April 12, 2016

How to sort content to meet your customer’s needs


If you’re building a website for your business or looking to rejig existing content, you should ensure you have a structure that suits your customers.

Sorting information for a website isn’t as easy as playing card games (unless you’re playing Bridge), but it does give the same satisfaction when you can match the precise information with what your customer is seeking. It’s helpful, intuitive and allows your customer to quickly find what they’re looking for.

What is card sorting?

Card sorting is an activity that helps you create ‘information architecture’ (IA) – essentially how your website’s front-end information (the content you see) is structured.

Card sorting involves organising categories and topics (can be done amongst internal teams but ideally with participants who have no experience using your site). The goal is to order your website’s information in a way that’s easy to understand.

Card sorting comes down to:

  • determining your customer’s information needs or wants
  • defining a website structure that best suits their way of thinking
  • laying out content in a way that makes most sense to them
  • validating categories and navigation to help to find what they want.

Conducting a card sort

Card sorting is about asking potential customers where they think they might find what information they’re looking for. But how do you know what cards to write?

Start by marking up separate cards that represent each of your website’s main pages, such as ‘Home’, ‘About’, Contact’, ‘Services’, etc. Then include all other pages such as clients, portfolio or careers, and mark up additional cards for topics you want to cover. There should only be one card per category or topic. These cards can then be sorted into groups and placed where they should appear. You can do this exercise on a table with post-it notes or with index cards.

To figure out what cards might be missing (i.e. what information still needs to be covered) consider customer needs. A customer need is something simple, like: ‘As a … I need to … so that I can …’. To work out needs, think of your business and the people who use it. Think of tasks they come to your website for – not just to buy products or services, but more broadly what do they want to know? By framing information with this in mind, you can order (and write) content in clear groups that meet your customers’ needs.

For example, a student at a university may be looking for information on student accommodation. Their need could be phrased as: ‘As a [future student] I need to [find out accommodation] so that I can [plan my move to Australia]’ in which case, you will make sure that your content will live in a section on your website that is relevant to ‘future students’ and ‘accommodation’ or ‘moving to Australia’.

In closing, you don’t always need to card sort – but you must have confidence that your web structure is as effective and user-friendly as possible. Card sorting is a good approach because it’s handy to know where your current website structure is lacking, or how you can best build a new site from scratch.

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