Posted Sept. 15, 2005
Q: A number of AVMA staff have been working on a redesign of the AVMA Web site (www.avma.org) over the past year. When will visitors to the site see the result?
Dr. Althea A. Jones, AVMA online managing editor, responds:
A: Very soon; we expect to launch the redesigned site in October. It's true, this work has been a collaborative effort. AVMA Online Services staff and Communications Division staff have worked together to come up with a result that we believe is better than anything we might have developed independently, and we think our site visitors will really benefit from it.
Q: What are the primary changes a visitor to the redesigned AVMA Web site is likely to notice?
A: First, I think visitors will notice a clear, intuitive site structure that lets them see and understand what the AVMA is all about (Figure 1). This is especially important because the scope of AVMA activities, taken as a whole, is really tremendous. Now we have a Web site structure that helps our visitors see and get easy access to all of these rich resources from the AVMA.
The new structure organizes information into four resource categories—AVMA, Scientific, Member, and Public. These categories reflect the perspectives of the users who typically visit our site and the types of information they are coming there to find. This highly visual structure is most helpful to users who want to browse, to do a little exploring to find out what goes on at the AVMA. We are happy to report that this can be done without any fear of getting lost. Our design carries over to every page on our site, so visitors always know where they are and how to get back home again.
Second, visitors will find a search capability that is truly world-class—high-powered, reliable, and tailored to the needs of AVMA site users. Many of our visitors will recognize the Google engine behind the AVMA service when they see the clean and useful search results and powerful advanced search options. This aspect of our new design is specifically for users who know what they are looking for and want the shortest path to it. Our users can be confident that if we've got it, they'll find it, using our new search capability.
With more than 10,000 pages of AVMA content to sift through, we'll be giving our site users even more help. Within key sections of the Web site, such as News, we are providing search capability within just that section, to allow more targeted search results (Figure 2). The sitewide search is also present at the top of every page, so the user always has a choice of searching broadly or narrowly. And for those who really like to customize, the Advanced Search provides many more options.
Q: An AVMA search with Google technology is a powerful combination. Are there additional advantages?
A: Yes, quite a few. One of the aspects of the new design that we are especially excited about is that it gives us the flexibility to serve our allied organizations in new and innovative ways. We have the ability to highlight certain Web sites or pages on the basis of what a user is searching for, and we can use this to lend a helping hand to these groups. For example, if a user searches on a state name, the veterinary medical association for that state will be highlighted prominently at the top of the search results (Figure 3). This special customization allows us to raise awareness of the activities of our allied organizations, and encourages our visitors to click over to allied Web sites of interest to them.
Q: Are there other enhancements that may not be so obvious?
A: Yes, quite a few. For example, visitors may notice the absence of a members-only area that requires users to log in before entering. Any time a user has to log in, it's a barrier. We want AVMA information to be as available as possible, so we are removing barriers to access wherever we can. One way to accomplish this is to remove restrictions on larger Web areas, and instead use page-specific restrictions where needed. This way, users—particularly our members—can easily see what is available to them, rather than having important resources within view only after logging in. Broad restrictions can result in some great information going unrecognized and unused.
This same idea carries over to the categories I mentioned earlier. The categories are designed to reflect our general audiences and their interests, while not restricting them in any way. Category hopping is easy and encouraged with this new design, as opposed to the pigeonholing that can occur on some other sites that try to deliver content by audience. Our categories are simply a guide, with lots of cross-referencing to make sure users get where they want to go.
The home page will also be quite different in the way news and announcements are handled. By placing only the top two or three news items on the home page, we will be able to keep it fresh and help our visitors focus on the most important information. This also means that news items won't stay on our home page for long, which is why we will have a "Recently Featured" page that visitors can reference if they want to view a recent item that is no longer the latest news.
Overall, this new design has such great character and flexibility that it gives us tremendous potential for growth. A good Web design should open the way to continual change and enhancement, and this design really delivers that and more.
Q: You mention potential for growth. What kinds of online features or activities do you envision as the AVMA Web site continues to grow?
A: To name just a few: personalization features for AVMA members, greater use of e-commerce, and interactive features that will enhance communication between the AVMA and our members. Some improvements are already in the works for early 2006, and others are at various stages of development. These are only some of the activities that will help us keep the AVMA Web site vibrant. With this upcoming redesign, we are paving the way for many innovations ahead.