Information architecture describes the structural design of a website or an intranet. A website or intranet, in this case, are information spaces that are meant to enable users to find answers to questions and find the required information quickly and easily.
The term information architecture is distinguished from information design. While the design is the visible portion of a web page, the architecture remains in the background and is only the structural part that directs the user interaction. Before a user can interact, however, information has to be properly organized. This is done using categories, menus and click paths to facilitate user access to information. These structural units are visualized by the information design, but as a theoretical concept, the architecture is upstream. Only in the process of designing a website will information architecture and design cross paths directly.
Information architecture describes not only the concept behind an information space (or information sharing environment), but also the process of how it is designed. The Information Architect (IA) has to create a concept that puts users at the center of focus based on user needs and requirements. The IA has different material at his disposal which he will combine into a whole at the end of the process. He uses organizational charts and wireframes to forge an intuitive navigation for users out of the rough organization of the main categories of a website.
The organizational chart (also called blueprint) assigns sub-categories to the home page of a website. They are connected with arrows to represent it graphically. The wireframe complements the coarse structure now with individual web pages. The main structure is preserved, but the navigation goes into more detail, especially when it comes to larger projects with a lot of content. Depending on whether an information space allows easy and intuitive access, sometimes information architecture is referred to as an art.
In designing the information space, the corporate identity plays an important role. The website always has operational or organizational relevance. The menu structure and look is supposed to make it easier for users to navigate. A website is a division of the company in a sense and represents its principles. If users can easily categorize a website in this context, identification and interaction will be easier.
Users can access the content more easily if it seems familiar to them through a common structure and appearance and identification with the company is accomplished. At the same time, it is important to stand out from competition through the information architecture. It is also a unique selling point and can utilize data from marketing and market research.
Experts refer to two levels of information architecture: the large and the small architecture. The large architecture of a website is supposed to direct the communication with users. The small architecture refers to the handling of the data in order to prepare it for search engines. Both levels are extremely important when it comes to search engine optimization. First, one has to create a high-quality website and on-page optimize it.
Google’s premise that a website should serve users is relevant here. Speaking URLs, easy navigation, meaningful structures and easily searchable information are included in this level. Labeling is part of it as well. Beginning with a starting URL, the subcategories can be named in such a way that they represent the range of information and adequately describe it with concise terms. These terms can be selected with a keyword analysis. The deeper the click path, the more value IAs put on clustering. URLs are named in such a way that a general category is always supplemented by a specific term.
This is an example of a bulk optimization to form semantic clusters:
www.example.com www.example.com/category www. example.com/subcategory
The large architecture is further supplemented with the small architecture. The content is tagged with metadata and structured sensibly for search engines. A user agent, for example a Googlebot will be notified which data is used in what way. This includes not only the metadata of an HTML document, but also the actual content. At this point, information architecture and design go hand in hand, because the formatting and labeling of the content are important aspects of search engine optimization.
Additionally, inbound links are taken into consideration in the assessment of a web page. The higher the link juice, the stronger the page is usually rated. Google also takes it into account for the calculation of page rank. In addition to Google, some other analysis tool providers have proprietary values to represent the link popularity of a page. Examples of such are Ryte with OPR or Moz along with the MozRank.
The IA must therefore observe important aspects of search engine optimization in creating an information architecture.