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Information Architecture

» Structure Your Site for Success

There’s a lot more to site design that choosing some attractive colors and a cool font. In fact, one of the most important considerations is often overlooked by first-time site owners. Content architecture. Where does content appear? Why on that page? How much is enough? What is the objective of the content?

If you haven’t thought about these questions (and many more) you may get lucky, but it’s not very likely. If you don’t consider content architecture in the design of your site, your site won’t perform at optimized levels. It’s as simple as that.

IMPACT: The Importance of Content Architecture
The value of a solid content architecture is, quite simply, the impact it has on visitors. Visual impact. Emotional Impact. Motivational impact. It’s all got to be there. Hi-impact elements?

Attention grabbing headlines.

Short, blocks of simple text. Short sentences.

Hi-impact verbs: Discover, Learn, Save, Earn, Uncover & so on.

Lots of sub-headings that lead the eye from top-to-bottom, left-to-right on each page.

Useful graphics that support the brand or products (not stale, seen-it-before clip art).

Clear, hi-resolution product pix (not something you shoot on the kitchen table).

A logical, easily discernable flow of content & sales copy, interwoven to clearly point out the product or service benefits, i.e. define (or create) visitor’s needs then meet those needs.

Use bulleted lists to present lots of facts in an accessible format.

And finally, throw the punctuation & grammar handbook out the window. Avoid punctuation. Periods and a stack of exclamation points provide stopping points for readers and you don’t want them to stop reading.

Why Is This Important To Me?
You’re launching (or redoing) your site for some reason — to sell products, to market services, to spread the organization’s mission statement or, perhaps a combination of reasons. Regardless, the reason(s) you’re considering a web site or revision is your objective for the site.

Can you state your site’s objective succinctly? In a single sentence? You should be able to sum it all up in just a few words. Then, with your site objectives firmly set, you can go about the business of developing and placing content, i.e. designing the site’s content architecture.

Without a crystal clear site objective, you won’t know what text to put where. Take the time to define your expectations and objectives before moving ahead with any matters of site design.

Why Is This Important to Visitors?
Visitors come to your site for one reason — content. If you’re selling running shoes, visitors expect content related to your products. This, of course, starts with clear, detailed product descriptions and pictures of each pair of Nikes. No pictures, no sales. People like to see what they’re buying (a big part of content architecture).

But visitors today want more than clear, clean product descriptions. They want informational content — useful information on running as a sport, as a discipline, as part of a healthy lifestyle. Not sales hype, just good, accurate, useful information.

Enhancing the Visitor’s Experience
That’s what we’re really talking about when the subject of content architecture comes up. How can you make the visitor’s on-site experience better, easier, faster or more fun? For example, from the home page, how many clicks does it take to find a specific product with a detailed product description? If a visitor has to click through one drilldown screen after another, at least some of them are going to give up.

Placement of content, so that it’s easily accessible, is one way to enhance the visitor’s experience on your site. That means lots of tabs, links and breadcrumb trails to keep visitors on point.

Many sites separate promotional content from informational text. They employ an ‘Archives’ link or a ‘Resources’ tab. This helps in more clearly delineating the purpose of the text in the minds of visitors and to SE spiders that visit your site regularly.

Why Is Content Architecture Important to SEs?
Despite the complexity of today’s SE algorithms, SE bots aren’t bright. They can’t make subjective judgments or decisions about content, they can’t define relationships between different bodies of text and they can’t always find new content, especially when it’s buried deep inside the site.

But there’s lots you can do to better equip SE spiders to accurately assess and index your site with a well-designed content architecture.

It all starts with the site’s design and the knowledge and competencies of the designer. For example, spiders read headlines so make sure your home page has clear headings and sub-heads. Use more than one column on your home page to present two or three headlines to site visitors in an easily-readable layout.

Highlight This Week’s Specials
Right there on the home page, above the fold. In big, bold type. That way, visitors can’t miss them.

However, make sure your weekly specials text doesn’t appear inside a jpg or some other non-text format. Text in a graphics image is invisible to spiders. Make sure key text is accessible to SE spiders by keeping it in a ‘readable’ format.

Identify and Refine
Using various visitor tracking tools you’ll be able to quickly identify problems in content architecture — anything from a dead end with no way out to an underperforming landing page.

Develop a sound content architecture, but be prepared to make adjustments and refinements based on real-world site metrics. Consider content architecture a work in progress. Try a new placement, monitor visitor reactions and adjust accordingly.

Balancing Bots and Eyeballs
SE bots don’t buy things. People do. So, first and foremost, your commercial site must have human eyeball appeal. It must capture the visitor’s attention and hold his or her interest long enough to make a few exploratory clicks to learn more about your site and products.

But if you ignore the SE bots, you may be only partially indexed, under-indexed or even mis-indexed based on search engine taxonomy, and that can be difficult to overcome. Content architecture must be designed for human needs and emotions and for the limited capabilities of SE spiders.

Only then can you fully optimize the attraction of your site to both bots and eyeballs.

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