Every website has a different goal.
Take whitehouse.gov, for example. It is intended to provide information to the visitor as quickly as possible. On the other hand, websites like BuzzFeed.com are intended to capture the user in a way that they “get lost” in the site and find themself on a journey, exploring a variety of articles, quizzes, and general information. When it comes to achieving those goals, information architecture is the key.
Information architecture is the aspect of website design that supports the flow of the website. It is a method for planning out where the information will be organized and how to achieve that organization.
As an example, let’s look at a recipe website. We can organize it in many ways, from ingredients, to meal, to course. In order to organize the information properly, we need to offer a clean and easy way to enter the data for each recipe. That would mean that we need to build a way to gather that information into the website. For this case, we’ll build a new post type called “Recipes” and custom categories within that post-type, called “Recipe Categories” and custom tags called “Recipe Tags”.
Categories are a way to more broadly group you posts, similar to a table of contents. They are also hierarchical, meaning we can utilize subcategories beneath each category.
Of course, we’ll want the primary organization to be by meal, so the main categories will be Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, and Dinner. Our subcategories would be Appetizers, Desserts, Salads, Main Dishes, etc. This should be the easiest way to classify a recipe when adding a new one to the site, and the easiest way for users to find a recipe they’re looking for.
Let’s write it out before we build. This will become the basis for the site’s content flow.
We’ll also want to create a series of tags, which are used to call out specific details of the post like a glossary for your web site. We can utilizes tags to organize things within my categories. Since tags are non-hierarchical they allow us to give some added context to the details of our post and aid in the user’s search experience. This could be things like ingredients, in our case.
Great! So we have that organization figured out. Next step is deciding what assets we need to collect to display on each recipe. Well, we will need the cook time, servings, ingredients, and instructions. For the instructions, would we prefer a paragraph or a list of steps? This matters because, if it’s a paragraph, development will be able to utilize the WordPress content editor or a custom text area field. If we are doing steps, development will need to be able to allow the editor to add as many or as little steps as needed.
We decided step-by-step was the best approach, and as you can see on the live site, it’s incredibly easy (and kind of addicting) to build recipes on the site!
Information Architecture Comes First
Being aware of what information architecture means in relation to your site can greatly streamline your website’s usability. For your site’s visitors, you have helped create an experience that allows them to effortlessly find what they’ve been looking for by creating a series of searchable tags for each recipe and a seamless structure to search by meal. For your content curators and editors, you’ve implemented a clearly defined solution that allows them to understand where each meal belongs to ensure search engine best practices and ultimate user engagement. Never be afraid to explore your information architecture early on. After all, it’s the golden ticket to bringing together your content, your team, and your fans.