Three Questions Every Webpage Should Answer, #2: What do I do Next?

What do I do next?A couple days ago, we looked at the 1st question every webpage should answer: What can I do here? Today, let’s look at the 2nd question I think every webpage needs to answer: What do I do next?

This question is #2 for a reason. Question #1, What can I do here?, is pretty important – that’s the main focus of the page, after all. But once your webpage visitor has done that thing – read that article or filled in that form – they need to know what they can do next? Good webpages direct those next actions.

Here are some examples:

  • When you have finished reading this blog post, you’ll get a list of related blog posts at the end of the article. Those suggestions (created via a WordPress widget) are next actions.
  • In my library’s catalog (catalog.tscpl.org), if you do a search and don’t find anything, you get an Ask a Librarian chat button (assuming we’re open). “Need help? Click the Ask Us button to chat” is a next action.
  • Amazon is the King of Next Actions – each page is full of the “main event” – buying the book. But there are other, alternative next actions there, too – like adding more books to your order.
Take a look at your website, and see if individual pages answer the question “What do I do next?” If not, you are missing out on an easy way to point your customers to your great content, and to keep them on your site longer.

Three Questions every webpage should answer, #1: What can I do here?

Question #1Ever visited a webpage, then looked around, wondering “what can I do here?”

If you have … that web designer failed!

I think every webpage should answer the question “what can I do here?” either visually, or by spelling it out:

  • Visually: design in such a way that the stuff you can do on a page, like clicking a button, filling in a text box, or even just reading or watching content, is extremely noticeable. Amazon does this by using complimentary colors that “pop” out on the page. They often use blue as a header or sidebar color, but the buttons they really want you to see (ie, the “buy now” button) are orange – a complimentary color.
  • Spelling it out: Use words, colors, graphics, etc to “spell it out” for people – tell or show website visitors what to do on the page. For example, we try to do this at my library’s website. The main page directs people to “Get a Library Card,” “Donate Now,” “Find Stuff,” “Ask a Librarian,” or Subscribe to our blog posts. People know what to do on our site, because we direct them.

On your library’s website, do people know “What can I do here” when they visit the main page? How about the catalog page, the “you didn’t find anything” page, or on your blog? At the comment box? On your Facebook Page even?

Think about it … and make sure to answer the question “What can I do here?”

Why Isn’t Your Stuff Getting Read?

Are your library blog posts getting read? If not, here are some possibilities as to why:

Bad content. Simply put, your content might not be all that good to begin with. Maybe it’s stuff you’re interested in, but your patrons don’t share that interest. How to fix it – Why not find out what your patrons are interested in, then write about that?

Poorly written content. Maybe the topic is on-target, but your writing stinks. If your writing is hard to read, guess what? Your patrons probably won’t read it. How to fix it – Why not work on improving your writing skills? Go consult some of those “How to Write” books in your library’s collection. Let the good writers on staff write your blog posts. Use modern web-writing standards.

Your website looks bad. If your website site looks icky, people will assume the content is icky too. How to fix it – update that website. Use a modern CMS like Drupal or WordPress, and use a nice-looking visual template design (or find a talented graphic designer that understands how to design for the web). Make it look as professional as the rest of your library.

Your content is hidden. Is your content hidden under multiple links? Not pulled out in an obvious way so people can find it? If so, that could be the problem. Why? Because your customers aren’t going to hunt for it. How to fix it – pull that content out. Put obvious links on your library’s main page that lead to your great content. Make sure your site is easy to use.

You’re not promoting your content. Maybe your writing is good, the site looks inviting, and your content is easy enough to find – but you’re simply not telling your patrons about it. Instead, you’re playing that passive “oh, I hope How to fix it – promote your blog posts. Instead of making a nice mystery book display in the library, write some short, pithy book reviews. Post those. Then drop the link onto your library’s Facebook Wall, and ask for responses. Ask people to Like it, for their thoughts … which helps spread the joy of your writing into other people’s walls, potentially lead to other comments, etc. Then rinse and repeat.

What would you add?

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Librarians were trained to Write the Wrong Way

Just thinking about writing for the web. My writing developed this way: I went to school, and learned to write academic papers and speeches. Ok, I also took some poetry and creative writing type classes. And a couple of journalism classes so I learned the inverted pyramid thing.

But other than that, it was pretty much formal academic-type papers. I also learned highly useful stuff … like how to graph out a sentence to discover proper sentence structure. Yikes.

I learned to write in a way that required citations and quotations, which I refined in grad school (I even used one of my class papers as my first official published article). Then the web hit, and I had to learn to write in a new way.

So now, I work hard at writing like I speak. I try to “write it like I say it.” For some people, actually reading what they just wrote out loud can help develop that voice.

Why work at this? Because that type of writing is conversational, social writing. And that’s the type of writing we want on the web – especially in places we are looking for conversations (think blogs or social media spaces).

We are now writing out our conversations, and asking our patrons to respond. To continue the conversation.

How are you learning to write for the web? Have any resources to share?

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