Visitors will leave your client's website in 5 seconds if the information architecture is askew.
That’s why information architecture is so important. With just a short window of time to get users to the right place within your client websites, creating effortless pathways to the objective is critical. An information architecture organizes, structures and labels your client’s content in an effective and sustainable way. It also improves search performance and increases the probability of conversion against a call to action.
Ultimately, the way you display information can make or break the end user experience. Strengthen your understanding of information architecture and create seamlessly navigable websites for your clients with the strategies below.
First, what constitutes information architecture?
Consider the difference between a website built for a news outlet, a wedding photographer or a game studio. Because the information conveyed on each website differs greatly from the next, including the navigational elements, the type of content displayed and perhaps logins and other data basing requirements, so too must their respective architecture. Moreover, when your clients’ audience visits their website, they come with assumptions of what information they can get or tasks they can achieve ahead of time. They’ll leave frustrated if the site doesn’t deliver.
Specifically, information architecture includes:
The design, organization, and labeling of the sitemap
The relationship of pages within the sitemap and the corresponding hierarchy
The layout of content on each page
The flow of users from page to page
The users’ goals and the steps that take them there
The way in which users search for information on the site
Together, these building blocks make up an information hierarchy. You can get creative with each one, but opt for familiarity over novelty. Ultimately, the architectural blueprint you lay out maps to more than the way it’s built; it is the way you get found as well.
How information architecture impacts SEO:
Many SEO challenges arise from poorly planning out your client’s information architecture. The most obvious is failing to account for search intent, which makes it difficult to find both content and the actual web page it's displayed on.
A less obvious challenge occurs when you create a client website that utilizes multiple hierarchies. In that case, you run the risk of creating single web pages that fit into multiple categories. This generates duplicate content, which dilutes your clients’ SEO. For instance, an online retailer may choose to sell video games and electronics as separate categories, yet categorize gaming consoles under both, so they’ll need to discern whether they want to link to the same page or create two pages for the same item categorized differently. E-commerce stores often use ‘polyhierarchies,’ so be sure to strategize around this issue before starting to build out the website.
Even single hierarchies, chosen incorrectly, can prove tricky. One example is creating a vertical taxonomy that buries important information deeper than people’s willingness to click for them. Another is having too many parent categories to the point where each category doesn’t contain enough information to warrant it’s use. Either case negatively impacts your clients’ page rank and crawl budget (the amount of pages that get indexed).
It stands to reason that if the user experience of a website as a whole impacts its SEO, then the most important element of that user experience should be handled with care. Constructing your clients’ information architecture isn’t a simple undertaking, so follow this process to ensure success.
How to create an information architecture for your clients:
First, define your client’s goals for their website. This is your north star. When in doubt, refer back to the reason for building a site to begin with. Wix Partner Digital Edge built three different websites for different types of bed products, then integrated them into a central ordering system so their client could seamlessly process all of the orders from one screen.
Audit your client’s existing content. Take inventory of the building blocks your client currently uses for the current information architecture. Use this as a benchmark to determine what works well and what needs improvement. Figure out what page has the highest bounce rates, then determine why.
Conduct customer research. Don’t decide your content structure arbitrarily. Instead, let your client’s customers do it for you. Techniques such as card sorting and tree tests are helpful validation methods to determine which content structure is the right one for your clients’ website.
Create a low-fidelity UI prototype. This could be as simple as a wireframe, but the point is to build out a mockup you can show to your clients’ customers for testing and improving.
Stay iterative. Be willing to rethink your clients’ information architecture over time. Run usability and first-click tests and make adjustments based on learnings.
Remember: Information and navigation need to be compelling and intuitive. Your clients’ users should “get it” from the get go, which is why testing and staying iterative are so important.
To that end, less is more when it comes to information architecture. Taking a minimalistic approach that stores as much data in as few clicks as possible is the name of the game.
Specifically, pay attention to how the information is laid out - how do you navigate each website, and is the end goal clearly defined? Ultimately, developing an information architecture isn’t just a practice for ‘the now,’ it’s also a foundation you can build on as your clients’ websites grow.
Should they want to offer new services or introduce new products or categories down the line, you should already be equipped with a supporting structure that makes adding new elements into an existing website design a breeze.
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