The Essentials of Information Architecture for SEO

You often hear the words “information architecture” and “site architecture” bandied about, but what do they actually mean? How, and why, does “information” architecture differ from “site” architecture? How do they impact design decisions, and how do they influence search engines? Why don’t SEOs (define) talk more about information architecture, how important is it? These questions are fundamental, and knowledge of them is essential to successful SEO campaigns. In fact, information architecture may be the most important factor in on-page SEO, though few SEO practitioners give it much attention.

Well, prepare for that to change at SES Chicago in the session, “Successful Information Architecture,” scheduled to take place the week of Dec. 7, 2009. (ClickZ and SES are both part of Incisive Media.)

The panel will feature two leading experts on the topics of information architecture and SEO: Shari Thurow and Kim Krause Berg. While both speakers are experienced SEOs, they are also deeply versed in information architecture, usability, and interface design. This potent blend of experience will lend the panel a unique perspective that goes far beyond typical SEO treatments of the subject.

As is widely understood, search engines interact or “experience” Web sites in at least three major ways: the crawl (discovery), indexation (parsing data and including it in search indices), and ranking (algorithmic functions to ascertain relevance from the indexed data). While there is at least some human involvement on each level (notably ranking and indexation, when necessary), these are largely machine-generated, robotic processes. Therefore, the search engines must be delivered a clear, organized site architecture that takes into account both categorization and accessibility factors, as well as clear labeling and keyword integration that reflects human querying behavior. Sound complicated? It is!

Meanwhile, we need Web sites that are easy to use. Web sites with clear labeling, navigation, and wayfinding points. We need a useful interface that communicates the information available on the website. Easier said than done (and herein lies the art and science of SEO).

This is certainly a complicated topic, but it doesn’t have to be. There are best practices that one can follow to ensure a Web site has a crawlable infrastructure. And while duplicate content filters can be problematic, there are certainly steps that can be taken to ensure a Web site is not negatively impacted. These big issues (and more) will be covered in full during the panel.

Topics our session will cover include:

  • Definitions including information architecture, site architecture, and interface design. Site architecture is really an outcome of information architecture and technical architecture, a point that will be discussed in the presentations.
  • Creating a crawlable infrastructure. While Google in particular is doing an impressive job of crawling through JavaScript, items such as JavaScript links and dynamic navigation can be a serious impediment to successful SEO. HTML links still rule the day, and this panel will also cover how and where to use redundant link options when crawl barriers exist.
  • URL structure considerations. While limited parameter usage in URLs can be fine, excessive parameters (often the result of faceted or sortable navigations) can be a killer for SEO. And, beyond simply parameter usage, how can SEOs create solid, valuable URLs that encourage clicks in search results and easy sharing with others?
  • URL canonicalization. In this context, canonicalization is just a fancy word for “consistency.” URLs need to be consistently used in internal linking and navigation. When that’s not possible, steps need to be taken to ensure search engines are given the correct canonicalization target.
  • Specific tools for SEOs and site architects. It’s important to have the tools necessary to mimic a crawler, and “see” a site in much the way a search engine does. Specific tools for diagnosing technical difficulties will be covered.

Other topics that will be covered include:

  • Duplicate content filters, indexation, and site crawling caps
  • Robots exclusions (both robots.txt and meta robots tags)
  • Navigation concerns, including global, secondary, and footer
  • Related and internal linking
  • Sitemaps (HTML or “wayfinder” and XML)
  • Orphan pages
  • Querying behavior and keyword considerations

This is going to be a fantastic panel of which I’m thrilled to be a part. With the legendary Peter Morville (one of the founders of the information architecture field) providing the morning’s keynote, the pressure will be on our session to deliver the goods. That said, I’m optimistic that we’re beginning to see the intersection of information architecture, usability, interface design and search engine optimization. To me, the successful blending of all these fields of expertise represents the future of smart and successful Web sites.

For more reading:

SEO, Information Architecture and Interface Design

The SEO Guide to Information Architecture

Meet Adam, Shari, and Kimberly at SES Chicago, December 7-9, 2009 at the Hilton Chicago.

Related reading

Website landing page vector graphic