3 Information Architecture Best Practices & Examples
Co-written by Rachel Richards
Information architecture is much like designing a house. Similar to the job of an architect, it involves creating a blueprint to convey how your site will function and flow structurally.
As a digital marketing agency, a major aspect of our work is designing and optimizing our clients’ websites. Information architecture is arguably the one of the most important parts of any project, and if you execute it properly, you’ll come out with a top-notch site yielding optimal results for your users.
What is website information architecture (IA)?
Information architecture for a website is the analysis and planning of information, pages, and content hierarchies. It involves deciding each page’s importance, how to organize it, and how to present it to a user. IA takes content, context, and users into consideration in order to plan a website architecture that provides value to your audience and meets business goals. The organization of information is the result of UX, content strategy, and UI design decisions.
Why is information architecture important?
The ultimate goal of information architecture is to create the best user experience possible and guide how your audience interacts with a digital interface. It’s also an incredibly helpful communication and project management tool. Done right, information architecture conveys the focus and needs behind the project, keeping everyone contributing their work towards the same effort.
Information architecture is important because:
- Organizations and web developers need to clearly understand the architecture of the content before building it and how it will impact users in terms of structure, ease of use, and findability.
- Well-organized information is easier for humans to use than poorly organized information.
- It’s our responsibility as website stakeholders and developers, or we end up with information that is structured but doesn’t serve users.
One common misconception is that information architecture is the same as a site map. But, this isn’t the case! While a site map outlines the page structure of the website, the IA is the process of helping people understand how to find information. You could say that the site map is the physical blueprint, and information architecture is the field and study of creating that blueprint.
Information architecture best practices
#1: Prioritize planning
Although information architecture is vital, many people are tempted to gloss over it and move right to building the website design or writing the content. It may seem simple, but the IA should always be the first step in any app or website project. Don’t skip it!
From the beginning, you need to make sure you properly resource the project and keep your stakeholders on the same page. It’s important to allocate enough people, time, and funding towards all of the work that goes into creating a robust IA. Otherwise, you will end up going over budget or will launch a poorly functioning website (and nobody wants that!).
Any experienced project manager will tell you that keeping your stakeholders informed and engaged is key to keeping your project moving. So, bring them into the process with discovery sessions and focus groups at the outset of the engagement. Gain a true understanding of how the website will meet their business objectives and needs, and you’ll find a clear path to success.
Information architecture example: Edmonton International Airport (EIA) website
When we worked with the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) to redesign their website, we conducted interviews with a customer service professional who worked at the information booth.
She offered an expert understanding of their customers and provided us with direct insights into their needs. Section by section, page by page, we asked her, “What do people need to do in this area of the website? Is this section of the website serving that purpose in the best way possible?” The answers to these questions informed how we built out their new site to improve their users’ overall experience.
#2: Target your audience
Once you’ve established the project’s overall goals, it’s time to identify your audience and work with their needs in mind. This means engaging in research. Google Analytics data and user testing are preferred, but conversations with stakeholders can also help to paint the picture of who your audience is.
Your information architecture will be rooted in how you want your users to interact with your content. Are you looking for them to use your website for educational purposes? Do you want them to purchase products from you? Or, do you want them to contact you? These are all questions you need to answer to ensure your audience goals and your organizational goals are in sync.
This understanding will help you to craft audience personas, which are marketing frameworks that get to the heart of your users’ pain points and motivations. From there, you can build out the site map and user flows to demonstrate how those individuals will interact with your website.
Information architecture example: Felesky Flynn website
The information architecture for Felesky Flynn, a Canadian tax law firm, formed the foundation for their website. As part of the user experience (UX) plan we created, the user flows conveyed the actions their clients could take while navigating through the website. This all tied into the functionality goals we had for their audience to contact and work with Felesky Flynn.
#3: Merge SEO with human insights
Lastly, when building out your information architecture, you should find a healthy balance between a technical perspective and a user-focused perspective.
From the technical side, it all comes down to having a strong understanding of your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) performance. You’ll want to build a spreadsheet containing a content inventory of all your page titles and URLs, along with key metrics like page views, bounce rate, and time spent on page. This will help you identify broken links, outdated content, and underperforming pages. All this data allows you to build out the IA in a logical way that allows users to find the right information in the right places.
When thinking of your users, there’s a strong element of psychology that goes into information architecture. How much can a person process without getting overwhelmed? What mental models (or heuristics) do users follow to find information? What content can you present to aid your audience in making decisions?
Both SEO and human insights feed into each other, and both are necessary for your website or any digital product’s success.
Information architecture example: Health insurance provider
For this client, we combined a SEO-focused content inventory, stakeholder interviews, and user testing questions to build their website menu. The blend of data and audience insights allowed us to simplify, prioritize, and refine their navigation.
Build a high-performing website with effective information architecture
Information architecture is the ultimate blueprint for your website. It should include everything from the hierarchy of pages, the content location, and SEO to call-to-actions, linking, and navigation. As you can see, we’re a bit obsessed with information architecture, because it brings your users in sweet harmony with your website and business. Reach out to us today and let’s get your online presence performing in high gear.