• Ten keys to good web communication
- The time factor
- Information structure and ‘readership level’
- Editorial quality
- Information and metadata
Interactivity is one of the principle characteristics of the Internet, allowing a bi- or multidirectional interaction between several users and/or computers. A website can therefore not only publish information but also get feedback from its visitors, contributing to new content, on-line surveys or other more advanced functions.
Simple email enables a visitor to make contact with the person responsible for the website. More extensive interactivity makes it possible to improve the quality of the information on offer by enabling visitors to adapt their surfing to their own particular needs – e.g. by allowing them to access databases through some form of interrogation interface.
Interactivity can be expensive. As a general rule, 80% of visitors only use about 20% of the capability of a site, so such investment needs careful reflection. However, a good website should at least:
Allow a visitor to enter into contact with the producers of the published information
Provide a well-planned search mechanism that delivers relevant results – if it cannot do this, it should not be offered
Whatever the quality of the structure, it is the message that is of major importance. It is difficult to describe a quality text because ‘quality’ is obviously highly subjective. Nevertheless, there are some universal common-sense criteria, as well as certain advice that is specific to web communication.
“Please validate your login before refreshing this page” is the type of absolutely incomprehensible message that is all too common on the World Wide Web. Many websites pose ergonomic problems – in the form of terminology puzzles, visual challenges (such as text written in small light grey characters on a white background) or elementary logical gaps – that make them almost impossible to use.
Whether the tool is a website, a video recorder or a mobile phone, user experience depends directly on product ergonomics. If this experience is poor, no matter what the intrinsic quality of the product, it will be considered bad. A website must therefore be easy to use for an uneducated public.
In principle, HTML coding for web pages should be totally independent of the machines and systems used to read it. Whatever the computer, operating system or navigation system being used, an HTML page should ideally display in exactly the same way. In practice, nothing is less true.
Insist your technical subcontractor develops applications as compatible as possible by avoiding little-known or proprietary technologies
Respect international compatibility standards – such as summarised in the European Commission’s Information Provider Guide (http://ec.europa.eu/ipg/)
10. Information and metadata
In essence, the web is a virtual medium. While it might be easy to store a magazine or folder in a filing cabinet, it is much more difficult to save a web page for subsequent use. Therefore, most users end up by printing out the texts that interest them, in order to store and refer to them in a classical manner.
Unlike an article within a brochure, these isolated pages are without context. Consequently, it is essential that certain data be visible: author, date of validity of the information, original web address, etc. Such metadata is sometimes visible and sometimes invisible – hidden in the coding on the HTML pages and used for example by some search engines. If you want the information you produce to be correctly referenced in search engines and wish your readers to have a clear idea of the validity of the published information, it is essential to create these tags in a visible form.