In my last blog I took a look at what information architecture (IA) is, who needs to be involved in creation of the IA and why a good IA can be so decisive in the performance of your website. Read the blog: what is information architecture.
With all that was covered in the blog in mind, I thought it would be useful to move on to the next step – where should you start if you’re creating a new website and you want to get your IA right from the beginning, or if you’re looking to make improvements to your current site?
Here are a few simple steps you can follow to get started – but also don’t underestimate how valuable it can be speaking to a third party about your website’s performance and IA too. At Media Matters we always aim to bring fresh eyes to a website, alongside our experience helping to create websites that really work for our clients and their target audiences.
Start by defining goals
Whenever you’re strategising it’s best to start with looking at what you want to achieve. When you’re improving or creating a new IA, you’ll want to look specifically at two types of goals:
- The goals of your website user
- The goals of your company
Map out what it is those using your website are looking to achieve – do they want to source particular information? Purchase a product? Learn more about your company? A mixture of all of these things? It’s useful to complete this exercise when you’re looking at your website’s full IA, but also when you’re adding or updating content in the future. By always keeping the user’s goals at the forefront of your mind you’ll naturally be considering the IA of your website and how best to surface content to your users.
Equally important are the goals of your company. What do you want your website to achieve? Is there content that must be surfaced to support a particular campaign? Do you want your website to generate a certain amount of enquiries or promote a particular service or product more predominantly?
A word of warning here though – don’t let your company’s goals usurp the goals of your users. We’ve seen many a website that has prioritised the business objectives over the users’, and as result it doesn’t achieve either. At the end of the day your website has to work for its users, otherwise you won’t get the conversions or metrics you’re striving for.
Complete competitor analysis
Once you know what your users’ and company goals are you’ll want to start doing some wider research to help inspire your IA.
Make a list of competitors and work your way through them looking specifically at the IA of their websites. Look at:
- What works well?
- What could be improved upon?
- Can you easily find some particular information?
- How might different users interact with the website or arrive on the website – and how could that impact their journey?
Don’t hesitate to look at websites that aren’t direct competitors too. Looking at websites in different sectors can help to throw up some new ideas you may not have previously considered for your IA.
Complete a content audit
Audit the content you currently have on your website, and look at what is either missing or no longer required. Create a list of what you have, and haven’t got.
Don’t just look at the content you have online either – factor in materials such as marketing brochures or even sales training and customer services guides. All of these can help to provide content that you may decide to surface online as part of your new IA.
Whilst you’re completing your content audit, use Google Analytics to establish how users are currently navigating through your content and interacting with it on your website. Look at time spent on pages, behaviour flows, most and least popular pages and pages where the most conversions occur. All of this can help you to establish what content your users are currently finding engaging and useful – and it may be that you want to then help more people find it by surfacing it more clearly within your IA.
Group and label your content
Look at different ways you can group and label your content – could you categorise your products differently? How did your competitors group their services? Do you have groups of content that support one another?
Grouping and labelling is a really useful way to begin ordering your content, and it’s the first integral step to creating your sitemap too.
Remember to consult with an SEO expert at this point as they should be able to help you establish what people are searching for, and thus what labels may be worth using to categorise your content.
Create a navigation and sitemap
Many would consider this part of the process the ‘nuts and bolts’ of creating an IA for your website – but the steps before all help enormously in creating a navigation and sitemap.
Use all the information you’ve gathered so far to build out a navigation and sitemap for your website and map out how your content will all sit within these.
SEMrush has a some recommendations for tools to try when creating a sitemap, but don’t underestimate the power of pen and paper too! Scribble down different ideas in a notepad or draw up different plans on a whiteboard with your team and you’ll soon be working through different iterations of your sitemap and navigation that could work.
Speak with your website developer about the type of navigation you could use too – you may think the one on your current site is the only option you have, but there are many different designs that could be tried, from ones with space for icons or additional words, through to others that have call out boxes and more. All of these could give you a new way to surface content through your navigation and help users find what they’re looking for.
Create content and build new pages
Once you’ve settled on a sitemap and navigation, it’s time to make it all a reality! Work with your content creators and website developers to build new pages required for the sitemap and navigation and make sure UX design is still considered at every point.
Make sure everyone involved is aware of what the project is trying to achieve, so that the users’ and company’s goals are still forefront of everyone’s mind.
Test, analyse and adapt
The journey with your IA doesn’t stop when your new sitemap has gone live – in fact, that’s really just when it all begins!
Make sure you’ve implemented tracking on your website that will help you to establish if users really are interacting with your content and IA like you were expecting them to. Look to see where they’re navigating to and from, what they’re clicking on and general engagement.
Run a focus group with individuals who match your buyer personas and ask them to navigate the website – set challenges and ask them to find specific information, to feedback on the general user experience and how they felt when navigating the website.
You could also introduce a feedback form or similar to your website so users can send you their thoughts on the usability of your website in real time. Remember – negative feedback via these sorts of forms is always going to happen, but it can be really constructive in helping you continually improve.
And on that note – make sure you do implement learnings from these findings. Adapt your IA and remember that you’ll likely want to update content, add content and prioritise new messaging over time, and your IA will need to flex according to those changes. Use the data you’ve gathered from your website and its users to continually make improvements – and you’ll see your website achieving more and more for your business.
If you’re ready to start looking at the IA for your website, why not speak to the Media Matters team? We’re experts in website design, SEO and content creation, pulling together many of the areas of expertise you need to make your IA project a success. Get in touch today.