Your website is often the first point of contact between you and potential customers.
As such, building a website isn’t just about picking the right colors or fonts.
Your website’s information architecture design plays a big role in improving the user experience.
Let’s get into why good IA matters for web design, some best practices to follow, and how to meet user needs.
What is website information architecture and why does it matter?
Information architecture is about organizing your website content inventory and features in a way that makes sense to your users.
It’s the unsung hero of effective web design.
Let’s dig into ten ways information architecture impacts your business website.
1. User experience
First of all, information architecture lays the groundwork for a good user experience (UX).
Imagine you’re designing a store layout.
You want to place the most important items up front and center, with clear paths to other sections.
The same principle applies to your website.
When a visitor lands on your website, they come with intent — whether it’s to buy a product, find information, or contact you.
A well-organized website helps them achieve this goal effortlessly.
2. Search engine performance
Information architecture impacts your website’s search engine performance.
Search engines like Google use algorithms to understand the structure of your website.
A logically organized website with clear headings, subheadings, URLs, and meta descriptions makes it easier for search engines to index your site.
It also reduces the prevalence of broken links on your website.
This, in turn, improves your chances of ranking higher in search results.
With 60% of all clicks going toward the first three results of any query, good search engine performance is crucial to attracting more visitors.
A solid information architecture makes your website scalable.
As your business grows, you’ll likely need to add more products, services, or content to your website.
A well-planned structure makes it easier to expand without causing confusion or navigation issues for your users.
4. Bounce rates
A bounce rate represents the percentage of visitors who navigate away from your site after viewing only one page.
Effective information architecture helps reduce bounce rates and encourages users to explore more pages.
5. Conversion rates
On top of reducing your bounce rate, good information architecture directly influences your website conversion rates.
A well-structured website guides users smoothly from the landing page to the checkout or contact form, reducing friction along the way.
This navigational ease increases the likelihood that visitors will complete desired actions, such as making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter.
A well-thought-out information architecture simplifies website maintenance.
When your website is logically organized, it’s easier for you or your development team to make updates, add new content, or implement new features.
This streamlined process saves time and resources in the long run, and makes website migrations easier.
7. Content strategy
Good information architecture supports a more successful content strategy.
Knowing where to place specific types of content for maximum impact helps you align your online presence with your business goals.
This strategic placement can lead to better engagement and communication with your target audience.
A well-structured site is easier to navigate for all users, including those with disabilities.
This inclusivity not only broadens your audience but may also comply with legal standards, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
9. Brand credibility
A well-designed, easy-to-navigate website reflects positively on your business, instilling trust and confidence in your visitors.
This professional appearance can differentiate you from competitors and elevate your brand in the eyes of consumers.
Lastly, effective information architecture aids in analytics and data collection.
A well-organized site allows for more precise tracking of user behavior, which in turn provides valuable insights for future improvements.
Understanding how users interact with your site can help you make data-driven decisions that enhance both the user experience and your business performance.
Why put so much thought into your website’s UX design?
Implementing UX design best practices improves several other aspects of your website.
From a web design perspective, here’s why good IA and website architecture is important.
Your website is your online storefront. It’s open 24/7, allowing customers to browse your products or services at their convenience, wherever they are in the world.
Fast customer service
Through features like FAQs, live chat, and contact forms, you can provide immediate help or information to visitors. This enhances the user experience and frees up your time for other tasks.
With the right content, social media integration, and search engine optimization (SEO), you can attract more visitors who are actively looking for what you offer.
Customers do online research before making a purchase. Having a professional, easy-to-navigate website can set you apart from competitors who may not have put as much thought into their online presence.
In sum, a well-planned website serves multiple functions that can help you attract more customers, provide better service, and ultimately, grow your business.
And information architecture plays a big role in delivering on those promises.
How to get started with information architecture in 8 steps
Information architecture doesn’t require specialized technical skills, but it does require thoughtful planning.
Here are 8 steps to follow:
- Define your website’s purpose
- Know your audience
- Map out your content
- Use clear language
- Test usability and get feedback
- Consider the mobile experience
- Implement analytics
- Review and update regularly
Step 1: Define your website’s purpose
The first thing you or your information architect must do is figure out why you’re building a website in the first place.
Are you trying to:
- Sell products, like an online store?
- Share useful information, like a blog?
- Do a mix of both?
Your website’s purpose is your north star, helping you make decisions about how to set it up.
Example: Let’s say you’re starting an online store for handmade crafts.
Your primary goal is to sell products. As such, your website must be set up in a way that makes shopping easy for visitors.
This might involve having a prominent “Shop” button on the homepage that leads to well-organized categories like “Home Decor,” “Jewelry,” and “Gifts.”
Each category could then be broken down into subcategories to help users find exactly what they’re looking for.
Step 2: Know your audience
As a business owner, UX designer, or information architect, you’re typically too close to the project to be objective.
This is where user research comes in. Once you know what your website is for, think about who will be using it.
What are these people interested in? How do they usually go about finding what they need online?
The better you understand your user persona, the better you can organize your visual hierarchy and website content to meet their needs.
Example: For your handmade crafts store, your target audience might be people who are interested in unique, custom-made items.
They probably value quality over price and prefer to shop at small businesses rather than big-box stores.
This will affect how you present your products (visual design) and structure your website’s global navigation system.
For instance, instead of competing on price and offering endless sales and discounts, you might focus on showcasing the craftsmanship and uniqueness of each item.
Your website could include detailed product descriptions, high-quality images, and even stories about the artisans who make the items.
Step 3: Map out your content
With a clear goal and a good understanding of your target audience, you can start planning the different parts of your website.
Content organization plays a big role in effective IA design.
- What are the main categories you’ll have?
- What will go under each category?
- What labeling systems or search systems will you use?
Try to keep it simple and straightforward. A content audit can be a helpful starting point for user experience design.
Example: For your crafts store, main categories might include “Home Decor,” “Jewelry,” and “Gifts.” Under “Home Decor,” you could have subcategories like “Wall Art,” “Tableware,” and “Textiles.”
And since your target audience values quality and craftsmanship, your content strategist might include a “Meet the Artisans” section or spin up a content marketing blog that delves into the crafting process, the materials used, or the stories behind the items.
Step 4: Use clear language
When you’re setting up these categories, use language that your audience will understand.
Avoid industry jargon or terms that could be confusing. You want people to find what they’re looking for without any hassle.
Example: Instead of using a term like “artisanal creations,” stick with something more straightforward like “handmade crafts.”
Instead of a vague phrase like “Explore More,” use specific language that tells visitors what action you want them to take, such as “Shop Now” or “View Collection.”
This improves your navigation system and can help meet user needs better.
And since you know your audience prefers shopping at small businesses, a conversational, down-to-earth tone might resonate more than formal or corporate language.
Step 5: Test usability and get feedback
Before fully committing to your design, it’s wise to test its usability.
This involves asking a small group of people from your target audience to complete specific tasks on your website.
Watch how they navigate and ask for their feedback. This can reveal any hidden issues with your site’s structure.
Example: For your crafts store, you might ask testers to find a specific item, like a handmade necklace, and go through the checkout process.
If multiple testers struggle with the same steps, that’s a sign you need to make those parts of your site more user-friendly.
Step 6: Consider the mobile experience
More people are browsing the world wide web and shopping on mobile devices, so your website’s information architecture should be optimized for mobile use.
Make sure the site is responsive and that the navigation system is just as intuitive on a small screen.
Example: For your crafts store, ensure that the product categories are easily accessible from a dropdown menu on mobile, and that the checkout process is streamlined for smaller screens.
You might also want to make sure that text is easily readable and that buttons are large enough to be tapped comfortably on a mobile device.
Another aspect to consider is page load speed, which is even more crucial for mobile users who may be browsing on the go and not have a stable Wi-Fi connection.
Compressing images and using lazy loading can help speed up your mobile site.
Optimizing for the mobile experience improves your site’s search engine ranking, as mobile-friendliness is a search engine ranking factor.
Step 7: Implement analytics
Once your website is live, use analytics tools like Google Analytics to track how users are interacting with it.
Look at metrics like page views, time spent on the site, and conversion rates to gauge the effectiveness of your information architecture.
Example: If you notice that the “Jewelry” section of your crafts store is getting significantly more traffic than other sections, you might consider giving it more prominence on your homepage.
On the flip side, if a particular category is underperforming, it might be worth revisiting its placement or even considering whether it needs to be on your site at all.
Analytics can also help you understand where users are dropping off in the conversion funnel.
For instance, if you see that many users are abandoning their shopping carts, you might need to simplify the checkout process or offer more payment options.
Step 8: Review and update regularly
Information architecture is not a set-it-and-forget-it element.
Regularly review your site’s performance and adjust based on user behavior and feedback.
Example: If you find that a new subcategory like “Eco-friendly Crafts” is gaining popularity, you might decide to give it its own dedicated section on the website.
Seasonal trends can also impact user behavior. For example, you might find that “Gifts” becomes a highly visited category during the holiday season.
In response, you could make it more prominent on your homepage during that time, or even create special holiday-themed subcategories.
In summary, building a website with good information architecture is a step-by-step process.
You start by knowing what you want to do, understanding who will be using your site, then carefully setting it up.
Along the way, you’ll make adjustments based on feedback to ensure your website is as user-friendly as possible.
Information architecture challenges
Creating a well-organized website isn’t always smooth sailing.
You’ll likely encounter some challenges along the way, and it’s important to know what they are so you can tackle them head-on.
One common pitfall is making your website too complex.
You might be tempted to include every feature and piece of content you can think of, but this can overwhelm your visitors.
Example: If your crafts store offers a wide range of products, services, and informational content, trying to showcase all of these on the homepage can make it cluttered and confusing.
Keep it simple: Don’t overwhelm your users with too many options. Stick to essential features and content.
Another challenge is maintaining consistency across your website.
Inconsistent labeling and varying layouts can disorient users and make your site harder to navigate.
Example: If some product categories in your crafts store are labeled with single words like “Jewelry,” while others use phrases like “Items for Your Home,” this inconsistency can be jarring for visitors.
Be consistent: Use consistent labeling and layouts throughout your site to make navigation intuitive.
Ignoring mobile users
As more people use mobile devices for browsing and shopping, ignoring the mobile experience can be a significant oversight.
Example: If your crafts store website isn’t optimized for mobile or takes too long to load, you risk alienating a large portion of your potential customer base.
Optimize for mobile: Make sure your site is responsive and offers a good user experience on mobile devices.
Lack of user testing
Skipping user testing or ignoring feedback can lead to a website that makes sense to you but is confusing for your audience.
Example: You might think the organization of your crafts store is intuitive, but without user testing, you won’t know for sure.
Test usability: Before and after launch, conduct usability tests to identify any issues with your site’s structure and user flow.
Making a good website is about more than just putting things in order. You must know what you want to do with your website and who will use it.
Each step, from planning your content to checking how people use your site, helps make it better.
And you can’t just set it up and forget about it. You have to keep checking and making changes to keep it working well.
Doing all this helps you make a website that delights your customers and grows your business.
If you need experienced information architects to help you with website or digital product design, get in touch.