The features you choose for your site can allow your users to do anything you want them to do. Or prevent those same things. One way to get this wrong is to ignore whether your users want to find one thing, or many things.
One thing = selection. (hunting)
Many things = collection. (gathering)
Imagine you want to buy an oven. How would you do it?
You might ask your friends, or read reviews, or try to figure out what the hell “induction” is — and do I need new pots for that? — but ultimately you will end up on a website where you can buy something.
For the sake of the example, let’s assume you will buy it online.
You might want to compare features and prices, see technical details, and so on. You are a very smart shopper!
When you finish your purchase, you probably don’t want to think about buying another oven for a very long time.
Ok, now let’s say you’re looking for a job. How would you do that?
You go to a job site. Maybe a few. And you search for jobs that you want to have.
You read through the descriptions of several jobs. You apply to a few. And you wait to hear from them. You might come back next week and do it again, if you don’t have any interviews yet.
Even if you have a job, you might be interested in “window shopping”.
Maybe you will even create a profile on the job site to save the jobs that interest you, or follow a company who might offer interesting jobs later.
Question: can you design the oven site and the job site in the same way?
When you’re shopping for an oven, you need one, and one only.
You have an idea of what makes an oven “the best match” for you, and you will buy that one. After you buy it, you’re done with ovens for now.
That’s a selection problem. You’re hunting for a specific thing.
When searching for jobs though, you don’t know if you will get the jobs you want, so you apply to every job that looks interesting. You also need to do something with those jobs after you apply, so you can follow-up later, or send hate mail, or whatever.
That’s a collection problem. You’re gathering suitable options.
A selection site focuses on turning a lot of information into a little information. The rest becomes irrelevant. You should give users lots of details that matter. Create tools for searching and comparing based on specific criteria. Navigation should be based on eliminating most options. Categories will only take you so far. And the goal is to view one specific, beautiful, perfect object.
After a selection has been made, you want to follow-up about that selection, and recommend other things that are related, like accessories.
If you use a selection strategy on “collectable” content, users will feel like there isn’t much to choose from, too much information to handle about each option, and they will feel lost after they find something they like.
A collection site is another type of content. It tries to present as much information as possible, in a quick-and-scannable way, so the user can pick many things out of the noise. Think: Pinterest or Quora. The main objective is to give the user a way to “collect” things of interest and “manage” them easily.
The user will want to register so they can save their collections. They will need a way to edit and organize, and get a good overview of everything they have collected. If new content is added often, you should give the user a way to scan through new stuff every time they visit, to update their collection.
This type of user might also enjoy newsletters or digest emails about what they missed, or things they might like, based on their profile.
If you use a collection strategy on “selective” content, users will feel overwhelmed with the options, and unsatisfied with the details they need to choose something. It will be hard for them to compare details and make a choice, and they will feel like you are hassling them with all your notifications and suggestions.
So: is your site for selection, or collection? (or neither?) Are you using the right strategy? If not… now you have a new, big suggestion for improving engagement!
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