What is Information Architecture (IA)?
Here is the boring schoolbook definition…
IA is the categorization of information into a coherent structure that people can understand quickly.
Translation: IA helps people find stuff on your website.
It connects people to the content they’re looking for at a particular point in time.
Solid IA takes into account the who, what and why:
- the customer (or user) – who is using the website?
- the content– what are they likely to be searching for?
- the context – why is the customer (user) looking for it?
IA connects people to content
And it connects website owners to happier customers and increased sales.
A good IA gives your users a sense of where they are on your website, through clear navigation and labeling. This is important because the way you organize, label and relate information influences the way people comprehend that information.
A well organized information architecture results in reduced bounce rates and increased time on site.
More importantly, a well organized IA leads to increased sales. Your users can’t purchase what they can’t find.
Having a logical IA means that customers are more likely to find your products in the places they are looking. Because it’s quicker and simpler to find a product you can expect corresponding increases in sales.
Image courtesy of murdoch23
4 Ways People Are Searching Your Website
Customer information needs can be broadly categorized into four different types:
- They need everything
- They need a few good things
- They need the right thing
- They need it again
Take some time to consider what information needs are likely for your users.
Are they doing exhaustive research? Do they often know exactly what they are looking for when they arrive? Are they trying to find something they found previously?
Do you have the processes in place to cater to people that are searching with these goals in mind?
Let’s take a closer look at each category of information needs.
For users that are doing a deep dive on your website, it is critical to ensure that your navigation is organized into intuitive categories.
For large sites, particularly large eCommerce sites, it will make sense to organize the categories in multiple ways.
As an example:
- By geography
- By manufacturer
- By price
- By date
- By size
For example, REI.com organizes their navigation from the home page for those that need easy access to everything:
But as you drill further into a category, the navigation responds by allowing you to segment by a number of important characteristics:
Searchers that are doing exhaustive research will also make use of the search function. Offering an Advanced Search will create a better experience for those searching “everything.”
The domain auctioning website, Flippa offers an Advanced Search for those that are doing exhaustive research.
A Few Good Things
Those that are exploring your website in this category will want quick access to click or search a category of your website.
The Library of Congress gives its users easy access to a Search bar that can be segmented by Category.
This type of user will also be looking to segment large sites further. Perhaps by User Rating, as Amazon does.
The Right Thing
If users will often need the exact right thing, your Information Architecture should reflect that.
The navigation should have the ability to drill down to the exact content the user is looking for.
Consider how Auto Zone uses the navigation to “walk” you directly to the part you need for your car. If you click on “Batteries” you will begin the path toward finding the proper battery for your car.
And, if you know EXACTLY what you need all the way down to the SKU or Part Number, you can type that into the search bar.
Need It Again
Some users will want to find content that they’ve found once before.
Amazon.com is the master of reminding you of what you might need again. As you browse the online store, the latest products you’ve visited are visible on the screen.
Visit your website with each of these four purposes in mind. Or, better yet, have someone else do it.
Attempt to see your website through the user’s eyes. Are they able to do exhaustive research? Can they find an exact product? Can they find it again?
If not, you are likely leaving money on the table.