Web 3.0: The difference between viewers and hunters

Wenda Harris Millard, media czar at Martha Stewart, makes a brilliant comment about messing up earlier this year when she relaunched www.marthastewart.com. Back in May 2007, the “new” site looked like this:

What’s in the middle? Only 12 links taking you to content (you know, the stuff people search for). The site was designed for “viewers,” Millard says, not “users,” so focused solely on clean, simple, open design. Big mistake — viewers, and web traffic, turned off. So Millard relaunched the site again later in the year, this time with many, many more links to content in the bottom two-thirds, like this:

Now the midfield has 57 clickable topics, grouped under what’s new, dinners, videos, holiday ideas, all-time favorites, poll, and classic recipes. The small links within the groupings have no-brainer titles such as “chocolate,” “Christmas,” and “good things for decorating.” You want chocolate? Click on chocolate.

The point? Web users are foraging. They are not viewers. They are hunters. They aren’t looking at your web site as a framed piece of art. They don’t care if your Web 2.0 design has rounded curves and elegant white space. They want to find what to click, and then click it fast. Seth Godin talks a lot about the difference between push and pull. Great design can push. Great usability lets users pull. The editors at Martha must have screamed about the simple idiocy of labeling the chocolate section just “chocolate.” But online, that works.

Now, we aren’t designers, and we respect the brilliance of subtlety, balance, contrast, and tension in grabbing attention. But as media planners, we note that consumers are in different modes when they use different media. Make sure your communication format fits the need — and if the user is hunting for something you offer, give them several very clear targets.

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