Is Your Site Confusing? Three Quick Information Architecture Audits

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.

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