The Basics of Good Information Architecture

Andrea Ferguson

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

Information architecture is the roadmap of your website–the structure that makes it easy for people to find what they’re looking for. It includes:

  • How content is organized and presented on the page
  • How content is labeled and expressed in navigation (menus and dropdowns)
  • How you lead users through the site via calls to action, internal links, and other in-site navigation method

 

There is plenty of extensive research on Information Architecture (IA) and how to make it best work for you, from Dan Brown’s Eight Principles of Information Architecture to tools of the trade like card sorting and mindmapping.  Regardless of what method you use and how deeply into the research you wish to go, here are a few basic principles to keep in mind when organizing your website:

  • Know your users. Have a firm grasp on what your particular audience needs from your website, and put it front and center.
  • Take a look at your analytics.  Not just page hits, but how users are actually going through your site (Google Analytics’ User Paths is helpful here). Are they bouncing around?  Are they going straight to what you want them to go to?  Are they missing the important stuff entirely, or dropping off before accomplishing their tasks?
  • Limit the choices. Some IA professionals say that the human brain can only comprehend four to seven items in a list before getting overwhelmed. Don’t list everything in your navigation or your dropdowns; rather, lead users to less-important pages from more-important pages using internal links.
  • Limit the information they see on a single page.  Two-click rules don’t apply as much these days, especially with mobile device browsing. By limiting the information a user sees, you increase their chances of comprehending it and encourage them to explore further. One paragraph on ten pages is always better than ten paragraphs on one page.
  • Don’t make your home page the be-all end-all.  Users will often be led straight to interior pages via Google search results and social media links, so don’t feel the need to put everything on your home page.  Make the content on inside pages relevant so that users can find them organically.
  • Make labels logical. Navigation isn’t the place to be clever or cute. Don’t say “The 411” when users will be looking for “About Us”. Don’t say “Hit Us Up” when they’re looking for “Contact Us”.
  • Make it easy to redo and refine your information architecture over time. A good website changes with your users’ behavior and your content (ideally updated frequently). Be sure that your Content Management System allows you to easily change your navigation, pages, and content (we recommend WordPress for its ease of use, scalability, and flexibility).

 

For more in-depth information on information architecture (if you really want to geek out along with us), check out this excellent article from Web Designer Depot.

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