If you’ve ever found yourself saying “Well, that was easy,” when browsing a website on the hunt for something specific, that’s no accident. Likewise, if you’ve ever found yourself on a site clicking, and clicking, and clicking with no end in sight, there’s no need to think “It’s not you, it’s me!” Both of these situations can be credited to a website’s filter strategy, or lack thereof.
What’s a filter strategy, you might ask?
Filters are your organization’s unique way of communicating with your audience so that they can browse your website intuitively and efficiently. Implementing a filter strategy is more than just your website’s main navigation.
- How you categorize events, or tag blog posts.
- How you establish a hierarchy in drop-down menus or unique per page structures.
- How all of these pages and links coordinate and relate to one another.
If implemented correctly, you’ll achieve:
- Consistency. The structure, organization and location where you place your filters should not constantly change on a per page basis.
- Accessibility. Your users shouldn’t have to go down a rabbit hole looking for information. Everything should be about two to three clicks away.
- Intuitiveness. Navigating your website should come naturally and not require any mind games or guessing on your user’s part.
If this seems like a big task, well it’s because it is. If your website isn’t implemented to serve them efficiently then your users will abandon your site, and abandon it quickly!
Whether you’re just getting started, or you want to rethink your current strategy, here are three best practices to keep in mind.
1. Think like your users and not according to how your organization is structured.
Really think about whether or not a general user will know the distinction between two categories. Often times as an administrator or the person creating the list, you will naturally be able to see and understand the difference.
However, creating an overabundance of subcategories is one quick way to deviate from your audience’s expectations and understanding. Likewise, listing hyper-niche categories for events, or having a separate webpage for a small facet of your organization will often stretch your filters or page content too thin.
Not quite sure where to start? Card sorting is great way to get started.
2. Alphabetical and chronological organization isn’t always the answer.
While sorting lists alphabetically, or events chronologically, is familiar and bordering on habitual for content developers and web designers, it’s not the only option you should be entertaining. Think about grouping together trending and popular content, including events.
Check out how Clemson University organizes their events on the web.
Allowing your content to evolve with audience interests will highlight that your website isn’t set in stone, which lets users know that you put their interests and changing needs first. People naturally want to know what’s “in the know” and this structure will encourage them to browse categories and topics they might not have before. Plus, who likes when unpopular or content-lacking categories get sorted to the top and masquerade as relevant or significant? Not this girl!
You also shouldn’t get stuck in the rut of only using text. People tend to be very visual. If your site offers a lot of textual information, adding visuals will make your navigation pop.
Tip: Get creative with some of these ideas from Get Elastic.
3. Trust your users, internally and externally.
The best way to ensure that your website isn’t crossing over into category overload by being too granular is to constantly monitor usage.
Ask yourself questions like, is this filter applied to events often? Do the smaller, content-thin pages on your website add value to your audience’s experience? If the answer is no, then you’re probably safe to either remove them all together or combine the content with another substantial page.