Setting design elements aside, strong information architecture is possibly the single most important component of an effective website. Information architecture (IA) focuses on the effective organization and structure of website content to provide a simple and enjoyable user experience.
While you only have about 15 seconds to capture the attention of your reader — which for the most part, depends on how your site looks — the way you structure your content has an impact on usability, user-friendliness and even your SEO.
Here's the skinny on strong information architecture that gets prospective and current families exactly where they want to go.
The less clicks, the better.
Today, users are a group of smartphone-using scrollers, not scavenger-hunters. They're extremely impatient and expect to easily find what they're looking for with minimal effort. General rule of thumb, they should be able to find exactly what they're looking for from any page on your site in three clicks or less.
I searched for "baylor school online application" in Google. The first result was for Baylor School Admissions. Click. Now I'm on the admissions page. Scroll down to the Apply Now button. Click.
Two clicks? That was easy.
I conducted similar searches for many other Finalsite schools — from both Google search and homepages — and found everything I was looking for in three clicks or less including library pages, tuition information, open house dates, and even information on what's for lunch.
The common thread among the schools sites I navigated? Simple navigation, call to action buttons and basic page titles that answered three important questions: Where am I? Where can I go next? How do I get there?
Website Content Planner
Segmented and organized content wins more clicks.
Imagine if someone came to your website, and instead of segmenting information into buckets — like admissions and athletics — it was all lumped together under an "About Us" page. (Yikes! We know you'd never do that.)
Information architects are faced with the challenge of determining where content is going to live, what makes sense, which pages are "top-level" and then which pages fall beneath those elements. Site navigation is commonly structured based on informational buckets. You can also effectively structure your site based on the needs of different audiences, like Delaware Valley Friends School does. When a visitor can identify themselves with the architecure of your site, it makes that first step very obvious.
A good place to start with this is a complete content audit. Assess the quality of your content, look for gaps, and determine where pages can be consolidated to shorten your site visitor's path from your homepage to where they want to go.
Your headline shouldn't be a punch line.
Hey fellow marketers, I know we all have a blast being witty and funny whenever we can. But let's save that for email subject lines. The more straightforward you can be when naming pages, writing meta-descriptions, titles, and navigation elements, the better. It will make it easier for search engines and website visitors to determine if where they are on your site is relevant to what they're searching for.
Save your creative language for paragraph text and design elements, which aren't key structural components of your information architecture — or as important to your SEO. Blake School does an excellent job combining well-designed information architecture and personality.
It should be crafted to improve your search engine rankings.
If someone tells us, "It's good for your SEO," we're listening.
Search engines look at page titles, your H1 headings, page names and page URLs to determine the relevance of content for a given search. Using simple phrases like "Chapin School Library" as your page title and H1 heading will make it easy for site visitors align with what they search with where they are, and will ultimately improve website performance in search.
You should also avoid cluttering page titles and URLs with keywords and buzzwords to get better rankings — Google's highly intelligent algorithms can pick up on that.
Content should be structured for scanners.
So they found the page they're looking for in two clicks — but how can they be sure the content they want is on that page? On your site pages you'll want to maintain a consistency content hierarchy with H1 and paragraph text to make content scannable, especially when consolidating pages.
What's the navigation experience like on your site?
Take a moment to step in the shoes of a prospective or current family visiting your site. How easy is it to find information? Is it clear as to where you should go next? How many clicks does it take you to find your online application? What about tuition? An information architecture site audit is the perfect summer project for those looking for simple site improvements!