Information Architecture (IA) is a field of its own – with its own tools, influences, and resources. Though often shared by content strategists, designers, and developers, IA shares close ties with the concept of user interface (UX).
It’s a holistic view of how everything comes into play online. There’re no coincidences in the world of the internet. Everything is planned, with the end goal of making it easy for the final consumer to find the information they’re looking for.
So to define, IA is the art and science of labelling and organising everything – websites, online communities, intranets, and software – in support of friendly user experience.
When you look at an IA proficient at work, you’ll see them drawing boxes. But what they’re doing is more profound than what you see. They’re making wireframes and blueprints for digital designs. They’re also producing a taxonomy of how products and content should be classified on a site.
And most importantly, they’re creating a prototype that will be illustrating how information changes on-screen as the end-user takes on a particular task.
In other words, it’s the job of an information architect to give you an edge in the competitive world of business by ensuring everything is exactly where it ought to be or where the end user can intuitively figure it out – and it’s worth mentioning, this is no child’s play.
So what’s Information Architecture in the Simplest of Terms?
IA is all about making a particular design effective enough. You’re simply focusing on coming up with the most intuitive design possible by making sure everything is in order.
Its history can be traced back to ancient Egypt. The librarians of the time had an organized system of listing their library content in a 120-scroll bibliography. The same principle is retained in IA, with a few improvements of course.
IA is not some new concept. Its first mention can be traced back in the early 70s before the internet was even a thing. XEROX Labs saw the need for information structuring, and they addressed it, going at length to also develop a technology that would support it.
This technology would be embraced until the internet came and changed everything. But that didn’t mean that IA was dead. In 1998, two authors Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, would compress the whole concept of IA into a book and wrap it together with the World Wide Web. And just to say, the book flew off-shelves and ended up becoming the internet’s book of the year on Amazon that same year
It goes to show that the whole concept of IA made sense to lots of people. And it makes even more sense today than it did back then.
So how do you use IA to improve your digital marketing strategy?
Building IA for any website isn’t something you do on specs. You have a whole lot of factors to take into consideration that stretches far beyond organising information in a manner that makes sense.
It’s for this reason that Dan Brown would lay down eight principles that draw the whole concept of IA in the clear. And these are the principles to implement if at all you want to use IA to improve your digital marketing strategy:
This principle demands that every piece of content you create for your website must be treated like a living thing that breathes. Each object or piece of content must be treated as if it has attributes, behaviour, and lifecycle.
Meaning there’s always a template to follow. And this template is created by you. Also, content creation in the world of digital marketing has a lifecycle. It’s not bound to stay relevant forever, which makes content creation an ongoing process.
This is the principle of less-is-more. It’s the principle that warns you against overdoing things. In other words, stick to what’s relevant and cut off all the fluff.
Don’t go overboard with the choices you provide to avoid creating a cognitive overload. You want to make sure that the visitors you attract on your site have an easy time making a decision. So find a way to only stick to a list of choices that your users will find meaningful.
Only show your users the information they’ll need to make a decision or proceed to the next stage of taking action. Don’t choke them with too much information than their brain can process at a time.
It’s after they have proceeded with the required course of action that they can decide if they want to delve deeper.
If the categories you’ve created are not simple enough to be understood, use examples to show users what to expect. If you can’t come up with examples, use images instead.
Descriptions aren’t so useful in this. So where you have to describe what’s in a category, use examples instead, and people will have an easy time figuring out what’s featured in that category.
Front Door Principle
Not everyone who enters your home uses the front door. Meaning your homepage is not the only way people will be using to visit your site.
As a matter of fact, more than half of the users you attract will use a side entrance. It makes even more sense when you introduce SEO. After all, the bulk of the users you attract will be finding you through search engines.
They’ll be linked to you through one of your blog posts. And if that’s the case, you have to figure out how to inform your users where they’re and what you want them to do.
Multiple Classification Principle
People have different ways of looking for information. While some people prefer searching for it, some prefer scrolling through a list.
In whatever you do, don’t assume that everyone you attract to your site will follow the same scheme.
However, try not to overdo it to avoid creating unnecessary distractions. But it doesn’t hurt to include a section for related posts at the end of every post you publish.
Don’t mix menu items. Be consistent in the manner at which you categorise your content. Be very specific with how you group different articles or menu items. If a particular menu lists a certain type of products, don’t make the mistake of listing other kinds of products or services in that menu.
Same goes for the blog section and other areas of your website. Anything that hints of confusion should be avoided at all cost.
The content you create at the beginning of your project will only be part of the content your site will require in the future. This demands that your site be scalable.
There’s always room to grow and ramp up your marketing effort. Nothing you do in the marketing business ends with what you’re doing. You have to figure out how to create some room for more.
Importance of IA to SEO
There are two levels of IA – large IA and small IA.
Large IA is focused on directing the communication your website has with its users, while small IA is focused on data handling in connection to search engines.
Both small and large levels play a key role when it comes to SEO. But first, you have to focus on creating a quality website and optimise it for on-page SEO.
Google demands that your website serves your users. That’s an equivalent of IA level one, large IA. Easy navigation, searchable information, speaking URLs, and meaningful structures are all addressed in this level. Labelling is also part of what’s required at the first level.
The first menu is the homepage or the starting URL. As for the rest of the categories, you have to name them per the range of information they represent. Be sure to describe them more concisely.
A simple trick would be to use a keyword analysis tool to come up with terms that best describe it.
Small architecture supplements large architecture. The content you create must feature metadata and structured in a manner that’s sensible to search engines. So, while the content itself is targeted at the user, the metadata is what links it to search engines.
So with every piece of content you create, your focus must be on both users and search engines. Of course, users feature atop in the priority list, but there has to be a way of ensuring the content appeals to search engines as well.
Inbound links are among the things information architects look at while assessing a website. The more the links, the higher the page will be rated. Google also uses link juices to calculate page rank.
Besides Google, there exist many other tools that calculate link popularity. Examples include OPR, Ryte, and MozRank.
The Final Thought
The concept around Information Architecture is very direct. Just structure your web content in a manner that’s easier for the user to digest. Learn to break long blocks of content into H1 and H2 tags or divide them into chunks that allow for a more natural reading.
To learn more about IA and how to incorporate it into your next web project, kindly reach out to MediaOne marketing today and let’s talk.