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Boosting Information Scent

Web designers will be most interested in Chapter 9 where the author gives design guidelines based on information foraging theory. The advice is primarily from Jakob Nielsen and Jared Spool. We also talked to Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld about boosting information scent with information architecture. Nielsen (2003) gives some guidelines on increasing information scent and fostering faster interaction including:

Nielsen on Information Scent

Nielsen goes on to recommend that developers make their content look like a nutritious meal and signal that it's an easy catch. Unlike animal prey, website designers want their site to be caught and visited. Nielsen recommends that designers showcase sample content on their home page and prominently display navigation and search features to make their content easy to locate. Nielsen goes on to note that Google and broadband have turned the tables from the days of long visits which makes it necessary to:

Spool and company on Information Scent

Spool, Perfetti, and Brittan (2004) found that users searched for a scent trail and followed it toward their content. "As the scent got stronger, they grew more eager. When they lost the scent, they backtracked until they picked it up again." Spool et al. recommends using trigger words that will be recognized by the user. Here are some of Spool's recommendations from the "Tao of Scent" (2004), with the author's comments in parentheses.

Morville and Rosenfeld on Information Scent

We talked to information architecture experts Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld to see if they could share some tips on boosting information scent. Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) say one important strategy is to include both categories and sample sub-categories in your navigation and index pages, "so that the semantic weight doesn't rest only on the major category label." Peter gave an example of Consumer Reports ( that dedicates a significant amount of home page real estate to expanding beyond major category labels (e.g., Electronics & Computers) to include a few sample sub-categories (e.g., Digital Cameras, Laptop & Desktop Cameras). This allows for direct links to some important product pages and increases the "scent of information" for the major category page (see Figure 9).

consumer reports home page boosting information scent

Figure 9: Consumer Reports includes sub-categories in navigation

By including sample sub-categories under your category labels you can boost information scent by giving users a quick idea of what each topic is about.

Use Search Analytics

Rosenfeld also recommends utilizing search analytics to "close the loop" between designer and user expectations. Giving users what they are searching for, in the terms they are searching with is one way to ensure higher conversion rates. Regularly analyzing search results is one way to ensure you are not missing topics and "trigger words" that your customers are searching for. Rosenfeld and Richard Wiggins are writing a book on Search Analytics due out in Spring 2007.

Rosenfeld: "I'd say that SA is really an analog to understanding navigational scent, which is what most people mean when they talk about scent. Scent is as much an issue in search as it is in navigation." Next page » interview with Peter Pirolli ».

Information Foraging Theory Book Review > Theory > Boosting Information Scent > Interview

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