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Why you need to rid your copy of ‘mystery meat’

Paul Allen

Lark

PRO

Imagine that you open the communal fridge at work and see a tupperware dish that has “Meat” written on it. No explanation, no use by date, just “Meat”.

You might open it, you might even sniff it – but you’d need to be brave (or a bit nuts) to tuck into it. It’s the same with content. If you’re not clear with your labelling, your visitors won’t know what things are, what’s behind them or what they should do next.

Content clues

The phrase “mystery meat” was first coined by web designer Vincent Flanders in his rather no-nonsense sounding Web Pages That Suck.

Here, it refers specifically to website navigation.

Have you ever seen a “More” menu item? Of course you have. Do you ever know what you’ll get from it? OK, so that’s mystery meat.

At Lark, we think “mystery meat” applies to many more situations.

For example, reader calls-to-action (CTAs), other content groupings, and even sub-headings within articles can suffer from confusing, ambiguous wordplay.

“Click here”

With calls-to-action, watch out for “click here” copy doing all the work.

It can be a simple, clear instruction – but, on its own, it doesn’t tell your visitors where they’re going. For example, on a catalogue page: See our full range of radios here >> may be far more helpful than Click here for more >>

You can also see this with many online retailers (yes, we’re talking about you, Amazon), who have renamed “Related items” in their product listings to (less robotic-sounding) headings, such as: “Customers who liked this also bought…”

Interestingly, they often also include a “Frequently bought together” grouping. This provides even more context and ‘social proof’ to their customers’ purchasing journeys. It’s not a huge change – but it can make a big difference in sales.

Bad meat

Who are the other big offenders in mystery meat? ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ can be useful – but they’re more often a dumping ground for “stuff”. That’s why we usually don’t like them very much.

If you have a question, the website should answer it – without you needing to trawl through a potentially endless Q&A.

“Useful Info” is another common enemy. That label could realistically apply to almost anything (apart from this, of course). If your users have no idea what’s within a section, why would they click on it?

Ditto other bland groupings (e.g. “General Information”) and – at the other extreme – imaginative, ‘fun’, but ultimately unintuitive titles. Like the temptation to call your blog “Musings Central” or “The Last Post”.

All mystery meat.

Not big, not clever, and definitely not tasty.

This post was originally published on the Lark blog as Bin the mystery meat

Thanks to Jeremy Keith (legend of the web) for the meat picture

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