Information Architecture: Are Your Customers Lost?

Posted in Usability

So you’ve paid close attention to the SES Chicago 2009 coverage of PPC sessions, you’ve cleaned up your SEO and monitored analytics. OK, but how about the session dealing with the piece at the core of your website’s performance? We’re talking about information architecture here, and without it potential customers visiting your site will be quickly lost.

Information architecture gurus Shari Thurow, Founder & SEO Director of Omni Marketing Interactive & Kimberly Krause Berg, Owner of UsabilityEffect.com gave some excellent advice in the session titled Successful Information Architecture, moderated by Adam Audette, President of AudetteMedia, Inc.

First to speak was Kimberly.

What is Information Architecture?
There’s a lot of differe

nt definitions but for the purpose of this session and time she will focus on content, organization and site structure. Building a website is similar to building a house. Before you build a house you need a plan. Similarly, when building a site you need to have a plan set in place accompanied by research.

In the old days (1990’s), the homepage was somewhat of an aggregation of links to damn near every page on the site. It contained all the information you could possibly need, links pointed to the deepest parts of the site, with some sort of convoluted navigation and a footer at the bottom just in case you got lost. This type of information architecture (IA) is obsolete. IA and SEO is focused on today’s web. Now there is a need to focus on context organization, findability. Why? Because 95% of all search engine referrals come from page one of the search result. In addition users understand quality in both websites and in SERPs; what appears at the top of the page, above the fold is the most important.

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Important Pieces of Information Architecture to Remember
Context – Telling the search engines and your users what the site is about.
Categorize and Analyze Content – Sorting information into a manageable and intuitive hierarchy for users and SE’s. Content should also be organized by keeping in mind how individuals search for your content. Be aggressive about doing keyword research and understanding the demographic you’re targeting. Kim comes back to this point several times throughout her presentation.
Create a sitemap – Use xml sitemaps; www.sitemaps.org – Kim highly recommends a text only sitemap not only for engines but for users – simplicity is great for the user.
Links – interlinking, deciding a URL structure. A simple folder structure is much more intuitive than dynamic URL’s and easier for SE’s to follow.
Findability – Make pages easy to search – after 15 years this is really the first time site arch has been implemented into a search engine marketing conference curriculum. It most certainly has become a fundamental part of search.

Nature is an Information Architect
Kim likens information architect to the anatomy of a tree. As a whole the tree may want to communicate beauty. The leaves of the trees are your pages, the branches your navigation and the trunk your structure. Underneath however, at the roots is where all the action takes place. This is your planning, 401s, 301s, robot.txt; all the granular pieces that come together so that your message is conveyed appropriately and your user receives a seamless experience.

After Kimberly finishes speaking, Adam welcomes Shari Thurow to the podium.

Why should web owners care about information architecture?
From a business standpoint the ease with which individuals can find what they’re looking for will determine whether or not you gain or lose customers. Say somebody is searching for a particular phrase you’re optimized for and you pop up as the first result. They click on your link but are funneled to the wrong spot on your site. Potential customers will not be able to find info on your site if you don’t address site architecture appropriately and you will lose them.

Shari likes to ask people what their definition of information architecture is because everybody has different answers. SEO’s tend to have a definition that inevitably results in page rank sculpting. Shari follows Peter Morville‘s definition of information architecture:

1. The structural design of shared info environments.
2. The combination of organization, labeling, search (retrieval), and navigation systems within a website.
3. The art and science of shaping information products and experience.

Shari notes that architecture, construction and design are commonly confused. Folks need to remember that information architecture precedes both design and construction.

Photo Credit Flickr/PhotoJonny

  • Kim Krause Berg

    Thank you so much for covering our session!

  • Manny Rivas

    Absolutely. It was my pleasure Kim :)

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Website visitors should always be lead down the path to what ever your sites goal is. If you want them to purchase it should be easy to get from point A to point B for them. Same goes with any effort you want them to make.

  • Kim Krause Berg

    Hi Nick,

    That’s right. Our talk focused on information information for SEO’s and user experience and how it is applied to both skill sets. We were speaking to SEO’s, who are less informed on how IA supports organic SEO and adds instant, logical usability at the same time. It’s not about how easy it is to get from point A to point B, although that’s important. True IA makes site visitors WANT to click from point A to point B and C, D, F….