Information Architecture Basics For Website Organization

Have you ever visited a website and become frustrated because you couldn’t find the information or product you needed? Did you try using the primary navigation and find that it was not intuitive, or was the product you were looking for not in the category or place you thought it would be? This is where website information architecture can help.

Below are some information architecture basics and best practices that cover topics such as what information architecture is, information architecture and knowledge management systems, the psychology of IA, and how a website’s structure impacts content strategy, SEO, website design, and conversions.

What Is Website Information Architecture?

What is information architecture? Website information architecture is a strategy shared by designers, developers, Information architects, SEO professionals, and content strategists. It is an information model describing how information should be organized, interlinked, accessed, and presented. In other words, information architecture is the creation of a website structure to help a user understand where the information they want is about the current page they’re on and provide them with the best path to get to it.

Dan Klyn’s Definition

Dan Klyn defines information architecture as the combination of the following three things:

  1. Ontology – discovering, defining, and articulating the rules and patterns that govern the meaning of what we intend to communicate.
  2. Taxonomy – developing systems and structures for what everything is called, where everything is placed, and the relationship between labels and categories.
  3. Choreography – anticipating how users and information want to flow and creating a path for change over time.

Peter Morville’s Definition

According to Peter Morville, the purpose of your IA is to help users understand where they are, what they’ve found, what’s around, and what to expect. Information architecture includes:

  1. The structural design of shared information environments.
  2. The combination of organization, labeling, search, and navigation within a website.
  3. The art and science of shaping website experience to support usability and findability.

Information Architecture Systems And Principles

To be successful, you need a diverse understanding of industry standards and basics for creating, storing, accessing, managing, and presenting information. To create these systems of information, you need to understand the interdependent nature of users, content, and context. These information and knowledge management systems include:

Organization systems – the categories in which we place information.

Labeling systems – how we represent information, such as the terminology appropriate for the target audience.

Navigation systems – how we move from one piece of information to another.

Searching systems – the way we search for information.

The Psychology Of Information Architecture

Much of the strategy behind information architecture is rooted in cognitive psychology, which studies how the mind works and its mental processes.

Cognitive psychology is a vast study, but below are three key areas that information architects value most:

  1. Cognitive load is the amount of information a person can process at any given time. The goal of a good information architecture is to keep from inadvertently overloading a user with too much information all at once. They will integrate with the wireframe and content strategy teams to help define the content elements needed to balance information presentation and consumption.
  2. Mental models –  are the assumptions people make before interacting with a website or application. A good information architecture aims to make information easier to discover by placing it in a place that matches the user’s mental model of where it should be. This is usually accomplished by performing card sorting activities with a sample set of website target users.
  3. Decision-making – is a cognitive process that allows us to choose or select an option. Information architects can help users make decisions by providing certain information at key moments during the user journey around a website. The information architect will analyze the usability tests, card sorting exercises, stakeholder interviews, and user interviews to learn about the audience’s decision-making processes.

Why Should You Care?

Organizing your website’s content in a way that aligns with how users think it should flow helps:

  • Increase leads and conversions
  • Provide a great experience that users will want to come back and use
  • Increase findability and SEO
  • Prevent usability concerns
  • Prevent content management issues
  • Create clear paths for visitors and enhance the user experience.
  • Prevent having to redesign a website you just spent money designing recently.