Site architecture tips to help people love your site

Andrea Ferguson

President at AndiSites Inc.
Andi is founder and President of AndiSites Inc. She writes about website design and development, best practices, and random stuff her busy brain thinks would be useful.
Andrea Ferguson

We were recently asked by a client for a “generic” website theme that they could put on some new WordPress sites in their system, as well as some old ones whose beauty had faded over time.  That’s fine, and a lovely design can certainly do wonders for a website.  However, there’s more to it than that.  Proper site architecture (also known as Information Architecture, or IA) is vital to helping your users get around your site, find what they need, and want to explore further.  Be sure while you’re considering color and font to consider how your site is organized as well.

 

An excellent recent article by Web Designer Depot discusses seven simple Information Architecture (IA) mistakes that could be driving users away from your full website experience.  We’ve listed them in the form of simple tips below:

 

  1. Understand your audience:  The article notes that “…not knowing who visits your website can’t help you create solutions for them.”  What’s the age of your average website user?  Younger users will have little patience with too much text and not enough imagery; older users will appreciate you bumping up the type size and increasing the contrast.
  2. Be consistent:  “You will quickly confuse the user by having different types of navigation on different pages.”  Keep menus in the same place across your site. Make visual cues such as headline and link colors the same on every page.  If a button that calls for action is green in one place, make it green everywhere it appears.
  3. Use simple language: “If you fill your website with jargon and internal language, visitors are less likely to understand it.”  Speak simply.  Have a few different people (and different types of people, including those outside your industry) read what you’ve written to make sure it’s clear.  And as with everything on the web, less is more.
  4. Have a search function: “Many users look for the search bar first when they enter a site with a large amount of content.”  When we’re redesigning a website’s architecture, we look at analytics to see how often the search box is used.  In general, the higher the use, the worst the architecture–ideally your users should rely on your navigation, not the search box.  However, they may be looking for something specific, or they may just be rushed.  To serve them well, include a search box on every page, in the place they expect to see it (usually somewhere near the upper-right of the page).
  5. Don’t use movable UI elements:  This one’s simple.  Things that move with you as you scroll (like those fixed social share bars or signup screens), or that chase you as you navigate around a page, are annoying.  Don’t use them on your site.
  6. Give users feedback: “A website is most of the time a two-way system, with the user acting upon different elements and the system sending feedback in the form of opening another page.” This works with form submissions, button presses, product purchases, and other actions that your users take on your site.  Don’t make them wonder if their form was submitted or if their vote was registered.  Tell them it was.  And if it wasn’t, tell them that, and give them an easy way to try again.
  7. Don’t just leave it in the users’ hands:  “Visitors often make mistakes, and the key is not making them feel stupid.” Your users are smart, so if they make a mistake on your site (and they will, no matter how easy you think you’ve made it for them), let them know that it’s not their fault. Explain what happened in understandable terms (see #3). If you have a 404 page on your site (indicating that the user has tried to go to a page that isn’t there), don’t let it just say “404”–nobody but us tech geeks knows what that means.  Include the standard 404 message if you’d like, but add a phrase saying what it means, along with a link helping them back to your home page.

 

Follow these simple tips when architecting your website, and you’ll go a long way towards making your users feel welcomed, special, and smart.

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