Information Architecture: Information What?!
Many of us have not even heard of the term ‘information architecture’ let alone carried out an exercise to execute it prior to designing a new website. However, the recent re-design of the Boom website made me realise just how important this process is and how unsurprising it is that many websites do not convert, purely down to poor content flow.
What is Information Architecture?
Information architecture is basically the flow of information throughout a website. In this article for the Guardian, Martin Belam describes it as “the art and science of organising websites”.
Now I do not profess to be an expert in information architecture or even the methods used by the professionals. However, my passion for Conversion Rate Optimisation has taught me that the flow of information is more important than the design of the site.
When planning a new website almost everyone follows this process: They write a list of pages they would like on their site. They then pass this list to their web agency or designer/developer and then set to work on writing the content for the pages.
They do not give any thought to the purpose of the page let alone who might be visiting that page, how they might have arrived there and, perhaps most importantly, at what stage of the buying cycle they may be at.
The problem with doing it this way round is that we often then try and cram everything we want to say into these pages. Web content (our key opportunity to sell our products/services) then becomes unstructured and often too long. On sales pages – whether for a product or a service – we should be answering the questions people will be asking themselves, pushing benefits and delivering a clear Call to Action.
Visitors who are not in an advanced stage of the buying cycle, i.e. visitors who may be looking for information and not to buy, should be directed elsewhere to find that information. And of course you’ll then want to guide them back to the sales page with the clever use of persuasive copy.
How to go about Information Architecture
For a lot of people getting an expert in to look at their information architecture may be an expensive exercise that their budget will just not stretch to. If this is the case you can at least look at the basics yourself and hopefully try and put some structure to your web content.
When we decided to re-vamp the Boom website the first thing I did was put together a to-do list of tasks for the site and looked at who would be carrying out each task. The absolute top thing on that list was the information architecture. To set about this task I drew up a list of 7 things I wanted to know about the page, the visitor and the flow of information.
1. What is the purpose of this page?
Is this a sales page or an information page!
2. What will the tone of the page be?
Do you want to adopt a strong sales tone or a gentle informative tone?
3. What are the key messages of the page?
What is it you want to say on this page?
4. What stage of the buying cycle would intended visitors be at?
Are visitors to this page looking for information or are they ready to buy?
5. Where to send people if they are in the wrong place?
If this is a sales page, where should we direct traffic looking for information and vice versa?
6. Questions people may ask?
Think hard about all the questions potential customers ask you at different stages of the buying cycle.
7. What are the CTA’s for the page?
What action do you want people to take as a result of reading this page?
When I went through this process for all the pages that would be on my list of pages for the website, I ended up with 8 additional pages that were not on my initial list. That’s 8 eight pages of copy that most people would have squeezed into 5 service pages. That’s eight pages of copy that would otherwise be drawing attention away from the buying cycle and now will be located elsewhere with clear signposts.
Hopefully you can see the benefit of what we are trying to achieve here. Only time will tell if this works as effectively as we want it to and what impact it will have on conversion rates.
One thing is for sure though, as a result the information will flow better through our website and I won’t be stressing that sales pages are cluttered with copy that is merely educating visitors about our services.