Skip to content

How to: Website Information Architecture

 By Userlytics
 Nov 29, 2021
 1419 views

How to: Website Information Architecture

If you visited a complex website and found everything you were looking for with ease, it was unlikely a coincidence. A well-designed website structure is often the result of careful user research and testing, following information architecture principles and best practices.

So what is information architecture (IA), and how is it applied to websites? Below, we’ll discuss a set of principles to think about and the steps you can take to design a solid IA for a website.

What is Information Architecture?

Information Architecture is the art and science of structuring content clearly and understandably. The goal of IA is to enable users to find what they need with ease. Designing the IA of a website involves arranging content pieces in a way that considers their relations to each other, user goals, and user context.

As with other parts of the UX umbrella, IA can be applied in a redesign or when developing a product from scratch.

Information architecture principles:

Before diving into the process of building the IA, it’s best to start with a set of principles for guidance. A frequently referenced source for guiding the IA process is Dan Brown’s 8 principles:

  1. Principle of objects: Treat content as a living, breathing thing. Each object has a lifecycle, behaviors, and attributes.
  2. Principle of choices: Keep the range of choices focused on a particular task. Too many options can delay decision-making.
  3. Principle of disclosure: Give users just enough information to figure out what they’ll find as they dig deeper.
  4. Principle of exemplars: When describing the contents of categories, show examples of their contents.
  5. Principle of front doors: Assume at least half the website’s visitors will come through a page other than the homepage.
  6. Principle of multiple classifications: Accommodate different ways of looking for information by offering different classification systems. Consider different user needs and search scope.
  7. Principle of focused navigation: Keep the navigation simple and free of extraneous links.
  8. Principle of growth: Assume the content of the website will grow. Make sure the website is scalable and adaptable.

If these principles seem broad or somewhat vague to you, that is on purpose. They are there to help you ask good questions, not provide you with solutions. To create a strong information architecture, you must develop a research plan to understand your user’s needs and behaviors.

Steps to Building a Website’s Information Architecture

1. Define your goals

The goal of IA is to help users find what they need with ease, but what does that mean for your website? You should work with all key stakeholders and ask:

  • What need do you want to satisfy?
  • Why do you want to do this?
  • What do you hope to achieve with it?

2. Understand your Users

You need to know who your users are. Conduct user interviews, develop personas and create scenarios. This should help you answer:

  • What are these users’ goals?
  • What will they do on the website to achieve them?

Your personas and scenarios should tell a story that you can share with stakeholders. Think about any constraints users may have that can lead to a worst-case scenario, and how you can prevent that. 

This is also a good time to think about competitors and how they meet their users’ needs. Visit their websites and explore their information architecture, thinking of the perspective your personas would have. Refer to the IA principles and ask whether they are being met and if they are not, what they could change to improve the IA?

3. Outline your content

If your website is new, you get to start from scratch and plan out the content. If your website already has content, create a list of all pages, media, and downloadable content. Make notes on each piece, such as its accuracy, relevance, and classification. If anything is not useful, get rid of it.

4. Use card sorting to classify and group content

Now that you have a list of all relevant content, classify and categorize it. Card sorting is a participatory design technique that can help you do this. 

You start by creating a card for each piece of content, which should at the very least have a printed title, but could also list features or concepts. You then give these cards to users and ask them to sort them into groups. 

Userlytics offers card sorting capabilities, which can be used in either unmoderated or moderated remote usability tests. Once you’ve done card-sorting with a set of users, you can refine your results into a sitemap and menu navigation. A sitemap is a grouped and labeled visual representation of your content. Navigation is a collection of all user-interface elements that house your content, which should be connected in meaningful ways.

5. Conduct tree tests on the navigation

Tree testing is a quantitative method used to determine what paths people will take through the IA to find key information. Participants navigate the website’s navigation using link names only, which are organized into a hierarchy of topics and subtopics. 

This method helps determine if names and categories convey the contents correctly. The goal is to have titles that are distinguishable from one another, and users do not have to backtrack to find what they need. You can use Userlytics’ tree testing capabilities to build and test your navigation in remote usability tests. 

6. Usability test as the website develops

So far, you’ve tested your information architecture stripped to its essential features. You will need to verify whether the IA you developed is suitable for the actual website as it is developing. This means user testing the information architecture at each iteration of the website’s prototype, as well as significant developments for the live website. 

Usability testing is a qualitative technique where users are often given some tasks to complete, as the researcher observes and takes notes. It can reveal how users find information, how they interpret content and what they ignore or refuse to use, and why. This method is most effective in combination with a short semi-structured interview at the end. An interview will give you insights into what they felt about the tasks, and their overall experience with the website. 

Information architecture, like most design work, is never truly done. Your website will grow and shrink as your product or company changes. No matter how much a company or website may grow and change, you can always maintain a simple and understandable information architecture. 

Article written by Paul Khawaja

Didn’t find what you were searching for?

Related posts

Things to be Thankful for: Advantages of Professional Peer Support in UX Research Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on all the things we are thankful for. As user researchers, we are thankful for the ability to connect with our peers and
2022 has been a busy and exciting time at Userlytics. We’ve launched several new features and capabilities, including sentiment analysis, accessibility testing, the ULX score, and VR testing. These newly implemented tools were designed to enhance your experience and provide you with
As staples of nearly all research conducted today, many people think they know about the differences between qualitative (qual) and quantitative (quant) testing. However, in the context of user research, these two methodologies are often used interchangeably. So how does one know
Understanding what democratizing user research means is not as simple as searching for the definition online, or asking a colleague for a quick summary. In a general sense, the universal definition is “providing all stakeholders with access to user insight and UX
It's no secret that a good website or app user experience is crucial for boosting sales. In an offline location such as a store or restaurant, being physically present may keep a prospect even if the experience is subpar. But in an
For many researchers working in UX, quantitative data analysis can cause a lot of anxiety. UX researchers provide interpretations that can impact businesses with said data, which can be an overwhelming amount of pressure. There are many reasons UX researchers are often
As a UX researcher or designer, it's important to have a clear understanding of your target customer before beginning a remote UX study. This helps you make informed decisions about what to test, how to test it, and who to target your
If you’re a UX researcher, you probably already know how important it is to carefully consider every step of a research plan: You need to make sure you understand the problem space, choose the most suitable research methods, identify and recruit the
In remote user experience and usability testing, there are a variety of factors that contribute to valuable, authentic user data that can be used to improve your brand’s user and customer experience. Among those factors are the quality and authenticity of the
Are you thinking about doing some user testing on your website, app or prototype? Are you currently weighing up the different options available to you? Should you use a free video-conferencing tool or a paid user testing platform? What are the differences
While remote user experience testing significantly enhances researchers' ability to reach test participants, these participants’ technical skills and access to technology can often vary greatly. Therefore, it is important to design and administer remote tests that facilitate participants' varying technical skills and
Userlytics prides itself in being a truly global platform. With over one million panel testers in over 150 countries, we are happy to say that we are able to find and test your target customers, wherever they may be. With the inception
In today’s highly digital world, cybersecurity is of the utmost importance when running day to day business operations. As usability testing grows in popularity, so does the need to choose a UX platform that values your company's privacy and security. But how
Userlytics makes user experience testing easy, efficient and fun with its state-of-the-art no-download web recorder. This revolutionary user experience testing recorder allows participants to jump right into usability tests directly with a simple click of a button; this means you can more
Moderated testing is a great opportunity to get thorough and instant feedback from users all around the world. This type of testing involves a live, online interview where you are face-to-face with your users via webcam, asking them questions, guiding them through
Researching the ins and outs of your business is integral to setting your company up for success. Increasingly, fine-tuning and improving your customers’ brand experience has become one of the top priorities for businesses. With customer expectations being at an all-time high,
Are you a UX researcher who mainly conducts in-person studies and you’re looking for some online alternatives to get you through this unusual period of lockdown and social distancing? Or perhaps you’re someone who is starting their path down UX enlightenment, looking
INTRODUCTION Given the current world health and associated economic crisis, Userlytics ran a qualitative moderated ("Live Conversations") user experience study with participants in the US to determine how respondents’ online shopping behavior has changed as a result of the pandemic. The following
Imagine a scenario where a user is shopping online and stumbles across a product she likes, but the product’s description doesn’t tell her everything she needs to know before making a purchase (strike 1). To find out more, the user decides to
The Best and Worst UX in the Travel Industry Finding the best flight deals online can be an exhilarating experience. Almost every booking site today promises the lowest fares available and, in some cases, even a price match guarantee. With such a
Last November 18th our CEO was interviewed by Ditsa Keren, of Website Planet; Here are some excerpts from the interview: “If we take a step back and think about how software has evolved over the past 15 years, the cost and time
Designers are prone to falling into the trap of cluttering their interfaces. Limitations of space often push them to the wall, and they find themselves trying to fit everything they can into a tiny usable space. The unique problem that the modern
How Can Bad UX Influence Your Conversion Funnel? Source: Shengjun Shi Regardless of whether you sell a product, offer a service or run a blog, any visitor comes to your site with simple goals like consuming or gathering more information. The user experience

Let’s work together on your next UX study.

Create positive user experiences and keep customers loyal to your product and brand.

Analytics tells you what,
Userlytics tells you WHY.