What does your content smell like?

ContentSmell“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Well, if William Shakespeare has said this, who am I to disagree? But I think that the name DOES make a difference when it comes to content!

Take a look at the screenshot below:

Local news functionality in two countries

Both countries use exactly the same functionality for the same purpose. But the language of country 2 is both more informative and more inviting: You know you have a new colleague called Annette. If you are curious about where she works, you can click on the article to find out more. But if you have limited time, you know at least the essentials.  This title has a good “information scent”: it immediately gives you an idea what the information is about.

This seems very logical. Yet sometimes we forget to think carefully about names and titles. My communications colleagues have been known to send a weekly newsletter from “”ic@company.com” (and not “Internal Communications” or other descriptive name) with  the subject line “Newsletter week 43, 2010”. That just does not smell nice!

Another example: in the Netherlands the first truly relevant documents on our intranet were about employee benefits. All Dutch employees had the link on their homepage for easy access. Yet we received complaints:
The content owner complained that people kept calling and emailing for information, even though “it was all on the intranet”.
Employees grumbled that they expected to find employee benefits information on the intranet, but they did not know where to look.
What was the case? The link was the same as the acronym of the originating department, and that was, very intuitively, “CSPO”.
Fortunately the solution was exactly as simple as you think! 🙂


  • Always spend time thinking  of titles of documents, emails, navigation elements, links, “from” and “subject” lines in your e-mail, etc.
  • Look for alternatives and test them with a few colleagues, especially if this is information which is important, has a large and diverse audience, and/or will remain on your intranet (or website) for a long time.
  • Keep in mind that what is obvious to you is not always as clear for your audience. Your content may be a rose, but if you call it ” manure”  you will definitely have fewer visitors! 🙂

Further reading:

Helping people find the content they want, from Step Two Designs, with explanation and examples

Boosting Information Scent, from WebSiteOptimization.com, with useful tips

Keep People on your site …. of VanSeoDesign with the theory

And your own examples are welcome, too!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net