Website Information Architecture Primer

Fundamentals for getting the most out of your web presence

Whether your website is intended to sell products and services or simply to provide information about your business, you need to make sure it's easy to use. Good site architecture should do the following:

  1. Convey the purpose of the webpage or website
  2. Allow users to sift through content in a meaningful way
  3. Aid page and site navigation
  4. Communicate to users that you understand their needs

Know your users

The most important thing to get right from an Information Architecture standpoint is to know who your users are, how they think, and what they want from you.

Determine your purpose

This is kind of like the mission statement of your site. If you're trying to sell products or services, then don't overwhelm your users with a bunch of historical information about your business. Instead, give them brief descriptions and comparison points for the items you're trying to sell. If you're trying to get customers to come to your physical location, your site needs to tell customers what they'll gain from doing so and be very clear about providing the address, directions, and a map.

Walk through it step-by-step

If a user wants to buy a product, what steps are involved in that process? Probably something like Locate a product, Compare/Learn About similar products, Select a product, Select more products/Continue shopping, Check-out, Arrange for shipping, Payment, and Payment verification/confirmation.
use cases for how your audience is likely to use your site according to their needs and the goal you have in mind. Understanding these use cases, develop a process flow diagram that walks through the logical completion of each of the use cases. How many steps and in what order? This should give you an indication of the types of pages you'll need to develop and some of the navigation elements the site will require. This will give you the foundation for your site map.

Keep pages clean and simple

Ideally, every page on your website should help you achieve your goal. Avoid cluttering up pages with extraneous information. Keep the layout and page flow clean.

Get organized

Grouping things into categories is human nature. The challenge is to group the things on your website into categories (and draw relationships among these categories) in a way that has meaning for your users. In some cases there will be standard categories used in your industry; in other cases, you're on your own to try to figure out how to lump things together. Instead of thinking about how you organize your wares according to your business needs, try to envision how your customers will look for them. A good categorization structure will be intuitive to users and help them discover items on your site more effectively.

Talk the talk

It's not going to do you any good if you are trying to sell baby pacifiers and rattles to working class moms and dads, but your website groups these products into a category called "Apparatus for Infant Appeasement". Part of getting and keeping customers is speaking the same language they do.