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IA – Top 5 tips for organizing website content

 Organize content to improve user engagement

Visitors to your website “live” there for a short while: it becomes the “place where they are”. So when creating your information architecture (IA), apply real-world architectural principles to create a sense of “Where am I?”, “Where do I want to go?” and “How do I get there?”.

This article is for anyone involved in developing or maintaining website information architecture and/or content for:

  • a B2C or B2B website or intranet
  • a small business, association or organization website
  • a personal blog.
YOU WANT PEOPLE TO VISIT YOUR WEBSITE and view your content. And revisit. The content itself, of course, drives engagement. But the content structure (the “information architecture”) is the make-or-break that determines whether people want to be there and stay.

The building blocks of website content

Whatever the theme or purpose of your website, it consists of:

  • pages of content
  • … organized into a structure (an information architecture)…
  • … connected to each other by links (in menus and text).

Information architecture is just like real-world building architecture

A website is like a building.

People enter, go from one place to another, view and interact with content in different locations. You need to ensure it’s intuitively easy to find your way around, using recognizable navigational clues.

You need to design a clear layout with lobbies, corridors, stairs and elevators, levels, hallways, doors, rooms, windows and storage. In other words, homepages, navigation bars and tabs, menus, buttons, links, widgets, content pages, text, images…

The basic website architecture is created while the website is being designed. Whether it’s created by the content owners, an information architect or a website designer, the process is the same:

  1. classify content (aka create a taxonomy)
  2. map out the content structure
  3. implement it consistently.

The goal is to ensure that users easily know where they are, what else is available and how to get there.

Respect the structure when you add new content

Information architecture is not something to design in at the beginning and then forget about. You have to keep thinking about it when you add new content. Always put new content in the right place, or users will get very confused very fast.

Keep it well structured and you will reward every visitor. And encourage them to stay longer and return.

How to ORGANIZE your content

1. Structure content in a professional way
Use content mapping tools and techniques such as card sorting, content modelling and mindmaps, supported by a professional. Don’t rely on brainstorming with colleagues – grouping Post-It notes on a whiteboard is not enough.
2. Regularly reassess your taxonomy
It’s all about classification. When you classify content correctly into clearly distinct categories, it’s easy to place new content into the existing structure. Regularly reevaluate your structure to see if it still makes sense and if it has been used correctly.
3. Appoint a vigilant gatekeeper
Allow contributors to suggest where content is placed, but the gatekeeper has to approve.

Every website needs a person or team who takes responsibility for the content structure. Don’t allow content contributors to decide where new content is placed. They may not understand the classifications and how to apply them.

4. One home for everything
It’s like the rules for decluttering your living space. Decide on a “home” for everything you have (every piece of information). Always store items in their correct home.

Avoid placing the same content in different places. Instead, link to it.

If you don’t love or need it, throw it out.

5. Be consistent
Standardize, standardize. Create consistency wherever possible, both in design elements and text. Consistency in individual pages creates an internal structure that helps users intuitively understand your site. For example, establish a style guide on elements such as:

  • where to present links to related content (top-right of the page? bottom of page? in running text?…)
  • how to present links to related content (establish a standard format such as “Name of link”, “description”, “main takeaways”, “date”, “number of pages” (for documents), etc.)
  • what happens when the user clicks on a link to related content (does a link open in the same window or a new tab? If linking to a PDF document, does the link bring the user to a new page about the document, or to the document itself? etc.)
  • where and how to present links to external resources.

Related: 5 ways to improve information-rich websites.

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BelEdit Consulting offers content mapping, content strategy and related training services. More…

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