Organize Content Based on Audience Needs
What It Is
Organizing content based on your audience’s needs is a best practice for managing your agency’s website. Your primary form of navigation should be one of the following:
- by subject (topics, life events)
- by task or service
- by audience group
- by geographic location
- by any combination of these factors
Because navigation by organizational structure has traditionally been less effective for web users, you should use this as an alternative— not primary—form of navigation.
You should know your audiences and communicate with them regularly to analyze their wants and needs. Organize your content based on that feedback and other research.
Why It’s Important
- Usability tests and customer satisfaction reviews indicate that most web visitors—both citizens and other audience groups—are familiar with navigating websites by subject, audience, or location.
- Focus groups and other feedback indicate that citizens do not know—nor do they want to know—how the government is organized to get the information and services they want. Creating navigation according to organizational structure is not the best way to design a website for citizens.
- If a federal website is available to anyone, then citizens—as a whole—are part of the audience and the website must be organized in ways that help them use it.
Specific Policy, Legal, or Other Requirements for Doing This
This is a best practice, not a requirement. However, there are three sections of the OMB Policies for Federal Agency Public Websites that refer to the need to communicate with citizens to ensure you’re meeting their needs:
- Section 1A: “disseminate information to the public in a timely, equitable, efficient and appropriate manner”
- Section 2A: “maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information and services provided to the public”
- Section 4A: “establish and maintain communications with members of the public and with State and local governments to ensure your agency creates information dissemination products meeting their respective needs.”
Organizing content by subject, audience or location—or any combination of these factors—can help you make your website more efficient, appropriate, and useful to the public. It shows that you’re communicating with your customers and listening to what they need.
How to Implement
- Perform an audience analysis to determine the best way to organize information for your customers.
- Build an Information Architecture (IA) that makes sense for your audience. Only include an organizational structure as a secondary navigation if it makes sense for your primary audience.
- Because the needs of your audience may change over time, and you will likely add new content to your site, you should regularly review your IA to make sure it still functions well.
- Department of Education
- Department of Agriculture
- Smithsonian Institution
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Knowing Your Audience and Doing Market Research
- Users' Questions and Guidance for Common Types of Web Pages
(PDF, 88 KB, 8 pages, April 2009)