Handy Hints For Fixing Your Confusing Information Architecture

Courtesy of recursion_see_recursion via Flickr Information architecture isn't sexy. In fact, good information architecture (or "IA") shouldn't be something your website visitors even notice.

Information architecture is basically how your site is designed. We've all seen site maps - those are basically outlines of your IA. It's the organization of your website, how things are arranged, and it needs to make sense to your visitors.

Unfortunately, not enough businesses focus on their IA or they assume their customers use their site in the same way they would. This blog post explains why you must pay attention to your IA and includes some handy hints to figure out if it's working.

I Can See Clearly Now

The non-profit Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement (IDEA) recently released a study called Finding Information: Factors that improve online experiences. One of the main findings was that visitors are looking for "simple, accurate, fast, and easily navigable web sites." Visitors to websites reported feeling lost on websites or not knowing where their desired information was in much higher percentages than the designers of the websites.

Your designers may have the best of intentions and be highly creative, but it's up to you to ensure your customers can find the information they need and know where they are on your site at all times.

Website navigation starts with your IA. Here are some handy hints to help you determine whether your website is easily navigable and, if not, how to start fixing it.

Handy Hints

  • Speak their language: In their free ebook, "Humanize it," Leonardo Inghilleri and Micah Solomon recommend thinking about the language you use with your customers and, I would add, the language they use with you. "Identify terminology that best represents your brand position and identity and use it consistently." This is a great way to get your customers to use a standard lexicon. In terms of IA though, don't forget to use the language they use to find you and to navigate your site. Keyword research is a great starting point to figure out your customer's language. Then use these keywords in your IA.
  • Test it out: Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller recommend having your employees test out the site in their best-selling book, A Complaint is a Gift. "Once customers are at your Web site, make it easy for them to navigate. Ask every single employee to spend time at the company's Web site and then take all their feedback and improve what customers are experiencing" (page 214).
  • Keep an ear to the ground: Sometimes (most times) your customers don't tell you that your IA stinks. Many don't have the terminology to do so and some are so turned off that they don't want to do business with you again. So listen to what they are saying about you elsewhere. Again, from A Complaint is a Gift: "Blogs are extremely important to monitor because they are opinionated conversations being conducted...It's almost overwhelming, but monitoring helps" (page 208). Look for your business' name along with phrases like "can't find," "where is," and "confusing."
  • Value and implement customer feedback: If you are lucky enough to receive customer feedback on your IA, don't let it go to waste. Bruce Temkin writes in his free ebook, "The 6 Laws of Customer Experience," that "[i]nternal measurements may provide a sense of how the business operates, but they don't give a true evaluation of customer experience...[which is companies should implement] letting customer input drive priorities, decisions, and investments." As this applies to commerce, it also applies to your IA.

Focus on the goal: a seamless online experience for your website visitor. Allow them to find what they want quickly and not get lost. Once you simplify it to these basic tenants, you can then use Occam's razor to strip away anything that hinders that goal.

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