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Optimizing Your Website for Data

Information Architecture Design for Meaningful Data
  • Josh Nelson profile picture
    Marketing & UI Designer
    Josh is a native Northern Californian UI Designer with a knack for creating beautifully clean designs and brand...

Question: "Is your website producing data that is valuable for your Business?"

This aspect of web design & development is often overlooked. But nonetheless, it's critically important for making informed decisions and developing long-term strategies for your organization's digital presence. 

Note: For those of you who haven't yet had a chance to read my previous article on "How Successful is my Website?" I'd highly recommend going over to that article and reading it. In many ways, this article is going to be a more concentrated focus on this question. 

Information Architecture Design

We know that Analytics is data a website produces to help inform us of "stuff". But it doesn't do any good if the data produced is not granular - small & focused - and capable providing us meaningful insights. Here is a simple example of a bad Information Architecture Design (based on a single-page site structure):

In the graphic above we can see a website that lists all key services for a business, which is a great overview but the data that is provided to us at the end of the day doesn't help us make business decisions. If I asked someone the following: "which service: 1,2,3 are people looking at?" there isn't really an easy way to determine what services people are attracted to through basic analytics data. 

Thankfully the solution is simple - break the single services page into individual pages (this employs the Information Architecture Design Principle of Choice --- see below). This way as a business owner you can now easily gauge how much traffic is going to explore the various services. (see case study at the bottom for an extended real-world example).

It's an incredibly simple idea, but we at EvenVision have seen examples of poor Information Architecture Design like this time and time again. 

So what is Information Architecture Design?

You can think of Information Architecture Design (IAD) as simply the organization & structuring of information (content) in an effective and sustainable manner that helps users find the stuff they need on the site.

Breaking (IAD) down, there are two key components:

  1. Effective Content = Content that is good at Converting, Engaging & Acquiring visitors*
  2. Sustainable Content = Content that is good for the Complete Customer Lifecycle*

*Note: for detailed explanations of what these terms mean please review "How Successful is my Website?"

It's important that your content is multifaceted, and designed to be accessed and understood. To that end not only should the user be able to find stuff, but you likewise as the business owner need to know where they are going so that you can control the experience & optimize it for maximizing your return on investment. 

A solid IAD should streamline your site and concentrate your message, while subsequently providing you valuable information for tackling long-term growth strategies via Social Proof SEO metrics & more traditional advertising.  

Eight Principles of Information Architecture
- by Dan Brown

One of best ways to learn is to learn from those who have pushed an industry. Dan Brown is a seasoned information architect whose principles we at EvenVision pull from on a daily basis when we construct websites that produce meaningful data.

  1. Principle of Objects - Treat content as an evolving thing with independent lifecycles, behaviors, and attributes.
  2. Principle of Choices - Offer users meaningful choices, but make sure individual sections provide a focus for particular tasks.
  3. Principle of Disclosure - Provide users information that they need to accomplish a specific task at a specific depth so that it's intuitive to accomplish tasks.
  4. Principle of Exemplars - Describe content within categories by providing examples of the content. 
  5. Principle of Front Doors - Understand that people will enter the site from pages other than the homepage, and make sure that when they do, they can quickly understand their location and depth. 
  6. Principle of Multiple Classifications - Offer users different ways for browsing the content on your site to accommodate the natural way people search differently. 
  7. Principle of Focused Navigation - Navigation should be focused on what they contain. 
  8. Principle of Growth - Assume the content currently present will grow with the fluid & everchanging state of the internet. 

For extended definition check out this brilliant article on Web Designer Depot - The Ultimate Guide to Information Architecture

These principles are critical to understanding best practices for IAD and preparing your site for generating data that is of value, while focusing on the end user first.  Note: Always place the end user first, because if you focus everything down so far that it becomes a hindrance for visitors they won't hang around. 

Information Architecture Design Patterns

Armed with the principles of IAD the next step is to understand the structure from a 10,000-foot view. When we're designing a website it's critically important that this pattern and structure is intuitive, as this will dictate how users will flow through the site and the type of data that is accessible. 

  • Single page - Fantastic for very narrow focus websites with limited information - remember, the goal is to understand where people are going, with a single page that can be tricky. 
  • Flat Structure - A IAD where all pages have equal weight and exist at the same level. Think of this as a brochure
  • Index Page (pathway page) - An index page is designed not to house content, but simply get people from a higher level of depth to a lower level of depth that is more focused and concentrated. 

The next two are common web design patterns for comprehensive websites.

Strict Hierarchy Pattern - A common web design pattern, this system makes use of index pages that link to subpages, with all subpages being housed under a parent index (pathway) page. See Example Below:

Co-existing Hierarchies Pattern - Another common web design pattern that allows for subpages to be accessible from other subpages. This pattern is golden if there is overlapping information on the site. See Example Below:

These IAD patterns are important because they highlight user flow and navigation through the content on your site. Making sure that flow is intuitive is critically important to retaining users and keeping them engaged. Breaks and disruptions can be seen in the data, with pages showing high exist rates within analytics. 

- Rabbit hole -

URL Pathways

Let's take this topic of IAD structures one step further and get a bit nerdy with a conversation on URL pathways. 

I recently stumbled onto a site with the following URL pathways for their blog. In an attempt to streamline URL pathways their blogs ran something like this

Now, at first, these URL pathways seem fairly good. However, there is one problem for a growing organization to note, there is simply no clean way to break down all the blog traffic on the site within analytics without crafting complicated filters to pull each individual URL into the data stream. 

Simply put here's how they should be listed:

The poor URL pathways leave the site producing poor data that is difficult to read meaning it's ultimately useless for the business owner. 

Real World Example:

For a client up in Arcata, we're currently constructing a site that will break up promotions and sales into their own distinct pages. The reason being two-fold:

  1. We wanted to set up a promotion system that provided actionable data.
  2. We need promotions to be individually distributable. 

When we construct the URL pathway for these promotions we'll be using "/promo/{name of promotion}" to give them quick overviews of the individual promotions that they are running. This is critically important for them to make sense of the data without having to invest a significant amount of time into constructing complicated filters to read the data. 


IAD Mini Case Study

Understand. Build. Optimize. 

We recently had the opportunity at EvenVision to revisit our services display, and are currently in the process of reorganizing them under the umbrella of UBO (Understand. Build. Optimize.). There are a couple reasons why:

  1. Our business had organically outgrown its previous services.
  2. We wanted to present users a more complete image of what our company offers.
  3. We needed to acquire more actionable data.

Currently, our services are broken down as follows:

Web Design & Development

We don't strive to build the cheapest websites on the internet; we do work to build the most effective ones. Find out what goes into a great website that will move your business or organization forward, and let us help you build it.

Online Advertising

Google and other online advertising platforms have revolutionized industries from Newspapers to Ad Agencies. The technologies they provide are like nothing that has ever been available before. Discover your options and let us help you build your business online.

Search Engine Optimization

Even an amazing website can't help your business or organization unless people can find it! Do you know what it takes to place your content in search? Let us help you understand and take advantage of the latest tools and techniques.

Our new services will be broken down as follows:

  • Brand & Position Competitive Analysis
  • Collaborative Pathway Development
  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Systems & Security Implementation
  • Identity Definition & Architecture
  • etc..
  • Custom Application & Product Engineering
  • Third Party Integration
  • Accessibility & ADA Compliance
  • Robust CMS & CRM Systems Development
  • User-network/Member Based Systems
  • etc.
  • Performance Metrics
  • Opportunity Discovery
  • Digital Stewardship
  • Success Signposting
  • Digital Brand & Presence Control
  • etc...

Visitors will be able to sort the services by the following methods:

Project Type
  • New Small Business
  • Website Overhaul
  • E-commerce
  • Member-based/Intranet
  • Short/Intensive
  • Ongoing Support
  • Consulting
  • Understand
  • Build 
  • Optimize
  • Non-profit
  • Consumer Goods
  • Member Network
  • Small Business
  • Enterprise

If we look towards the principles of IAD you can see that we've directly employed the following:

  • Principle of Objects - Our new services section will provide for natural changes in the services.
  • Principle of Choices - Our new services provide more focused and meaningful splits for visitors to understand our work and how we can help them.
  • Principles of Disclosure - Our new services index page will be designed to provide "glimpse" into the topic before diving headfirst.
  • Principle of Exemplars - Our individual service pages will include "examples" that exemplify the work that is being accomplished under each individual service. 
  • Principle of Front Door - The new services will provide easier access into our site for specific search results, while subsequently making it super easy to navigate. 
  • Principle of Multiple Classification - The services index page will provide multiple methods for quickly filtering, and access information so that visitors can find information specific to their need. 
  • Principle of Focused Navigation - While the top navigation will still provide people a method for reaching our services, interior pages will provide a sidebar menu that is focused on topical subjects & services related. 
  • Principle of Growth - The new structure for our services provide infinite room for expansion while keeping content intuitive and adhering to the previous principles. 

In this instance, we will be employing a Co-existing Hierarchy Structure to accommodate the overlapping content and provide a free-flowing experience through the various services to gather information on which pages are receiving positive hits. 

By breaking our three services into more focused sections we can also have access to significantly more useful data. We will now be able to gather the following data for the customer lifecycle:

  • Stage 1: Reach (Awareness + Motivation)
  • Stage 2: Acquisition > Engagement > Conversion
  • Stage 3: Retention > Loyalty

With this information, we'll be able to take individual services and monitor their success to determine if we should begin emphasizing specific services, which right now cannot be done with our current system.

Answering questions.

At the end of the day there are two key questions that Information Architecture Design seeks to answer:

Question #1: As a visitor where should I go?
Question #2: As a business owner where should I invest time?

It's critically important that from the very beginning of a project the Information Architecture Design is understood, setup properly and executed throughout the rest of the project, otherwise you run the risk of having a great looking website that produces meaningless information.

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