Oh, What a Tangled Web…

I’m working on a website for a hospital. I’m thrilled to be doing this; I’ve written a lot of stuff for this hospital over the past year, and I’ve gotten fond of them. They deserve a better website than they currently have.Their current website has just sort of grown organically over time, and it’s very large and hard to navigate.

The first thing to do for this job is to sort our their multitudinous pages and create a sensible architecture for them.

For a hospital, a sensible architecture might be something like this:

People deciding what hospital to choose are likely to care a lot about the kind of information usually given on an “About Us” page, so that should be a prominent page. They’re likely to need help finding the hospital, so a map is important. They’re also likely to want to contact the hospital, so we have a “Contact” page. Many people using a hospital have simply been sent there by a doctor, but not all; visitors who are considering using the hospital for a procedure will want to know what procedures are conducted at that hospital, so it makes sense to have a “Services” page. This is a large site, so there’d be lots more subpages, but you can see that the homepage would give them the typical navigation bar like this:

A visitor to the site who wants to find the hospital can quickly get to the map. A visitor considering some procedure at this hospital can check out the services offered there to make sure the procedure is offered, and can also learn more about the facility before deciding. Any visitor can quickly move onto the correct path to reach the desired information efficiently.

In fact, the hospital’s current website is more like this:

This is hypothetical, just as the example above is, but it shows the kinds of issues the current site has. There are pages that are connected to lots of different other pages, often in surprising ways. There isn’t a consistent navigation bar, and in fact the navigation is handled in a variety of ways: a side navigation bar, a top navigation bar, rotating links in an open space, text links in a list, and sometimes more than one method on a single page. There are pages that aren’t connected at all, but which can be found by search — and then the visitor can’t get to the homepage. There are pages that carry the visitor out into subpages with no access to any other pages. There are duplicate pages. There’s actually a link to “Administration” at the bottom of some of the pages, but it goes to an error page.

This is pretty common in sites which have grown organically. Someone thought it would be a good idea to add something, so it gets added without considering the overall architecture. Later, someone notices that the page is hard to find from some other spot, and introduces a link in a different way. On another occasion, someone removes a link. This goes on perhaps for years, and over time the site gets complex and convoluted.

The problem is that a site like this is frustrating and hard to use. The last thing a hospital needs is a site that’s frustrating and hard to use. Sometimes people using a hospital website might be under stress, and people under stress are less able to think clearly and more likely to be frustrated and distressed by a confusing experience. The website needs to show the same level of excellence as the hospital itself.

What about your website? If you don’t have a sitemap, go to Google and type in “site:www.yoursite.com” and see all the pages Google has indexed. (Not very many? That’s a separate problem, but we can help you with it.) Are they all easy to find from your home page? Are they all connected in reasonable ways? Can you easily get back to the homepage from each outer page?

Draw yourself a diagram. Is it more like the first example here, or more like the second? Is it time to think about fixing your site’s information architecture?







One response to “Oh, What a Tangled Web…”

  1. Fawn Avatar

    I'm stopping by to invite you over to the Arkansas Women Bloggers site. We'd love to have you join us!



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