphic buttons, 6 rather than 4. Notice how it adds text beside them to engage you, and also makes it abundantly clear that there is clickable read-more content.

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A few things come to my mind:

  1. "my approach would be to create some graphic buttons or something similar to highlight the top four pages" -> This sounds a bit dangerous, make sure your buttons don't use pictures. Often graphical content is overseen by the users (check out Nielsen's article about Banner Blindness)

  2. You could use white space and grouping to organize your content. See the Wiki article Principle of grouping and for a good reference on online typography The 100% Easy-2-Read Standard

  3. Make sure the most important content and the most important links are visually prioritized. I always use the cores and paths method, it really helps me to get things organized. Here's some reading: Cores & Paths on slideshare and a good blogpost on Cores & Paths

Hope that helps, Phil

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It's hard to be sure without the exact context, but I am thinking you could forego the links entirely and provide the user with just a search box, similar to how http://alpha.gov.uk/ is structured. This however would only work if the user knows what they are looking for when they come to the site.

If not, I'd suggest that the content writers focus the content better into sections, rather than linking to every page from everywhere. When that is done, it may become more clear how best to represent the different sections of your site in navigation.

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