What’s the right amount of information for your site?

The information overload question often comes up when I run web writing workshops. We’ve all seen sites where the homepage is three miles long.  But the other extreme won’t work either. Your website must have more than a logo and a phone number.  So how do you find the sweet spot — the perfect amount of information for your site?

 

1.  There is no magic number

You will see some experts touting an ideal length for all blog posts, or web pages. The certainty of a magic number is tempting, but please resist.

It’s bad advice.

Imagine you’re getting ready for the morning and deciding what to wear.  Unless you’re a twenty-something male of a certain persuasion, the answer will not always be ‘t-shirt and shorts’. You’d think about context: what’s the standard dress code for a funeral versus a bush-walk?  What’s fit for purpose?

To decide the ideal length for your content, start by looking around you.  What are the trends for that format in your sector? It’s important to look at your sector, because there’s a huge length variation even across the same format.  Blog posts are a great example.  At the thought-leadership end, authoritative, thoughtful pieces can exceed 700 words.  A snappy fashion blog post may not even break 100.

 

2.  Are you giving people too much information?

Most websites err on the side of information overload.  This is easy to do. You don’t want to leave out anything important. The risk is the needle in the haystack effect. Readers have to wade through so much information that the one crucial thing – the thing that will make your customer decide to buy from you – is lost in the noise.

One thing I’d emphasise here: identifying your customers’ questions is the touchstone for all decisions about your content.  To find out more, please read this post.

So if content doesn’t answer a question, it’s not pulling its weight. Get rid of the bloated content and your key messages will have room to do their job.

 

3.  … Or not enough information?

Uninformative sites fall at the two ends of the spectrum:

1) Micro startup sites, done on a shoestring budget.  This is the ‘just get a site up and write content for it later’ approach.

2) Ultra high-end sites where the minimalist aesthetic costs $10,000 for every element the designer takes out. These sites typically rely on their reputation to convince visitors that it’s worth clicking on that one tiny link.

At both ends, the sites can fall down because they don’t answer the very first questions any user will ask when they come to your site:

1) What do you do?

2) What’s in it for me?

Your site – and especially your home page – has to discharge that duty. It must give people a reason to take the next step.  Maybe it’s navigating to a product page.  Or downloading a brochure.

If you can answer your clients’ two crucial questions, you’re on your way.

 

3. Think density, not volume

A quick demonstration.

I would like you to keep reading this sentence for as long as possible even though the urge may be to stop reading because I have written it to be deliberately difficult to read to show you that when we talk about a particular piece of content containing  ‘too much information’ what we are referring to is not actually the length of the material but how hard their brain must work to understand it.

Seventy-four words.

That would be an incredibly short blog post. As a sentence, it’s about fifty words too long. Reading it, you have no room to breathe. No space.

It’s like being at a party and meeting someone for the first time. They tell you everything about their day, their week and their life before you’ve had room to breathe.  You back away as soon as possible.

So length itself is not the deciding factor.  It’s the density of the information: how easy it is to process.

 

4. Let your content breathe

Whatever length you decide is right for you, these questions will help make your information easy to process:

  • Are you breaking up your content into paragraphs, with only one or two ideas in each paragraph?
  • Are long lists presented as bullet points so people can scan through them easily?
  • Do you lead people through your content by giving them a little information to start with, then a longer version? And finally, if they go deeper into your site, can they get the whole story?

I hope this has been helpful – all 780 words worth.  And of course, if you’d like more posts like this, please subscribe.

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