Information Architecture (IA)

What is Information Architecture?

Information Architecture (IA) is the practice of organizing, structuring and labeling information in a way that makes it easy to find and understand, both in the real world and online. IA encompasses sitemaps, navigation, categorizations, hierarchies, and content types. It directly impacts user experience and on-site conversion rate.

Information Architecture of eCommerce stores

As leading information architect Jakob Nielsen put it: “If the customer can’t find the product, the customer can’t buy it”. Simple as that. Good information architecture can be a central factor in determining your online store’s success. You want your customer to intuitively find what they’re after from the moment they land on the homepage of your site to when they complete the purchase. Excellent user experience, clean design, and organized navigation are the non-negotiable elements for profitable online shops.

When you’re planning your store’s navigation, think of it as a bunch of neatly organized folders and subfolders with the most important pages sitting at the top, in the main navigation. Can your customers access the top landing pages from your homepage in one click? Because they should be able to. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a common mistake that can cost you dearly. Make sure your online store is organized in a logical, top-down structure that has the main categories crumble down into narrower subcategories and ultimately lead the customer to a product page.

It’s important to consolidate your main categories as much as possible, but you must make space for your bestselling products. If a particular type of product is bringing you a lot of money, ensure that that category is given a premium spot in your navigation.

To help your customers quickly find where they are on the site, employ the breadcrumbs navigation system. It will keep track of your customer’s navigation path as they go deeper into a chosen category and display that path to the customer in a clickable, text-based format at the top of the page to provide shortcuts and improve usability. For example, a breadcrumb for an online store’s women trainers product page would look like this: Home > Women > Shoes > Trainers.

The Benefits of Information Architecture

As a critical component of any online store, Information Architecture affects a wide range of different aspects. The easiest way to measure the effectiveness of IA is by monitoring user experience. A site that is intuitive and easy to navigate will delight visitors, make their search a breeze and entice them to come back for more. Besides the obvious methods of evaluating the user-friendliness of your site, such as usability testing, you can look at the following metrics as accurate indicators of the UX performance:

How to do it right?

There are a number of things you need keep in mind when designing the Information Architecture of your site, but user experience should always be at the heart of it. The best practices of IA design include:

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Justas Markus: CEO & Co-Founder of GetFound XL and a blogger at Entrepreneur.com, Observer.com, Influencive.com and others. Catch up with Justas on Twitter.