Understanding the role of Information Architecture

In The State of Search we touched on I.A, U.X / U.I in the respect of Search Engine Optimisation.

I.A covers the Information Architecture of a website within web design. Essentially how the data is structured. It’s important for SEO because many of the accessibility problems we find are due to the way the website or system has been set-up.

Part of our SEO Audits focus on the technicalities of a websites structure with a view to enable the website to be as visible as possible to search engines and crawlers, but more importantly end-users.

On-page SEO isn’t hard, anyone can be trained to find a problem on-page, but knowing how to structure the data on a large scale can get quite complicated.

Part of our work is applying our understanding of how search engines crawl a website and then building a strategy and structure to support the website goals.

‘Imagine that the internet is the largest library in the world, your website is just a book, Google is the librarian and People are the readers. They need a system to manage the vast amounts of information available to them’.

Information Architecture

 

The very basic purpose of most websites is to display information to end-users.

This information needs to be clear, concise, readable and intuitive. A visitor that arrives at a website need to be able to understand what the website is about and how it meets their need. If they’ve arrived from a search engine, they need to know the website meets their query. Just to do the above 5 things well, requires alot of work and planning.

How we choose to structure our websites is really down to the decisions made at a design level which is sometimes influenced by the amount of content available.

Having a structure based on; Home , About Us, Our Service, Contact us. Isn’t a Content Strategy or Information Architecture it’s lazy.

It’s not to say that some pages don’t belong at a top-level because people are often use to seeing certain pages in a prominent place. Which is part of the U.X Design.

Information Architecture is even important to Conversion-Rate-Optimisation because thought needs to be made when structuring the process that leads to a sale, sign-up or enquiry. Amazon is a great example of a large site that has solid foundations, due to the levels of information they need to serve. Some studies suggest that a one second delay can cost them upto 1.6 billion in sales per year. The lesson we can learn from this is that Information Architecture and U.X design plays an important role within the conversion process.

There’s an old rule within usability testing, Websites should follow a ‘3 click rule’ you should always be able to find what you’re looking for within 3 clicks or be able to get back to the home page. (Easier said than done, especially for ecommerce.) Most websites do follow this rule but sometimes it might not be possible due to the level of content available on-site. Although planning the Information Architecture can really help to ensure that as websites grow they can cope with more content which improves the visitors experience, rather than adding a unnecessary layer of complexity.

People often give-up on a website before they’ve learned to use it or know where to find what they are looking for quickly. If a website appears to work, i.e. people are able to find what they are looking for, or do what’s intended, then they don’t complain.

So how do you know you’ve got architectural issues?

Testing

One recent test of a site showed page looked fine and everything worked from a design perceptive.

We did a crawl of this site and found this small issue which caused the crawler to go into a loop.

It created a further 2,222 pages and a total of 4,388 errors. On one page! 2,000 being a duplicate page using one file. even although w’re using the canonical tag.

This was invisible to the end-user but the crawlers that Google use would have tried to index these pages making the site look larger than is actually is.

The point being that, your site can scale its data without you knowing. Even small changes on a tiny site can make a large impact on the overall structure. Most of the time these issues cannot be seen by the end-user and are a result of the content management system creating issues.

Beyond technical SEO, We need to test our content and layout.

Use focus groups and run content experiments to ensure that our design is fit for purpose.

Data leading Web Design?

Often Websites are designed from a design composition, and transferred into HTML / CSS. After that they are sometimes plugged into a Content Management System (CMS). Which can cause major problems in the future if scalability hasn’t been planned in advance or if the incorrect Content Strategy has been used.

As you maybe aware I’ve never been a great fan of CMS. Really because they fundamentally affect the information architecture too much. Websites are being developed around the way the Content Management System has been designed and not around the user.

WordPress is a good example of this. It’s a Blogging platform that tries to be a Content Management System which has given rise to ‘Web Designers’ / SEO practitioners that can’t code. When you’ve got a technical understanding you are better able to fix the problems. More to the point not create the problem in the first place. Depending on a system to manage the Information Architecture often creates more problems than it solves in the long-term.

A large part of Web Design is to consider the Why and How we will present the content on-site. Rather than allowing a system to dictate the U.X / U.I and Information Architecture.

When we think of Architecture we think of how a building is planned and made. The same principles can be applied to the Web. A good foundation needs to be planned first before the design.

It can also be quite a subjective area of design. As many stakeholders offer conflicting opinions about what they like and what they don’t like on the web. It’s not just the web designers job to build a good website. It often needs a team who have expertise in many areas.

For example the below stakeholders may have the below data needs,

Marketing and Communications

The Marketing Department works on the intended purpose of the communications that are deliverer on-site. They know the audience and understand why things need to be put in place. They oversee the entire site to ensure that the infomation can be accessed by the end-users which is aligned with the organisational communications strategy.

Information Architecture / Content Strategist

The I.A lead needs to be focused on designing a system that can cope with the levels of information / data and plan for additional content when needed. Its rare to have a specific Information Architect. but this role does need to be thought of at a planning and design stage.They’re focused on indexing labeling navigation issues, search and delivery of content.

Copywriting

Works on the copy style, new content, and developing a content strategy that fits in with the theme of the website. (and the requirements of the marketing department.)

Web Developers

Create the technical environment that enables the functionality. Working to ensure that the website is as dynamic as possible with regard to server-side processing.

Web Design

Working on page layout and ensuring that the visual identity conforms across the website. Ensuring that the design is functional and balanced based on the information requirement.

The list could go on and on with responsibilities and defining job titles and functions. but the point is, there are many professionals that input and contribute towards building a website. Feedback is important when developing a website as it help us to learn and understand how to build a better website that fits with the organisational goals and objectives. Ensuring that the data is clear and consise and easy to access.

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