Have you ever visited a website and became frustrated because you couldn’t find the information or product you needed? Did you try and use the primary navigation and find that it was not intuitive, or the product you were looking for was not in the category or place you thought it would be? This is where website information architecture can help.
Below are some information architecture basics and best practices that cover topics such as; what is information architecture, information architecture and knowledge management systems, the psychology of IA, and how a website’s structure impacts content strategy, SEO, website design, and conversions.
What is Website Information Architecture?
What is information architecture? Website information architecture is a strategy shared by designers, developers, Information architects, SEO professionals, and content strategists. It is an information model describing the rules for how information should be organized, interlinked, accessed, and presented. In other words, information architecture is the creation of a structure for a website, with the goal of helping a user understand where the information they want is in relation to the current page they’re on, and providing them the best path to get to it.
Dan Klyn’s Definition
Dan Klyn defines information architecture as the combination of the following 3 things:
- Ontology – discovering, defining, and articulating the rules and patterns that govern the meaning of what we intend to communicate.
- Taxonomy – developing systems and structures for what everything is called, where everything is placed, and the relationship between labels and categories.
- Choreography – anticipating the way users and information want to flow and creating a path for change over time.
Peter Morville’s Definition
According to Peter Morville, the purpose of your IA is to help users understand where they are, what they’ve found, what’s around, and what to expect. Information architecture includes:
- The structural design of shared information environments.
- The combination of organization, labeling, search, and navigation within a website.
- The art and science of shaping website experience to support usability and findability.
Information Architecture Systems and Principles
To be successful, you need a diverse understanding of industry standards and basics for creating, storing, accessing, managing and presenting information. In order to create these systems of information, you need to understand the interdependent nature of users, content, and context. These information and knowledge management systems include:
Organization systems – the categories in which we place information.
Labeling systems – the ways we represent information, such as the terminology considered appropriate for the target audience.
Navigation systems – the way we move from one piece of information to another.
Searching systems – the way we search for information.
The Psychology of Information Architecture
Much of the strategy behind information architecture is rooted in cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology is the study of how the mind works, and its mental processes.
Cognitive psychology is a vast study, but below are 3 key areas that information architects value most:
Cognitive load – the amount of information that a person can process at any given time.
The goal of a good information architecture is to keep from inadvertently overloading a user with too much information all at once. They will integrate with the wireframe and content strategy teams to help define the content elements that are needed to keep a balance between information presentation and information consumption.
Mental models – the assumptions people carry in their minds before interacting with a website or application.
The goal of a good information architecture is to make information easier to discover by placing it in a place that matches the user’s mental model of where it should be. This is usually accomplished by performing card sorting activities with a sample set of target users of the website.
Decision making – a cognitive process that allows us to make a choice or select an option.
Information architects can help users make decisions by providing certain information at key moments during the user journey around a website. To learn about the audience’s decision-making processes the information architect will analyze the usability tests, card sorting exercises, stakeholder interviews, and user interviews.
Why Should You Care?
Organizing your website’s content in a way that aligns with how users think it should flow, helps:
- Increase leads and conversions
- Provide a great experience that users will want to come back and use
- Increase findability and SEO
- Prevent usability concerns
- Prevent content management issues
- Create clear paths for visitors and enhances the user experience.
- Prevent having to redesign a website you just spent money designing recently.
If you’re thinking about redesigning your website and need help defining an information architecture that both users and search engines will value, or if you need some guidance on information architecture best practices feel free to contact our founder directly.