Ultimately, we’re all trying to make the information, products and services on our websites easier for users to find, right? Otherwise, what is the point of having a website? This is where website information architecture (IA) comes in.
Let’s not confuse IA with the website navigation. Although intimately related, they are actually different. According to Nielsen Norman Group, “IA is the information backbone of the site; navigation refers to those elements in the UI that allow users to reach specific information on the site.”
So before we dive into optimizing our site for search engines (SEO) or creating a beautiful web design, we have to start with the website content structure first to build a solid foundation.
What is Information Architecture?
In a nutshell, the information architecture of a website is the way the content is divided up and connected within a website.
The process of developing your information architecture should be informed by your users—in essence, you’re reverse engineering based on who you want to come to the site. First, determine who your users are and create a set of personas and use-case scenarios around them to get a sense of what they need from your website. From there, use a spreadsheet to map out the following:
- Organization / Category: Determine the hierarchy of information, broken into buckets or shared characteristics in which to group content together based on user personas, such as topic, location, alphabetical, audience, industry, or date.
- Label: Create descriptive, intuitive, user-centered labels. Conduct keyword research to help inform the process of assigning labels.
- Priority: Consider which content on the website should be given priority placement in the hierarchy and how many items should be included in each category. Priority will play a major role in the development of your site navigation as well where you’ll need to find a balance between the website user’s needs and the website owner’s wants.
- Connection: Build logical connections between related website content
The benefits of having clear website information architecture extend beyond a positive user experience (not that this isn’t reason enough!) into increased search engine visibility. When your web content structure is clearly defined and easy to navigate for human users, it’s naturally easier for the robots, too.