Analysis and Evaluation Projects - Projects - Information technology, science and education for a better world - Gregory J.
Railinc started off this multi-phase strategic initiative to utilize portal technology to bring business value to the corporation and improve customer service, usability, and productivity, while shortening application deployment schedules. Establish clear and efficient user task paths to support core customer and stakeholder needs. Most website designers are aware that an important part of understanding the background of any website redesign project is performing a content inventory as well as a content analysis. Clearly, we are supposed to understand the current website content before we begin the process of redefining and reorganizing the website.
So we all dutifully go through the website and prepare a content inventory spreadsheet capturing page titles, details of page content, and so on.
Each content inventory contains a different set of columns and fields; each has a purpose specific to the needs of the particular site being analyzed. Sarah’s version captures additional information from the site, uses an indented format for capturing the page titles at different hierarchical levels and uses color coding to indicate content types, external links and open questions. So doing a content inventory is all well and good, but what exactly is it about the content that we are supposed to understand?
In her 2002 article on rearchitecting the PeopleSoft website1, Chiara Fox noted that document inventories and analyses form part of bottom-up IA.
Certainly content relationships are important, as is the development of appropriate metadata to describe content, but are there specific things we can look for during a content inventory? In the fall of 2006, I was working on a navigation taxonomy project for a major media industry client that was redesigning its public-facing website. These heuristics provide an important way to organize my report and help me identify significant problems that I might not otherwise notice. While you can use heuristics for any kind of website or intranet, regardless of size or content, certain heuristics may be less applicable for some sites. Obviously, if the quantity of content is large enough, users may have to visit different subsections to view all of the related content.
One of the typical ways that websites break this guideline is in the use of Frequently Asked Questions.
The problem for the user is that their search for specific information becomes like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Content labels should be appropriately descriptive of content so that users know they are on the proper path to finding the information they are looking for. Simply put, a good website will provide users with strong clues as to the content that can be found by clicking on a specific link.
In his Alertbox column of June 30, 2003, Jakob Nielsen says, “ensure that links and category descriptions explicitly describe what users will find at the destination. A site’s users should be able to easily understand the breadth of content they are looking at. While a labyrinthine website that leads users along a single, linear path through groves of rambling information might be appropriate for a conceptual artist’s site, such a principle for organizing content is useless in most cases. Users should be able to identify in relatively short order the depth and breadth of relevant content. Providing good navigation cues and a strong hierarchical structure when appropriate means that users quickly learn how long their search for information may take. Users should be able to access the content they want through the browsing hierarchy or by using search.
It may seem obvious, but I have seen sites where search is so poor and navigation hierarchy so limited that it is hit-or-miss whether users can find what they seek. Because users think about content in different ways, they should be able to take multiple paths to get to specific content. While faceted navigation schemes are often useful for e-commerce sites, they can also be especially useful for information-rich sites. Whether you have multiple access paths or a single hierarchy, the organization and structure of your site should be appropriate to both the nature of the content and to your users.
If all of your products have accessories, they should be accessible through similar links or tabs or icons. This book product page may be long and complex, but it is consistent in structure and format. This heuristic is especially important if your site’s audience comprises multiple distinct segments, holiday travelers and business travelers, or students and faculty. However, even with a relatively unitary audience, you want to be sure that the site’s labeling system is appropriate for its users. Put an expiration date on all content through your CMS, thus ensuring that it is reviewed for currency on a regular basis. Providing such a scale may help the client understand the results of your content analysis better than a purely descriptive report. Whether you use a numerical scale in discussing the results or not, provide your client with a written content analysis heuristics report.
The following are several sections from an actual content analysis report that used these heuristics (modified to mask the company’s identity). The most significant problem area with regards to collocation is the Specials section, which offers much content that would be best distributed among and combined with other areas of the site. Because labels on the website often reflect a supportive and encouraging emotive vocabulary, those labels sometimes obscure important information. By arming the client with such information, you give them more well-structured ideas about how to improve their website. When auditing I would suggest preparing your approach, data capture templates and methods well in advance to assist the speed and coverage of the audit. I like to run the heuristic audit in a way follows a natural browsing pace as far as possible, stopping to notate every couple of minutes or at the end of natural paths (feel the user experience).
The quantitiative content audit is very useful for working out content migration plans or content focusing as part of on going or new developments. Having started on a long term auditing plan I also ran a couple of additional exercises to get a complete view of the site, when applicable auditing the content administration tools side – often an area of low quality user experience, caused by a lack of focus on the system that will provide the actual engine to the site.

I think the heuristic term of Accessibility that you use may be better termed as Findability, courtesy of Peter Morville, as Accessibility infers that you may have been evaluating the sites Accessibility compliance, which from your discussion definately appears to be more in keeping with Findability. Fred, thankyou for the interesting article, it certainly made me think about using heuristics where I work. I think the ideas presented here are great, anyone with an ounce of common sense can see that the points you mentioned are essential factors in the process of analysis and development, and there will always be people skeptical of anything that smells of subjectivity. I’m glad you can see the value in how the heuristics will help you when discussing your work with clients.
I can say that it was precisely in trying to define what the difficulties with a client’s content were that led me to the development of the heuristics. Certainly one must be careful of bias or preconceived notions in any work that we do, so having someone else to validate or verify our results can also be helpful.
Obviously there is a place for quantitative analysis also, in addition to the types of qualitative analyses I discuss here. This is an excellent analytical tool-set which I’m sure can offer a basis for many different kinds of content analysis. Fred is currently an IA consultant specializing in the areas of taxonomy and controlled vocabulary design, user experience design, and website and back-of-book indexing.
He previous served as manager of the taxonomy team for the Online Business Unit of Sears Holdings Corporation.
As the world wide web continues to grow as a medium to present and consume data, we as human-centered designers are continuously challenged to keep pace with user demands on the websites that we design and develop. According to the Information Architecture Institute, Information Architecture is defined as the art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability. Card Sorting is a popular and inexpensive user-centered research methodology that allows the researcher to collect data from website user groups in terms of how information on a website should be grouped, organized and labeled according to the user’s mental model [1].
When preparing to run a card sort study the researcher must work with the stakeholder to identify the objects of information to be identified and presented on each card. When running a card sort it is recommended to limit the number of objects to be sorted to 90 cards or less because it has been found that participants will be overwhelmed by more than 90 cards [1].
When choosing participants for a card sort study, it is important to avoid including users that are outside of the demographic user personas for the selected website as this will create flawed data. Therefore, when selecting participants, we invited users that were 1) prospective high school students, 2) prospective community college students, 3) students currently enrolled in the program, 4) program staff and 5) program faculty. Participants were informed that, “In order to conduct this study we will simply need authorization to store your email address as your participant identification within this application.
For their time, the prospective high school students were given an HCDE T-shirt, the prospective community college students were given a $10 Starbucks gift card and the students currently enrolled in the program were given an HCDE messenger bag. To analyze the data from the study, we began by analyzing the card groupings by user group. Each grouping was then matched as closely as possible with another grouping in a different user group. When grouping and analyzing the data, data from 3 participants were excluded because of inconsistencies in sorting practice. When analyzing the data, we found that card groupings from the prospective and current student user groups where more similar to each other than to the HCDE staff and faculty groupings.
Across all the user groups, degree programs, HCDE award items, and HCDE research items were consistently grouped together. When reviewing each individual card sort by Category x Item, we were able to gain a clearer understanding of the groupings and labels for groupings. When conducting a card sort study, it is important to remember that groupings across all user groups should be used as a guide, and adjustments should be made as needed, based on judgement. However, the information relating to Prospective Students and Careers & Internships was less clear. This information architecture will now be implemented into the HCDE website for the Fall 2013 quarter. I configured and helped generate and post Google Analytics and WebTrends reports since 2005.
What are we supposed to tell our client, other than that the website has 4,321 pages, of which 358 are dead-ends, 427 have no page titles, 27 have content that has expired, there are 432 different document templates in use, and there are 17 distinct document types? It was while preparing the content analysis report for that client that I developed the following set of 11 heuristics for analyzing website content. They provide qualitative results and indicate general trends, but are not statistically valid in the strict sense. For example, a game site that is designed to encourage users’ exploration may not present bounded horizons. Accordingly, collect related content in one area, or at the least, make it accessible through one area. In that case, the content organization itself should make it easy for users to understand how different areas are related and how. Unless FAQs use a well-thought-out topical arrangement, users may have to read through every question in a long list to find the particular information they are looking for. Faced with several navigation options, it’s best if users can clearly identify the trail to the prey and see that other trails are devoid of anything edible. They can thus make an informed decision whether to continue content exploration on your site or to abandon ship and continue elsewhere.
Often, information is hidden by contextual links to content areas not exposed in the main navigation. Rather, based on your knowledge of business context, users, and content, determine whether content access structures are valid for the specific context. Consistency enables users to more quickly build a mental model of your site and to understand how to find information. In some cases, it might be appropriate to use audience segment as the primary way to organize information.
Drug websites, for instance, are governed by FDA regulations dictating that prescribing information should be available only to health-care professionals, not the general public. That is a good way to ensure that you website provides users with information that is still valid.

Such a plan should cover, among other things: who is responsible for content reviews, extraordinary internal and external events that should automatically trigger a content review, and how users or content authors can suggest a review.
You can offer the analysis as part of your content inventory or content analysis report, or you can create a separate document entirely.
For example, information on money and vacations is available as a content sub-area under both the Money and the Vacations topical areas. It combines subject areas such as health, relationships and travel, along with a number of the company’s special projects.
However, shortcomings in the search results (a limit of only 21 results) sometimes make it difficult for users to find specific information. For example teachers may be totally unaware of the fact that there are classroom videos and teaching aids available in the Library section. You are right that I also do quantitative auditing in addition to the heuristic evaluation discussed here. Anything that we can do to increase client’s understanding of our work is always important. I don’t that that increasing the number of people working on content analysis will increase the perception of its objectivity.
My own qualitative analysis for large-scale sites departs more from user scenario’s (we do lots of interviews) and the goals of the site, but all of these aspects play a key role at one point or another.
From the information collected and studied in this project, we aim to improve the information architecture of the HCDE website. This Information Architecture, then typically takes the form of the navigational scheme of a website which allows the user to find the information that they are looking for. To conduct a card sort the researcher prepares a set of cards that contain a title and a brief description of the pieces of information or tasks that are or are proposed to be in the informational structure of a website.
For this study we began by analyzing the current page structure and information architecture of the HCDE website where the current HCDE website information architecture was downloaded via Siteimprove and collected as a site inventory spreadsheet containing 272 pages.
Therefore our research team worked with the stakeholder to narrow down the amount of cards to 74 cards that represented the major elements of the HCDE website information architecture.
Invitation to participate emails were then sent to selected participants by the research team and the stakeholders that represented these five demographic user personas.
All participants in the study with the exception of the prospective high school students were able to conduct the study remotely from their own computers and on their own time.
This was done for the prospective and current student user groups together, and the HCDE faculty and staff user groups together.
When analyzing the data, we felt that there were some very clear groupings of information across demographic groups as well as some not so clear groupings of information.
Therefore, it was important to involve the stakeholders in the final recommendations for the website information architecture.
Bottom-up methods look for the relationships between the different pieces of content, and uses metadata to describe the attributes found. In fact, it would be doing gamers a disservice to let them know the entire game path from the start.
When those areas are viewed together, they will provide a unified picture of the product or subject of interest.
For scientists, methodology or researcher often become more important than subject in finding relevant research papers.
The report should include sections describing your evaluation of the website using each of the heuristics (if applicable).
Because this content area contains such disparate information, users may not always spend enough time looking through it to find relevant information.
I wasn’t sure how useful an analysis could really be but after reading this it makes total sense. The “How To” of Information Architecture comes down to the ability to organize and present information into a usable format via: 1) creating meaningful groups of information, 2) providing a functional sequence between groups of information and 3) using a clear and concise naming convention for labeling categories.
The prospective high-school students were invited into the HCDE computer lab to conduct the study as they were part of a summer camp at the university.
It is advised to analyze user groups separately since each group might have very different needs [1]. So some evaluation is necessary as to whether or not (or how strongly) a specific heuristic should apply to the site you are designing. In their paper [2], they note that, “Information scent is provided by the proximal cues perceived by the user that indicate the value, cost of access, and location of distal information content. In discussing each heuristic, indicate how well the site meets the heuristic in general and then note instances for improvement, or places where the site does not conform to the heuristic at all.
In essence, there are two separate areas dealing with the same subject of money and vacations. While you have include a quanitative aspect to a rather qualitative analyis,it would still perceived to be subjective by sceptics. This will greatly help me explain content analysis to my students at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. In the context of foraging for information on the World Wide Web, for example, information scent is often provided by the snippets of text and graphics that surround links to other pages.
Size, color, material, designer: each can be the most important way for someone to find an item or some content. In your opinion, based on your experience, how many experts should be performing this analysis to reduce the subjective element? Rather we have to point out the five different places where information on the same subject is spread and then point out that because there are not links among the sections that users will most likely not be able to find all of the information that is relevant to them. Over a period of 4 weeks HCDE staff, faculty, current students, and prospective students participated in the study.

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