What is Information Architecture and Why it is Important to Your Website

Website navigation is something you probably use every day but don’t think too much about. This is how you travel from page to page within a website. It is probably the most used part of your website that you spend the least amount of time evaluating, right? I used to feel the same way. A few years ago, I inherited a site navigation that seemed to be working so my team focused on growing other areas of the site. Looking into how our menu was organized was low priority. We continued to just add things to it as we needed, and over time it morphed into a big mess that was difficult for our users to navigate. So, if someone asks you why your menu is organized the way it is, what is your answer? I’m afraid to say that for a long time my answer was “because that’s the way it’s always been”. I hate that answer. Instead, I want to share some big changes we’ve made around the grouping and organization of our main website menu. What is Website Navigation? Website navigation is the organization of hyperlinks on your website that show users where to go and how to use your website. This navigation can be broken up into multiple groups such as global, local, contextual, and even hierarchical navigations. The site navigation will be designed into your site and is a primary resource for your user. Site navigation is a very important part of any website interface, as it influences the usability of your site. What is information architecture? Information architecture is the structural design of your information, and includes the art of organizing and labeling items to insure usability and findability. In our case, information architecture can be applied to site navigation to help the usability of your website. How do they work together? The goal of information architecture is to balance what you want the user to do and what the user needs to do. Your site navigation needs to hold the hand of your user without pushing them away. Start by looking at the data you have. We began by looking into traffic stats. Investigating heat maps for our navigation was also useful. Then think through your user flow and personas. Where do you want your visitors to go? What are the more valued sections of your site? When re-evaluating, look for areas of consolidation. Are these two sections enough alike that they should really be one section? Such as products and services, they can be two separate sections or one section, our decision was based on if it was what we sold to a customer they belonged together. Also look for areas of clarity. Can you, rename a section so that it is more obvious for the user? The key is to be simple and clear. When you update your menu, it’s helpful to consider a structure that would easily accommodate the creation of new pages which could add more time onto your project. When you begin to think about this flow, make sure you u keep consistency and simplicity at the top of your mind. Your users shouldn’t have to think what is behind this link in your navigation, it should be clear based on the label. Finally, don’t just commit to your first ideas. It will be beneficial to test your thinking on others and ask for opinions. It took us 6 months to roll out the latest update to our site navigation. We looked at our data, made some rough assumptions, and then reviewed it with lots of people both inside and outside of our organization. We also sought out expert advice from SirusDecisions, an agency we worked with to validate our plan. Even though we have rolled a new menu, we still plan to monitor and improve on it over time. This is not a set it and forget it type of project. The goal of information architecture is to balance what you want the user to do and what the user needs to do. Your site navigation needs to hold the hand of your user without pushing them away. There is an art to it, so be patient and rely on your data to make adjustments and improvements overtime.