Little by little a new understanding filters into this head of mine. Then, all of a sudden, something that I thought I already understood jumps to an altogether new level.
Over the past 15 years or so, I've created a fair number of print ads, brochures, posters, white papers and even broadcast ads. Always I had the feeling that the client wanted to stuff TOO MUCH CONTENT into one piece. Instead of getting people intrigued about a new seminar, or book, or whatever, they wanted to tell the whole story right then and there. The result, often enough, was an overstuffed turkey that didn't do the job as well as I felt it could.
When I made the jump into the web, I thought "Great, no space or time limitations -- now I can really let the content stretch out and breathe!"
Well, yes and no. As we all know, a web audience is probably the LEAST captive of any media audience anywhere. An attempt to force feed content of any kind can meet with lots of quick Back Buttons. On the web, long pieces can be quite tricky and dangerous for a commercial venture. But short pages may not grab well enough.
Recently, in cooperation with one of my clients, I've been developing a new style of presentation that is getting pretty big raves from visitors.
I know this isn't completely revolutionary -- but perhaps the degree to which we're applying it is. Here's the idea.
The main content on a page is kept to a rather "high" level, with only a few short sentences under any sub-head. But scattered frequently throughout this high-level copy about XYZ are links for the "history of XYZ" -- or "new advances in XYZ" -- or even "XYZ pricing".
These links bring up pop-up windows, each with 4 to 10 paragraphs. Even these pop-up paragraphs can contain links for further drill-down, further pop-ups. The end result is half way between a directory and an article. If a product is being offered, purchase links can be sprinkled about wherever they seem right -- whether on the main page or deep down a chain of pop-up windows.
Because we use pop-up windows, the main page is always on screen as a navigational anchor. Visitors know right where they are and they feel grounded rather than "wandering about through a website." In fact, the most frequent compliment we get is that these pages are easy to use.
This really beats force-feeding every visitor to endure the same extended ramble or shortchanging them with a minimalist overview. Those who are already informed in an area can choose not to click. Those who want more will click. Each visitor can tailor their own experience in a personal way.
Ever since the hyperlink was created, this kind of "drill down" was always one of of the great potentials of the web. But old print metaphors still tend to keep us in a very fixed and linear mindset. For instance, writing copy for drill down access is a lot different than writing conventional copy, and I'm just beginning to get my sea legs for this new ocean.
But I'm happy to report that this pop-up/drill-down method is making people very happy. It offers many of the navigational advantages of frames without the drawbacks. In fact, these pop-up boxes are tightly focused on one keyword area and can easily be optimized for excellent Search Engine rank. New people are finding the site all the time because they first find content intended for a pop-up, which then has navigation back into the main page of the site.
Most of all, this pop-up/drill-down uses the natural advantages of the web, rather than trying to force the metaphors we needed in traditional media.