Have you ever visited a website and become frustrated because you couldn’t find the needed information or product? Did you try to use the primary navigation and discover 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 defining information architecture (IA), IA 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?
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 structure for a website 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.
Information Architecture Systems and Principles
To be successful, you need a diverse understanding of industry standards and the basics for creating, storing, accessing, managing, and presenting the information. To make these systems of data, you need to understand the interdependent nature of users, content, and context. These information and knowledge management systems include the following:
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 – the way 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 IA is rooted in cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology 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:
Cognitive load – the amount of information that a person can process at any given time.
Good information architecture aims to keep from inadvertently overloading a user with too much information simultaneously. Therefore, they will integrate with the wireframe and content strategy teams to help define the content elements needed to balance information presentation and information consumption.
Mental models are people’s assumptions before interacting with a website or application.
Another goal of good information architecture is to make information easier to discover by putting 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 target users of the website.
Decision-making – a cognitive process that allows a person to make a choice or select an option.
Information architects can help users make decisions by providing certain information at critical moments during the user journey around a website. For example, 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 accomplishes a few things:
- Increases marketing leads and conversions
- It provides a great experience that users will want to come back and use
- Utilizes an SEO best practice that increases findability and rankings
- Prevents usability concerns
- Prevents content management issues
- Creates clear paths for visitors and enhances the user experience
- It prevents you from having to redesign a website you just invested in
Feel free to reach out if you need help creating a professional website design, redesign, or complete overhaul.