Why is information architecture important?
Norman Nielsen Group defines information architecture as “The underlying organization, structure and nomenclature that define the relationships between a site’s content/functionality.”
As we’ve already covered, you should build your website around the needs of your ideal end-user. Your visitors come to your website with a goal in mind. Whether that’s booking a demo, learning new information or purchasing a product, your information architecture informs how your visitors will inevitably interact with and find what they’re looking for.
Simply put, effective information architecture enables your visitors to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily while also helping you accomplish your business goals.
For example, if you’re an e-commerce website that sells hats, but there’s no reasonable way for visitors to easily sort or filter winter hats, then users seeking winter hats specifically will likely get frustrated and bounce from your website. This is a bad user experience. Additionally, your revenue from the sales of winter hats will suffer. Lose, lose!
Your website’s information architecture will also inevitably impact your ability to rank in search results. The Google algorithm takes your site’s usability and conversion metrics into consideration. Effectively organizing your content can create seamless conversion opportunities and eliminate friction, helping you rank better.
Often times, information architecture can be boiled down to your site’s main navigation, but there are several other factors that you need to address, including:
- Website and content audit
- Conversion pathways
- Navigation planning
- Usability testing
Crawl your current website’s URLs and determine which ones you want to keep, consolidate or delete entirely.
Leveraging your audit, determine what site pages or additional content needs to be created and start to get a sense of what functionality you will need to appropriately direct users toward the content that you do have.
Finally, with all of this information collected, you can start organizing content into logical groups that can help set up your conversion pathways and navigation.
With an audit of your content and offers in place, you can start to map out pathways that align with both your users' and business's goals.
Strictly speaking, conversion pathways can start with a variety of content offers such as blog posts. Each piece of content should have a clear next step or call-to-action (CTA). The CTA should lead users to an optimized landing page with a form to collect lead information.
The best conversion pathways end on a thank you page that sets up another page or content offer – a logical next step in the conversion path. This is where grouping your content by funnel stage (ToFu, MoFu, BoFu) comes in handy. Which MoFu offer comes after a given ToFu offer in your conversion path?
Since every buyer’s journey is unique, ideally, you create conversion pathways for each of your buyer personas. These pathways help nurture new visitors through their buyer’s journey and down the funnel, consistently making it easy for users to find relevant content.
Based on your content audit, you can group relevant offers together and start visualizing how these offers will set up the next step in the path. Your audit also helps you identify gaps in your content and informs the content strategy you inevitably create to guide users down these paths.
Finalizing your main navigation is likely the largest takeaway from the information architecture stage. Your information architecture directly informs your work in drafting your main navigation. By grouping and prioritizing content in a hierarchy, you should have a strong understanding of what to include in your main navigation to best serve your users.
When planning your navigation, keep in mind that its core purpose is to enable your users to find the content that’s most important to them. Remember that users will enter your website at different points in their buyer’s journey. Your main navigation should meet visitors where they are and direct them to the appropriate information regardless of how far along they are in their journey.
With that in mind, there are a number of best practices that you can leverage to develop the best navigation for your website.
Put your users first
Your main navigation should be entirely focused on your users. If you include pages that are only relevant to internal stakeholders and not something users would search for, then you’re only taking up space from helpful content.
The same applies to utilizing internal terminology or jargon. While your business may have certain words or terms that you use to describe something, it’s best to use universal language in your navigation to give your users the best sense of what they’re clicking. You can then use site content to educate visitors as to the terms you use and why.
Prevent decision fatigue
The last thing you want your navigation to do is overwhelm your users with options. Choices should be concise and set clear expectations for what they will get when they click on a menu item. Too many options can cause decision fatigue and force users to bounce from your site.
Not every page has to be included in your navigation. Based on your defined information architecture, you should be able to determine what pages should be prioritized highly enough to warrant a spot in your navigation.
In order for your navigation to effectively set expectations for your users, you need to remain consistent. That means if you’re planning for some top-level navigation items to be clickable, they all should be clickable.