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.