The information architecture of your website is its underlying foundations. It is the structuring, organisation and labelling of website content to enable users, who arrive at the home page, to meet their goals and complete tasks as quickly and easily as possible.
How to build a good IA
A good IA should be based on two things:
- What you want to the website to achieve for your business a.k.a your site strategy
- What users want to achieve on your website a.k.a user goals
Website strategy development should involve all those teams and individuals who have a stake in the website. Ask yourselves, ‘what does success look like for our website’ and consider tangible business benefits e.g. it sells more of our product, it changes customer perception or it reduces the load on our call centre.
User goals should be unearthed by talking to real users. Discovery research is the best way to do this. Sit down with your users and ask them about their current behaviours, their motivations and their frustrations.
Once you are equipped with this knowledge, you can start building your IA.
The most important part of developing your IA is to test it with real users. Ideally this should be done at least twice during the build but the more you test the better the end result will be.
There are plenty of great tools out there that make this job easier for you. Our favourite is Treejack.
IA testing with Treejack
Treejack allows you to set tasks for your users that will test how well or otherwise your IA supports their goals.
All design and navigational cues are removed, meaning the users are reliant on the link labels alone in order to make their decision.
Like a survey, a link to this test can then be sent out to your users (a minimum of 20-30 per user group, we recommend) and will test how well your labels give off ‘scent’ for the tasks you have set.
What is information scent?
Information scent stems from the information foraging theory developed by Stuart Card and Peter Pirolli. The theory compares humans’ online behaviour to that of an animal gathering food – where there is strong scent (clear navigational labels), we will move quickly towards our prey (the information we wanted):
- Strong scent allows users to establish quickly where they need to go to achieve their goal
- Weak scent hinders users progress and they will not know where to go to achieve their goal
- Conflicting scent makes users choose between multiple options that could be what they are looking for. If they choose wrong, it will cost the user time and causes frustration.
Analysing Treejack results
Once the test has finished, Treejack presents you with a whole range of colourful outputs.
This includes the success rate, the time taken to complete the task, how directly users reached their destination.
When analysing these graphs, you are likely too see one of the following three scenarios:
- A success: task that was successfully completed by most users. Anything over 70% is considered good enough to be included on the final IA.
- A fail because of conflicting scent: a task where two links prove equally popular. You may need to reconsider where this content sits in the IA
- A fail because of poor scent: a task where users have no idea where to go as none of the links appear to give off scent for the content they are looking at
With these results it is time to adapt and test again. Once you are consistently seeing a success rate of 70% or more across your tasks, you can feel confident that your IA is truly user-centered.