Information Architecture: What It Is & How to Use It
One of the most common mistakes made when creating a new website is ignoring the first, most critical step: creating your information architecture. What some business owners don’t realize is the entire user experience, as well as the opportunity to generate leads, lies within the quality of the site’s IA.
Whether you’re planning to begin development on a new website or redesigning your current site, chances are what’s pressured you to this point is because your current site just isn’t working. In other words, it’s simply not generating business for you.
But before you think a more exciting design or new messaging will drive more website visits or leads, you must plan out the site’s structure first – before diving into design or code!
Information architecture not only helps you build a better site that offers a clearer path for the prospect or customer, but it also allows everyone working on the website to more effectively collaborate – working together to uncover and correct any problems or navigation issues before the site is even built.
If your site is already live, IA can help you find any possible technical issues that can be corrected such as duplicate pages, underscores in the URL or content that can’t be crawled by the search engines.
IA includes several phases which allow you to map out all aspects of the site and how all of your information will be structured and consumed by your prospects and customers. A typical IA project consists of conducting a content inventory and creating a flowchart and wireframe.
Content inventory documentation is basically an outline of all the content within your website. You can map out each section of your main navigation and then include pages that are linked from those main pages. There are two main goals of this project: to ensure important content isn’t getting buried, and to provide a natural and continuous structure that allows your website visitors to obtain the relevant information they need, quickly and easily.
If your website is already live, this documentation can help you understand its current structure. Each URL will include notes about the importance of each page and the type of content on that page. Establishing this documentation will allow you to move seamlessly into a content audient where you’ll be able to easily evaluate your website as a whole and decide what content can be removed, merged or changed to create a better online experience.
Here are a few URL tips to keep in mind when outlining your content inventory and optimizing a site for search engines:
- All URLs should be consistent and it is best to keep all text lowercase
- URLs should contain hyphens and not underscores
- URLs should be shorter than 2048 characters
- URLs should contain important keywords that describe the theme of the page
Remember: if you remove any pages from your website be sure to implement a 301 redirect from the deleted URL to the most relevant page.
The second step involves creating a flowchart of the navigation. This allows you to see a visual representation of your content inventory as well as help you answer the following questions:
- Is the navigation too confusing?
- Do I have too many pages or not enough pages?
- Is the site unbalanced?
- Are all the subpages supportive of the main navigation?
Wireframes are a rough representation of how a website will look. They allow you to create a layout of each type of page that will be on your website; helping you create a strategic design that achieves a desired objective.
Wireframes can have varying levels of detail. The example above is a very early wireframe which only contains the basic layout without any text or detail (aside from the link text located at the top of the design).
Once you decide on a design of your homepage and interior pages, you should consider adding the following to the prototype of the page:
- Navigation text
- H1 – H6 tags
- Location of each image
- Sub navigation text
Although it may seem like a lot of work to detail every aspect of your structure prior to development, it will be well worth it later on, and you’ll have a better chance of creating a website that truly works for your business while also being search engine friendly. Additionally, it will make the development of the website much easier, you’ll be less likely to run into problems later on, and most importantly, you’ll have a much better chance of building a more seamless website you’re prospects will want to visit.
So, whether you're in the early stages of creating your first website, revamping your current website, or halfway through conducting a content inventory, take a productive break and click here to watch our free webinar, The Most Common And Costly Digital Marketing Mistakes Business Owners Make (And How To Avoid Them!).
All the best,
Steve is a SEO Specialist with Stream Companies, a Philadelphia area advertising agency.