Information Architecture 101

  |  July 26, 2010   |  Comments

Information architecture is nothing more than taking the time to understand and then design your site around your user base.

Ideally, if you were going to build a house from scratch you would first start by understanding who would be living in it and what their patterns of behavior are. How many people will be occupying the house? What are their ages? What tasks will they perform? What do they need? With that in mind, you can start "architecting" the blueprints for the house's design. This helps to ensure the house is used properly and is enjoyed by all its participants.

How many of us start construction on our website before we have spent adequate time learning users' needs first? Information architecture is nothing more than taking the time to understand and then design your site around your user base. It's also the method of organizing content into meaningful groups to make it intuitive. Additionally, the user navigation and folder structure of your website are also a part of information design. This can be a complex topic with many facets, but I will touch on a couple points to get the gears turning.

Why Is Information Architecture So Important?

Well, a very organized site that's very easy to navigate will be pleasing to your visitors and help them become customers. From an SEO (define) perspective, a site that's well thought out from the beginning will likely adhere to SEO best practices. The benefits are usability and a higher ranking. Suffice it to say that taking the time up front to design correctly will serve you well in the long run. To learn more about usability tips, see this article.

A Good Foundation

Let's start by looking at the foundation. Domain names help to communicate important information to users and to search engines. Picking a domain name that topically fits the theme of your website is foundational. It helps your users feel they have an understanding of what your site is about. It's good to try and keep it short and to the point which will help make the domain memorable. The key here is starting with a topic in which to build that can contain all of the sections and categories that will come underneath it.

Categories and Keywords

So if domains help set up the foundation, then categories and sections help us set up and frame the site around the theme. For an SEO, this process starts with keyword research to the labeling and navigation process. As you begin laying out the hierarchy of your site, consider starting with your core keywords. Then take those keywords and divide them into groups. Those groups now represent the basic sections of your site. Each section should be optimized around the core keyword chosen.

Below, each of these sections are the category keywords sets you're targeting, each with pages with more categories. These may have a few or several levels depending on how complex your concept is. By constructing your site this way, it helps to keep things organized and aids in the SEO process.

Pages and Directory Structure

As you start building out each page of your site, it's good to keep a clean structure and good organized code. Not only does this help out the search spiders, but cleaner code translates to less errors and an easy to follow site for maintenance. One way to help with this is to keep your code compliant with known standards like WC3. From an SEO perspective, using your keywords effectively in file names can help create URL strings that make sense to search spiders as well as users. See this article on site structure for more information.

Accessibility is another consideration that many people miss. Search engines like sites that have correctly labeled images. Remember to label your images with good descriptive alternative text attributes. This is also a good usability practice to aid disabled people so they can properly interpret your site. Here are some tips for making your site universally accessible.


A well thought-out linking structure will help your users connect to logical flows of information. To aid in the SEO process, good basic linking will help with the flow of page rank. Also, be careful not to have too many links, as this deters your users and the logical flow loses clarity. To learn more about linking, read my two-part article on link building basics.

These are just basic concepts of information architecture. This can be a complex field with fun terms like taxonomy and interpretation sessions that we cannot go into here, but you should know that it exists and plan to incorporate it into your site from the beginning. To learn more about getting started with information architecture, start by checking out the Information Architecture Institute. Without information architecture, you're likely to build a house for the wrong type of residents.

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Ron Jones

Ron was president/CEO of Symetri Internet Marketing, which provides strategic SEM consulting and training. Ron was actively involved in the SEM community and spoke and trained at conferences and seminars. Ron also served on the Board of Directors for SEMPO and was one of the authors for the SEMPO Institute Fundamentals and Advanced courses.

Ron also published a book called Keyword Intelligence: Keyword Research for Search Social and Beyond. This book outlines various methods and tips for conducting keyword research but more importantly outlines many ways to use keyword research for social media, site design, content development and marketing, and even traditional marketing and branding.

Ron passed away on June 30, 2012.

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