Every industry has a wealth of buzz words that can be confusing, and the web development landscape is no different. One of those buzz phrases in the web world is “information architecture.” What does that even mean? And why should you care?
The genesis of information architecture
A few years ago, just having a website was an accomplishment in and of itself. You start a small business, you build a website – or hire someone to – you put a big fat checkmark next to “build a website” on your startup checklist and walk away. Nothing to see here folks! My website is done, I’m good to go!
We got away with that for years! But then our friends at Google started coming at us with all these mandates for ranking in search engines. Since there are so many websites, Google had to raise the bar on how it delivered search engine results.
That’s when things got a little sticky. It’s about this time we started to hear things like “best SEO practices” and “blogging” and “user experience.”
Cue information architecture
Fast forward to now – Google is no longer impressed that we just have a website. Now websites have to play by all these rules. To make matters even more challenging, Google likes to throw ranking factors at us like, “user experience.”
Information architecture is based on several principles – everything from content being treated like a living breathing thing, to focused navigation, to scalability. It is defined as structuring content in an effective way. The ambiguity continues…
So how do search engines define “an effective way” when it comes to structuring content?
User experiences and effective delivery of content is somewhat unique to each website and based on two things: your industry and your audience.
Since you are likely already an expert in your industry, let’s focus on audience. Who are you trying to talk to? In order to structure your website content effectively, the first thing you have to figure out is who you are talking to. And the easiest way to do this is to develop buyer personas for your company. As we’ve discussed several times in our blogs, buyer personas are the semi-fictional depiction of your potential buyers that ask things about them like basic demographics, pain points, goals, and objectives, job title, daily responsibilities, social media platforms they spend the most time on, etc.
Once you figure out who you are talking to, you can figure out how to structure your content. What do they need in the first three seconds they land on your website? What information do they need to see “above the fold”? What things are less important that can be featured further down the homepage, or on a separate webpage all together?
Let’s say you have a veterinary practice. It may be reasonable to assume that many of the people who are finding your website online have a stressful pet emergency. In this instance, you would not want your “about us” story featured at the top of the homepage. You would want “emergency phone number” and “schedule an appointment” featured in the homepage header.
Aside from answering your buyer persona’s most urgent questions in a comprehensive and immediate way, there are other considerations when it comes to information architecture…
1. Do you have enough content and images to continually deliver a solid user experience?
2. Are you able to minimize navigation and user choices to create a good experience?
3. Since there are a variety of ways that a user can enter your website, have you applied best content structure practices to each page?
4. Is the website scalable, and is your content structured in a way that it can grow right alongside your business?
You’ve heard the saying, “presentation is everything,” right? In the past, we’ve thought of this saying in terms of a tablescape or a plate of food, but now this concept applies to every written word you see online. The good news is that information architecture isn’t as scary as it sounds. It is figuring out who you are talking to, delivering the messages to your audience where and how they need them, and making sure your content is scalable so it can grow with your business.