I got a new area to learn this week: Information Architecture (IA). This was suggested by my manager – every couple of weeks, she gives new area to learn so I can advance in my field (SEO). It’s superb to have someone who care enough to tell you what area you can improve on.
So what do I need to do?
Due to my work in SEO, I have some exposure on how to make information architecture. But my approach is quite engine focused and might not be user friendly at times. So I have two main things to learn:
- IA best practices for users, and
- How to balance user friendly IA and search engine friendly IA.
What will be covered in this post
I was given one day to read. So this post is about what I learned about Information Architecture within that time frame.
I decided to start by answering the 101 questions I have on the top of my head:
- What is Information Architecture?
- Why is it important?
- What aspects covered in IA?
- Best Practices?
- How it relates to SEO?
What is Information Architecture?
Simply said, Information Architecture is a way to structure information to make it intuitive and easy to manage. IA is applicable for a range of things, from websites to mobile applications and softwares. In this post I will focus on IA for websites.
Importance of IA
Why is IA important? There are already a bunch of brilliant articles explained about the repercussion IA have on usability, design and search engine optimisation. I won’t repeat what they say (yes, I am lazy). I hope the followings illustrate why good IA is important :
Poor IA –> Frustrated Users –> Site Abandonment –> Site’s goal not achieved (No $$$)
Poor IA –> Ineffective Flow to Conversion Page –> Low Conversion –> No $$$
and in many cases
Poor IA –> Bad Search Engine Visibility –> Little/ No traffic to Site –> No $$$
Best practices for IA?
There are no standards (yet?) for IA. However, there are some general elements that need to be fulfilled in order to make a good IA.
1 – Clear Goal.
This one is pretty straight forward. Goal give direction on how the website IA should be designed. The IA for informational website will be different from e-commerce website or website that want to sell their web based service.
2 – Understand Users.
IA is there to help users find the information they want the website effortlessly (and convert them). This cannot be done without understanding users needs. So, how to understand users? Do thy research. These are some information sources that can be used:
- Survey and interview – find out how users want to relate to the content and functionality
- Keywords research – find out the language users use online. Keywords research will also help you determine the categories and content for the website.
- Card sorting – find out how your content should be grouped based on user input.
- Website analytics – find out how users navigate your current site, e.g. What are the most and least popular content? Some metrics to use will be the total page views, visits. unique visitors, bounce rate and exit rate.
- Internal searches data – what information users want to find? Did they find the information they need?
- Competitor websites – how they design their IA?
3 – Have Just Enough Choices and Information.
Two main reasons for this:
- Users want choices, but too many choices confuse them.
- Any unwanted information is a noise for users. This essentially hinder the ‘flow’ of activities and could harm conversion.
How to define ‘just enough’? Uh.. no standards here, but I think:
- You need to go back to previous points – understand users needs and the purpose of the website.
- Understand the principle of progressive disclosure.
- Common sense.
4 – Have Focused Navigation Mechanisms.
Navigation mechanisms from one website to another will be different based on the websites’ goals. But despite the differences in purpose, each of them should have a set, consistent navigation systems. Some tips:
- Relate to the previous point about giving just enough choices. Don’t confuse users by providing too much navigation systems in one page.
- Try to define the navigation by the purpose (main topic navigation, marketing navigation, etc) rather than on where it appears (top, right rail, left menu, etc). This will put the importance of each navigation into perspective.
- Use users’ terminology – this is again, back to the second point.
5 – Designed for Growth
Any website will grow, thought we usually don’t know what will grow and how much it will change. What I think can be done to anticipate growth is to:
a. Determine the directions of possible growth.
- Consider the nature of the industry where the website operates, e.g. What are the trends? What information are likely to be in demand? What is the product life cycle?
- Link it to the purpose of the website, e.g. How the market trends might influence the website goal?
b. Identify how each navigational mechanisms that handle each type of growth.
- How to do this properly? I think I need hands on experience…
Simple Steps in Creating IA
1. Get the goal.
Determine the main goal of the website before anything. Get the key individuals to agree on the purpose of the website. Remember to document and communicate the consensus.
Information you need to get in this step:
- Mission and vision of the company
- Short term and long term goal of the website
- Target audience (and secondary target)
- Key service/ product differentiation
Define the website audiences. The audiences of the website are not only the main target market, but might also include advertisers, investors and suppliers. Create scenario for each audiences. Find out what they want and how IA can help them fulfill their goals.
What you want to get from this step:
- The needs of your primary and secondary audiences
- What they are searching for (keyword research)
- Scenarios for each audiences
- Competitive analysis – list pro and cons of the competitors’ websites
3. The Grouping of Content and Functions
Based on keywords research, audiences needs and competitive analysis, create list of essential content and functions. Try to group the content using several different approach before settling to a certain layout.
This step provides:
- List of essential content
- List of essential functionalities
- How the content will be grouped
4. Design the Structure
This is when you are creating the general information outline, generating site maps and defining navigation mechanisms.
What you will get here:
- A listing of main sections
- Site maps that show how content are liked to each other
- Website navigation mechanisms
5. Creating Visual Blueprint
Create wireframes to show a general ideas on how the created structure might look on a web page. This step will involve (not limited to) the graphic designer, development team and also SEO. It is easier to point out the SEO requirements on wireframes stage then after the website is built. This step also iterative, means there will be a lot of revision before the design is set.
Do usability test to see whether the design work well for users.
8. Analyze Performance
Uh Oh… I am running out of time. I will be back on this subject later. For now I will list things that I need to explore further:
- How to design IA for growth
- Creating wireframes
- Balancing user focused IA with SEO
- How usability testing is done (precisely)
- Case studies – lots of them
- How to design for intranet?
- How to define navigations – what work particularly well?
What I read
These just some of the articles I read to learn about Information Architecture.