Whether you are getting a new website or taking a critical look at your current one, you’ll need to figure out what pages go where.
Before you do anything (before design, before copywriting, before web development) you should answer this question:
Is my site easy to understand?
We’re talking easy to understand for humans AND our robot overlords.
That’s where website architecture comes in. We’re gonna get technical, technical.
Information architecture (IA) for websites is organizing your site’s structure in a way that helps your users have a better experience (UX) and facilitate your content strategy. Achieving those goals and creating a broader, cohesive purpose while working within the functionality of your web design is the process.
Ask yourself (silently, if you’re in public):
- Are my site pages organized in a way that someone new could quickly understand?
- And does my sitemap make sense to Google?
- Does how I talk about my services provide clarity or cause confusion?
- How easy or difficult is it for users to get around on my site?
Organize your website structure by planning out your sitemap
The first step to tackle when addressing information architecture on your site is to thoughtfully plan your sitemap.
What’s a sitemap?
A sitemap serves as a plan for the structure of your site, which you determine by mapping out pages into purposeful areas and setting up a hierarchy of high-value and supplemental pages. An actual sitemap XML file on the site also provides a simple way for Google to understand everything on your website without hopping from page to page making its own assumptions of your layout.
Optimize your sitemap for UX and content opportunities
If you’re working with an existing set of pages, do some critical thinking on how each page contributes to the overall site.
First, audit your pages and the content on those pages!
Look specifically for:
- Redundant content to be consolidated: pages that don’t really provide value to the site, or could benefit from being combined with another page.
- Duplicate content to be made unique: Google frowns upon copy and pasting content across your site— make sure it’s written specifically for each page.
- Outdated content to be refreshed: either content is that older than 1-2 years or if the information has changed since it was first written.
- Thin content to be expanded: content less than 500 words for a regular service page or blog post.
If you find a page that doesn’t really serve a purpose or provide any value to your site, and the topic isn’t worth refreshing or expanding, Marie Kondo that page!
There is also some critical information to be gained from keyword research when choosing your pages and even broader content strategy. Finding great keyword opportunities can inform which pages you choose to create, refresh, or expand to fill content gaps or improve content performance.
We recommend spending some serious time analyzing current keyword performance to boost your ranking potential once you get it all cleaned up and transferred to a pretty new site.
Likewise, if you’ve had Google Analytics (or even a tool heatmapping user behavior) running on your old site, take some time to review user performance metrics— bounce rates, time on pages, how far users made it down your desired funnel, etc.
From this data, you can better predict what your old site’s shortcomings may have been that can be improved with a new website design. You can also see what pages performed well versus pages that missed the mark. Increase your batting average by sending some heavy-hitting pages to the front of your lineup.
Setting up structure and hierarchy in your sitemap
Once you have an idea of which pages you’d like to include on your website, you can start to figure out a way to organize those pages that would make Marie Kondo proud.
Your website architecture should look like this:
Image from Moz
Find ways to group your pages in a way that makes sense to users, search engines, and fits within your site design. Instead of a messy sock drawer, use those little box organizers to group them neatly together in a way that’s easy to find what you’re looking for!
For example, if you have services that fall within the same category, use a drop-down menu in your navigation and nest those pages under a main services parent page.
If you have gateways targeted for specific users to land on, be strategic about keeping those separate from your other site content in where you place access to them on the site as well as your internal linking structure.
Choosing how to talk about your business with information architecture
A big part of making your site structure easily digestible to users is how you label things.
Be consistent about how you refer to your services, or how you talk about your company. This should translate throughout the entire site, creating a flow between page titles, content, and calls-to-action that reinforces your message and the actions you want users to take.
Labeling pages in your main navigation
Your main navigation menu will play a huge role in presenting your pages. Use labels that users can understand and know they will find what they’re looking for if they click on that page or link. Don’t try to be too clever, they should know what they’re getting themselves into when they click on a page link.
If you have internal terminology that you prefer when talking about your business, consider if you’d understand those terms if you were brand new to the company. Chances are if your SEO keyword strategy is doing its job, a user would come in after searching a term that is familiar to them, not necessarily your preferred terminology. For example, a shoe store might confuse some folks looking for rain boots if they only call them galoshes.
Find a middle ground when it comes to these labels so that you aren’t sacrificing your company’s voice and also not causing confusion for users.
Consistent messaging along the user journey
Another way labels can make a huge difference is all along your user journey, which comes back to making sure your messaging reinforces the action you and the user want. For example, if your desired funnel is to send users from the homepage to a specific service page, you want the wording on your homepage to flow with the content they’ll hit once on the service page.
From there, if you have a call-to-action (CTA) on that service you’ll want that CTA text to match what they’ll see on the conversion page. For example, if your service page CTA sounds something like “Get a free consultation” you don’t want to send the user to a generic contact page that doesn’t match that consultation messaging or worse suggests that converting on that page would trigger a different request from the company.
Being thoughtful about how you label your pages and how you talk about your business will create a cohesive message that will travel along with the user throughout the site instead of producing a disjointed feel.
Organized URL structure
A simple but often overlooked way to maintain consistent labeling is with your page URLs.
Going back to our previous example of nesting individual services under a main services parent page, the way you tell Google about that hierarchy is by having a corresponding file structure in the URL.
That looks something like this:
Or posts within a blog would look like this:
This provides the website structure that will help Google understand how your pages are organized.
Easy navigation to get around your site structure
User experience is key when thinking about your website’s structure. What’s the point of a new fancy website if your average user gets confused trying to use it? Or the design causes friction with the desired user journey?
You want to capitalize on the traffic coming to your site by making it easy for them to comprehend your information and perform the action you both want to be completed.
You can make things easier on your users by using a clear main navigation, drop-down menus, footer links, breadcrumbs, buttons, and anchor text links within your content.
How are my customers searching for what they need on my site?
Determine how your ideal audience would be searching for what they need on your site, and how they would move around to get where they (and you) want to end up.
This can depend on your business and audience. For example, a brochure site of services would likely utilize the main navigation and in-content calls to action:
Whereas an e-commerce site would need optimized main navigation, breadcrumbs, and likely a search function:
However users navigate your site, information architecture will help inform how you organize the pages they move between and how you label your information for them to find.
Keeping structure clean
Beyond creating and optimizing your website structure when redesigning or majorly refreshing the site, you’ll want to make sure that defined structure holds true through time.
Create a standard for who on your team is updating your site and how often, to ensure they are following the labeling and structure you’ve put in place. Don’t give just anyone keys to the castle, keep it locked up tight.
Get Help with Your Website Architecture
A good website structure balances user experience, content strategy, and web design— coming together in a way that boosts your site’s performance across the board. Each of these components requires its own thoughtful consideration.