Four key elements that Strengthen Your User Experience
Whether you’re looking to sell, share, or entertain, there is one feature that plays a prominent role in the success of your website. It’s your information architecture, or IA for short, and it’s the gateway to success for a highly-functioning website.
Truth be told, the reason for your website’s mere existence can be boiled down to one statement: connect visitors to the information they seek.
In this article, we’re going to dive into common questions about information architecture and discover how you can build a powerful IA.
What is an Information Architecture?
Information Architecture is the overarching blueprint that defines the structure and organization for your website. It maps how the content, topics, pages, and tools of your website will be organized into an effectively coordinated delivery mechanism. Plus, it sets the tone for the experience you desire for your users.
Let’s talk about what your IA is not. It is not your navigation, though navigation is a highly-functioning tool for traveling through the IA. It is not a sitemap, though the sitemap portrays the visible structure of your IA. It is also not a page layout or wireframe, as your user experience and user interface designs rely on the methodology of your IA.
Does your website need some restructuring or other user experience upgrade? Contact Liquid and our website design professionals will assess your needs.
Why Is Your IA So Important?
As already stated, the IA provides structure and maintains order in a complex environment of design, code, and data.
• Visitor benefits: IA provides clear and logical pathways to your content for the people who want to read, view, or interact with it
• Business benefits: IA establishes a sound, scalable platform for delivering information that supports your business goals, and guides customers through your ecosystem
When done correctly, it completes a finely tuned, balanced relationship between your users, your message, your technology, and your business goals. Ideally, it creates a symbiotic relationship between each of the most important facets of your business.
Conversely, a website with weak IA is easily spotted. Often called a “Frankensite,” poor structure occurs from unrelated pages being slapped together in random locations. You’ll discover virtual content cul-de-sacs, with no contextual pathways in or out, and placement in illogical locations sans categorical groupings.
Strong IA keeps visitors feeling comfortable with where they are and where they want to go during their interaction with your website. This should be equally true for those starting at your home page and those lading on inner pages from search engine results. A deftly structured website is a recipe for satisfied visitors who feel good about their online experience.
What Makes for a Powerful IA?
As we’ve discussed, a website is a complex structure that requires a strong IA to carry out the goals of its owner and its visitors, time after time. That’s why website designers will typically lead-off their projects at the IA stage.
A powerful IA is the result of meticulous and iterative planning. It’s designed through a combination of quantitative and qualitative processes, including discovery sessions, SEO research, traffic data, user testing, and competitive research. Only through this depth of strategy and research can a sustainable IA be effectively formulated.
Throughout any website design process the IA should be considered a living and breathing entity, growing and changing dynamically as new layers of content are developed, and new relationships are discovered.
Get Your IA in Shape
If nothing else, the foremost purpose of Information Architecture is to provide a sound structural and organizational plan for the content of your website. Your website is a repository of information and so your IA will decide how easily parsed this information will be.
Here are the four essential areas of your website’s Information Architecture that deserve the attention of your website team going forward:
Your website’s Information Architecture relies on a hierarchy of classifications in order to offer logical sense to your organization. How pages are sorted provides the user with suggestions as to the determine relationships between pages, an important contributor to higher user session rates. It’s important too that your organization is built to be load-bearing and future proof. Think about the different page types and volume of content you’ll be featuring today and down the line. A strong IA will provide expansion opportunities for existing topic categories, and some that may a future reality. That’s what’s at stake here.
2. Content inventoryYou maintaining a detailed content inventory is the equivalent of a restaurant knowing its menu. Your IA will provide this. Managing your content goes far beyond just knowing page titles and locations. Your content inventory should include key factors such as page types, topics, goals, keywords, categories, age, outbound links, and internally linked pages. Managing your IA’s content inventory ensures your website remains fresh and relevant.
3. LabelingThe method of labeling your information is a vital element of your IA. The page labels you choose carry a lot of weight in IA. They must both occupy minimal space in your website’s navigation design and provide minimal cognitive load for your user. It’s imperative you adopt a universal set of labeling for your website audience. Avoid jargony industry-speak and any “clever” terminology that can cause users confusion. There’s a good reason universally known labels like Home, About Us, and Blog are so common: you know exactly what you’ll find on those pages.
4. Navigation and Search
A powerful and robust IA is only as good as its ability to allow users convenient travel throughout the website. Navigation is your IA’s only true visible feature. Your menu, submenus, and search tool give users insight into the complete array of information available to them, plus the pathways to reaching that content. Qualities of a successful navigation including visibility, ease of use, simplicity of choices, and overall dependability. Search is equally important in this capacity, especially on mobile design where users are more likely to search.
BTW: These concepts are more deeply covered in the book, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, widely considered as the go-to reference for IA.
ConclusionYour website is a complex structure with an open front door to the entire world, and a powerful and sustainable Information Architecture is its backbone. The IA should support both your user needs and your business goals.
Creating a powerful IA requires research and statistical analysis, though it should always be considered a living, breathing entity that grows and adapts throughout the lifespan of your website.
The four key features you want to focus on for a strong IA are:
- Organization: the systematic approach to creating scalable order
- Content inventory: the management of your content categories, topics, and goals
- Labeling: present content in a way that benefits both users and search engine results
- Navigation and Search: provide effortless pathways for users to reach content
How does your website stack up? Contact Liquid and let our Experience design team assess your Information Architecture needs.