Why You Need To Map Your Website's Information Architecture

Last Edited September 11, 2023 by Garenne Bigby in UX

reasons information architecture

Seasoned web developers will know that it is important to spend a significant amount of time in the beginning of a project to understand a client's website and business needs thoroughly. An example of this would be to start by systematically mapping out the information architecture of the client's website visually. Though this process is time-consuming and sometimes rigorous and intense, it will easily return its value many times over. Here you will find detailed information on mapping out the information architecture of a website and also a different tactics to explain why mapping is useful from the perspective of SEO (search engine optimization).

In short, to refresh your memory of information architecture, it is the structure of shared information. It is how the content on a website, online community, internet, or any other digital space is labeled and organized. It is the science and the art of this organization and labeling these digital properties. The creation of the information architecture is what makes it easy for users to find what they are looking for on a website. Information architects need to full understanding of how users will likely access the information on the website, app, or other internet tool. Information architecture will also have a good grasp on how to organize and label data in a way that is rational and logical.


mapping out information architecture Mapping out the Information Architecture

While it is possible to map out the information architecture of a website using Microsoft Word or another word document program, there are also free versions of mapping software as well. Additionally, almost any wireframing tool will work for this mapping task.

When producing the map, it is important to visualize the difference between internal links going up the hierarchy and internal links going down the hierarchy. When doing this, it is advised to use two different colors. It is also advised to use a different color for links that would go across the hierarchy. If this map is going to be shared with other team members, it is vital to include a legend or key so that it will be easy for them to distinguish the significance of these different colors.

The first draft of an information architecture map may be done totally by hand on paper. The advantage of this is to have the data literally drawn out in front of you. Some people find it easier to organize the data as they go when using this method. Here, you will also be able to perform the initial content inventory.

The information architecture map will contain the hierarchical, internal links, and URL examples.

How to Use the Information Architecture Map

There are four distinct ways to use an information architecture map: to correlate the site's information architecture to the metrics, to identify page types, to identify technical issues, and for competitor analysis.

1. Correlate Information Architecture into Metrics

Sometimes a client will ask their information architect things such as why their website is ranking lower on a list than a website that is similar with the same keywords. Although there are multiple factors that would contribute to this having an actual map of the sites internal link structure will provide a clearer view on how this issue can be fixed. This format will also make it easier to compare and contrast to internal pages. It will be simple to address questions such as: is the page being linked from more internal pages? Is the page connected to pages with higher metrics? Is a page being linked from a different page that is higher in the information architecture?

The metrics of a website include:

  • Visits—this is the number of sessions on the website or the number of times a person has interacted with your website.
  • Bounce: this is the number of visitors of the website that left instantly after visiting.
  • Page views: this is the number of how many pages were requested per visit, and how many page visits happened per website visit.
  • Average time on website: how long did each user stay on the website.
  • Percent new views: how many sessions or interactions were from those users who were visiting the website for the first time.

When a website's information architecture is mapped out correctly, the owner can look at the website's metrics and see which pages are performing the best and why. An example of this would be a user that is looking for contact information on the website. If the website is setup so that the user would need to go to the "About us" page and then find the contact information under a separate link on that page, it would be easy to overlook. The metrics would reflect a lot of views on the "About us" page, but less clicks on the contact link. Or even worse, the number of users that bounce (leave instantly) would be high. Having the information architecture mapped out correctly will give a better understanding of the website's metrics, and the metrics will clue the website owner into the effectiveness of the website's information architecture.

2. Identifying Page Types

When information architecture is mapped out on a website, it becomes easy to point out the different page types that exist among the website. As a result, when a technical review is conducted, it will spot technical search engine optimization issues and it is also quicker to determine whether it is a page level issue, or if it involves many pages of a similar type. Knowing this information is critical when it comes to communicating with developers. It defines how they will resolve the problems and will relay how well you know their website, and just how thoroughly you have assessed the issue. When you have a strong understanding of the varying page types that exist on the website, this will play a vital role in how future recommendations are built. Rather than identifying strategies that apply to only specific pages, it will be made easier to visualize large-scale strategies because there will be a clear understanding of just how many other page types exist on the website and how they will relate to one another.

For instance, there might be pages that only contain information with no clickable links, and there might be pages that contain information along with clickable links. It would be safe to assume that the pages that contain no clickable links will never run into the problem of dead links, while the web pages that do contain links (especially links that lead to an outside website) have the likelihood of malfunctioning at some point. This could happen if the linked site gets shut down or if they edit the structure of their website. Similarly, when a web page is a parent, rather than a child, any error on it will likely trickle down to or somehow otherwise affect the child page. If the parent page stops working, there will be no way for the website visitors to get to the child page from the site, but is may be possible for them to reach it through a search engine. More often than not, that will only lead to a bounce from the site—the visitor will determine that it is not worth it to stay on the page to figure out how to get to the information that they need.

3. Identifying Technical Issues

When you map out the information architecture of a website, it forces you to become extremely aware of not only the detailed information architecture of the website, but also the content and URL structure. Because of this, going through the process will make it very easy to spot technical issues with the website like duplicate URLs, URL issues (such as inconsistencies with the capitalization), trailing slashes, forgotten page types, etc. You can also identify patterns of where and why the issues appear. It is a great addition for any type of crawl that will already be happening for the website.

Knowing the details of the information architecture will drastically cut down the time that it takes to single out and then fix many technical issues. Compare the IA to a car's engine—it is all connected "under the hood" and works together to help it function. When one portion of it goes out, it can cause a portion of entirety to malfunction (or worse, the entire thing!). Someone that has experience in working on the engine of a car or information architect ("under the hood of a website") will be able to identify where the problem is significantly faster than someone who only drives the vehicle (browses the website). In this analogy, both users can identify when something has gone wrong, but only the person that knows what is happening behind the scenes will know how to fix it.

4. Analysis of Competition

Once the information architecture of the website has been mapped out, it is possible to build a map of any competitions information architecture. This can be used when identifying different page types they have built that target on specific keywords, and exactly why they might be ranking higher through internal linking. Additionally, information architecture maps can also help to build business cases to develop a long-term or large-scale strategy for clients. This is because, many times, developing a brand-new internal linking framework or a new page type is a huge endeavor for clients. To look at it in their eyes, it could be difficult to comprehend the value of this investment. But when actually visualizing the difference between their site and the competitions site, and correlating this to metrics like ranking than estimated traffic, it will make it much easier for you to sell them on your strategy.

When you can map out your own information architecture, it then becomes simpler to map out the competitions. Take for instance, the IA of a small business versus the IA of a large business of the same type. Likely the small business will have a simple website with all of the basics covered. Not a whole lot of fanciness or frills, but it gets the job done efficiently. The website of the large business might have all of the same pages and items that the small business has, and then some. The small business can look at the success of the larger business and in turn use their IA on the website as a goal to grow toward. It is likely that some of the features that the large website has cost a bit or need higher bandwidth. When the small business sees how the IA is working for the large business, they can sit down with their website developer and make the long-term plan or goal. This will also help them realize the direction that they would like to grow in the future.

Taking all of this into consideration, information architecture maps are useful for not only gaining a strong understanding of the client's website needs, but also helps to visualize the large-scale strategies that the clients should implement in the future. These maps will also provide much deeper insight into the metrics of the website and why or why not a certain strategy is or is not working. Having a visual representation of how the website is laid out will allow the webmaster and website owner to see exactly what is happening during a user experience. This will make redesigning any aspect of the website much simpler.

Mapping out the information architecture will benefit the owner of the website in so many ways in the long run, the cost will pay for itself time and time again—every single time the metrics indicate where the site is performing the best or the worst, the webmaster will know where to edit. When a link comes up missing or broken, the webmaster will be able to locate it with ease as there will be a map literally pointing right to it. Overall, it is a priceless step in creating a successful website.



Additional Resources:

Getting The Website Information Architecture Right: How to Structure Your Site for Optimal User Experiences

The ultimate guide to information architecture

Information Architecture Basics

Information Architecture

Redesigning Or Creating A Website? Here’s Why Information Architecture Should Be Priority #1

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite:
Founder of DYNO Mapper and Former Advisory Committee Representative at the W3C.

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