The def­i­n­i­tion of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture (IA), accord­ing to Wikipedia, is “the art of express­ing a mod­el or con­cept of infor­ma­tion used in activ­i­ties that require explic­it details of com­plex sys­tems.” Infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture is the foun­da­tion on which you should build your site, since it defines not only how vis­i­tors will nav­i­gate your site but also the ter­mi­nol­o­gy you’ll use to com­mu­ni­cate your mes­sage to them.

Eval­u­at­ing infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture is a step often for­got­ten in the process of devel­op­ing a new web­site. Many times the IA of a site is formed over time and turns into a cob­bled-togeth­er map of terms and struc­ture that are may not seem log­i­cal to end users. The struc­ture of the site may make sense to your orga­ni­za­tion inter­nal­ly, but exter­nal­ly, it could be con­fus­ing. If you’re not sure whether your site’s infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture could use a face lift, here are a few things to think about:

  1. Don”t make me think!”

Don’t make your site vis­i­tors think! If some­one has to hunt for the con­tent they’re look­ing for or can’t imme­di­ate­ly relate to the ter­mi­nol­o­gy you use in nav­i­ga­tion, it’s poor­ly designed. Think about about how you refer to your prod­ucts or ser­vices through­out the site. Do you have con­sis­tent nam­ing con­ven­tions and lan­guage? This is some­times referred to as a “con­trolled vocab­u­lary”. Site nav­i­ga­tion is much eas­i­er when a vis­i­tor only has to keep track of a few terms or phras­es relat­ed to what they’re look­ing for. If your site pro­vides a direc­to­ry of local restau­rants and your nav­i­ga­tion includes “Chi­nese restau­rants”, “Restau­rants” and “Fast Food” in the same cat­e­go­ry, your users will be con­fused and may resort to blind­ly click around the site look­ing for what they need … if they don’t give up and leave first.

  1. Walk a mile in their shoes

Most web­sites have at least a cou­ple seg­ments of site vis­i­tors. Maybe you’re sell­ing home decor and cater both to pro­fes­sion­al inte­ri­or design­ers as well as ama­teurs dec­o­rat­ing their own homes. Both audi­ences will have dif­fer­ent needs and be look­ing for dif­fer­ent types of items or advice when they get to your site. Take the time to list out all of your poten­tial cus­tomer or vis­i­tor types. Then put your­self in their shoes, give your­self a task to accom­plish on the site and go through all the nec­es­sary steps. Was it easy to find every­thing? Some­times this exer­cise is dif­fi­cult if you look at the site day in and day out and could nav­i­gate the site with your eyes closed. If so, task a friend with this exer­cise and get their feed­back. You may find that you need to revis­it the lan­guage on your site or allow for dif­fer­ent flows of nav­i­ga­tion based on the user type.

There are also very inex­pen­sive tools avail­able to get an outsider’s per­spec­tive on site task com­ple­tion. Try and

  1. High­light the good stuff

You’ve prob­a­bly col­lect­ed data on what con­tent peo­ple are look­ing at the most on your site. (If not, look into Google Ana­lyt­ics!) You may even have an idea of what con­tent peo­ple vis­it repet­i­tive­ly ver­sus just once, which con­tent peo­ple spend the most time with and which con­tent peo­ple share with their friends the most. You may already high­light con­tent that you want vis­i­tors to look at, but if the data is telling you they’re inter­est­ed in oth­er stuff, let them have it! The most sought after con­tent may be cat­e­go­rized deep with­in your nav­i­ga­tion­al struc­ture, but it makes sense to sur­face it on the home­page if it’s what vis­i­tors are real­ly look­ing for. You’ll stream­line their vis­it and cre­ate a much bet­ter user expe­ri­ence, which ulti­mate­ly results in loy­al and repeat customers!

These are just three quick things to eval­u­ate on your site to improve the infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture, and there­fore your users’ expe­ri­ence. A com­pre­hen­sive IA audit would be much more in-depth and include a top-to-bot­tom eval­u­a­tion, but baby steps are bet­ter than no steps! While they seem sim­ple, tak­ing the time to go through these exer­cis­es can yield valu­able improve­ments to your site.