Think Info

Exploring the information space

Anatomy of a web page

As much of what is published in this blog will relate to information as it is presented within web environments, I thought it would be good to cover off some general terminology I will use later. This is perhaps 101 material, but it is needed to understand some of the more pressing considerations to come.

Let us consider the elements that make up a web page.

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Non-display information

There is a lot of information contained within this first category. It covers everything from the initial HTTP response indicating the state of the requested material, through to meta-data and inclusion references. Fundamentally, though, from the perspective of the person viewing the information at a particular time, it is not immediately relevant. It was used in arriving at the point of displaying the information, but does not pertain as such to its subsequent use.

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Publisher identifier

This is the portion of the page generally referred to as the header. As its name implies, it identifies the owner of the environment the material is presented on.

There are different schools of thought about this element: to what extent is it needed; how relevant is it? From the web’s inception, it was accepted as an important element. Never would a marketing department have approved doing without it. But the advent of mobile web has begun to question this: with so little screen real estate available, it becomes a poor use of space, especially when the user visits multiple pages.

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Publisher environment

Navigation, to give it a more common name… it is the group of elements that – allegedly – provides users with a way of getting around a site. There are definitely times when this is very important; for user arriving on a site’s home page – who have not identified an interest. However, when the user is in a process, it can become redundant; even disruptive. If the user is doing something you want – something that you believe is important they finish (think check-out process) you do not want to provide this escape route. Most of the time, this is irrelevant to the average visitor; how many print magazines have you seen with the table of contents repeated on every page?

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Core content

The guts. This is the part of the page it all exists for. Without it, there would be no sense in having the page (portal pages being the exception where an expanded publisher environment and/or ancillary references are the core of the page). Strange that the most important part is the easiest to explain, eh?

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Related references

The second most important part of the page (in my opinion), and the most overlooked, related references are the links that provide a next step for the reader. They allow the user to continue along the journey. This – depending on the user – could be anything: more detailed information about the subject; supportive information; links to other people’s views; calls to action to use the information (buy, download) .

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Ancillary references

Sometimes, the information on a page isn’t really what the user was looking for. In these cases, ancillary references are the cross-sells: this product doesn’t quite do what you wanted it to, so maybe you are looking for our other one. Ancillary links are not a real category in themselves – they are the boundary between related and distractive references: it all depends on the context of the user viewing them. If they have demonstrated through the route taken to get to the current page that it is the right one, then ancillary becomes distractive; if they are testing the waters, then ancillary is the next logical step.

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Distractive references

Everyone knows these – ads, and other space-fillers intended to interrupt the flow of your information search. Now, I know that a fraction of a per cent of visitors will find a particular ad relevant and useful, and the financial incentive makes then worth placing from the publisher’s perspective. So we are unlikely to ever see the end of them. The point is that they are intentionally there to divert us from the path we are on. They exist to interrupt.

The full picture

When we put it all together, we get the complete page. The question then becomes: how should we balance these seven elements. How do we place, arrange and prioritise them to encourage the end user to do with the site what we want them to? Of course, to answer that, we would need to understand what we really want our page to achieve, but that is for another time…
Two page layouts- which would you rather?
Which type of page would you rather be using? Which one is more likely to fulfil your needs as a user, thereby developing the goodwill resulting in you doing what the site owner wants you to?

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