Your website's information architecture is critical to great user experience, but can get complicated and contentious. Learn how to build a good website IA.

Diary of a Redesign - Part 7

Diary of a Redesign: Learn What Makes a Good or Bad Website Information Architecture (IA)

Wed Jul 23, 2014

Before beginning the actual design part of a website redesign you need to define your site information architecture, or IA. Whether you rely on your internal team or a design agency to do the design work, your IA will help you determine the scope of what needs to be done, and guide decisions and priorities around design and content changes. Most importantly, your IA has tremendous impact on your website’s usability, user-friendliness, and SEO.

With these priorities in mind, it sounds like the process should be straightforward, but it’s often not. Just as when reviewing a new design, you’re likely to get as many opinions as there stakeholders at the table. Use this brief guide to help build a good information architecture for your website that prioritizes what matters, and excludes what doesn’t.

Your Information Architecture Is Not Your Navigation

Website navigation is based off your information architecture, but they are not one and the same. Your navigation will show website visitors how to get to the information or content they are seeking. Information architecture determines where that content is going to live, and also which parts of your site should be featured in the top levels of the navigation.

Your Information Architecture Is an Exercise In Discipline and Simplicity

Once you start planning your IA, you have to account for all the content you currently have on your website and decide where it’s going to go. Conducting a content audit is a critical part of this process because it forces you to asses the quality of your content, and discover where there might be gaps that need to be filled. It’s also the perfect time to see where pages and sections can be consolidated, and how you can shorten the path between your visitor’s first click and intended destination.

Your Information Architecture Is Not Your Org Chart

When designing your information architecture, it seems natural to follow the structure of your organization. Depending on your industry, it might be obvious that your accounting and facilities offices don’t need their own sections on the website. When several divisions are each in charge of multiple product or service lines, the temptation is even stronger to group the information based on that structure. But will it make sense to a first time visitor? If your site has multiple target audiences, see how you can segment content according to visitor personas and needs rather than your internal organizational structure.

Your Information Architecture Is the Foundation of Good User Experience

Information architects have to balance two seemingly conflicting directives: reduce the number of clicks a visitor needs to take to reach her destination and reduce the number of options available on the first screen to prevent confusion and overwhelm. Doing this requires understanding the best and most likely path for a visitor to take, and delivering them to what they want with minimal friction, and without requiring them to consider information that is not relevant to them.

Your Information Architecture Is Not Supposed to Be Clever

Marketers are generally a smart bunch, with many good writers among them. Getting witty and creative with copy can work incredibly well in print, but on the web, the rules are different. With body text, you have some leeway to play with tone, wit, structure, and even the occasional pun—and you should in order to make the experience of visiting your site more fun. However, when naming pages, sections, and navigation elements, straightforward language is best. Your company might sincerely believe your army of consultants are all superheroes, but a visitor just wants to see where the consultants are. This brings us to our next point.

Your Information Architecture Is a Way to Boost SEO

Search engines look at page titles (your H1 headings) and names and URLs to determine the relevance of content. Using plain language that will make sense to visitors and align with what they search for will help your website perform better in search. Like your meta titles and descriptions, the navigation elements and page titles as determined by your information architecture will strengthen SEO and help page ranking.

Creating a strong information architecture for your website will ensure a smoother redesign project, an improved user experience, and more focused web content. It’s bound to be a challenging, and possibly contentious process, but it’s worth the effort to get right before moving forward with your website project.

This post is the part of our weekly Diary of a Redesign series, which covers every stage of the website redesign process, from planning, to design, to implementation, to launch. New posts published every Wednesday. 

Karo Kilfeather, content marketing manager at Percussion Software
Karo Kilfeather
Content Marketing Manager | Percussion Software

Karo was born in Poland, and learned to speak English by watching "Saved by the Bell" reruns during her first summer in the U.S., which has left her unable to go through life without occasionally breaking the fourth wall. As Percussion's content marketing manager, she oversees and creates content that drives website traffic, engages followers, and helps fill the marketing and sales funnel. She writes about content management, content marketing, SEO, social media and web design, and how to make it all less complicated.