The success or failure of any modern business is very often directly proportional to the rankings of its website in search results. If your target audience is unable to find your website, you risk losing qualified website traffic. That’s why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an essential part of website architecture.
SEO is a relatively large discipline, but
there is one field that is particularly important to SEO — Information Architecture (IA). IA can help a
website improve its discoverability through
search engines and ensure good user
In this article, I want to show how SEO experts utilize information architecture skills to help their site be more successful.
What is Information Architecture (IA) and what do IA and SEO have in common?
Information architecture is the art and science of organizing and labeling content on websites to support usability and findability. IA has a substantial impact on website content organization and navigation. Both IA and SEO specialists share a goal of making a website’s content more ‘findable’ through search engines for the target audience.
SEO’s primary concern is improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via organic (unpaid) search traffic. SEO specialists achieve this goal by creating SEO-friendly content (proper keyword usage, alt image text attached to images, etc.) as well as the logical organization of content.
The benefits of SEO and IA
Great site architecture is all about
improving how users and search engines find their way around your site. It’s
about knowing the users and giving them the most
relevant content where they expect to find it with the fewest clicks possible.
For search engines, an optimized site
architecture helps web crawlers find and index
all of the pages on your website.
Reducing bounce rate
The bounce rate is the percentage of
visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing
only one page. A high bounce rate usually means low engagement. Visitors arrive
at a website, either directly or through searches or referrals, looking for
solutions to a specific problem they have. When
they arrive and don’t find the solution, they leave.
SEO today is heavily concerned with
engagement. That’s why the goal of SEO specialists is not only to have a higher
ranking but also to make visitors stay on a website and consume the content. IA
helps to achieve this goal by having an effective information infrastructure.
This means that a website has a clear and defined structure that makes it
easier for visitors to find information. And this happens when the content is
organized according to the user’s mental models (explanations
of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world).
Search engines show sitelinks
If a website has well-defined information architecture mapping, the search engine’s algorithm might recognize this and reward it with sitelinks. Sitelinks are a list of most visited web pages that appear along with the target page whenever someone searches for your website on a search engine like Google. This small detail has a huge impact on how visitors perceive your brand. The presence of sitelinks increases your brand’s reputation and improves trust among customers.
The site engine decides what links will become a part of sitelinks but your information architecture has a significant impact on this. Well-defined IA makes it easy for search engines to understand the structure of your website.
How to utilize IA skills to create better website architecture
What’s good for information architecture is good for SEO. Let’s see what IA techniques you can use to help your site be more successful.
Understand the purpose of your website
Before implementing information architecture mapping (creating new or optimizing existing content), you need to take a step back and think about your website. Ask, “What is my site about? What do I want to achieve?” The answers to these questions will determine the main goal(s) of your website. It’s important to frame everything you do on a website around goals, especially when you decide to create new or optimize existing content to achieve these goals.
Here are a few things that you need to do
during this phase:
- Understand your target
audience, their needs, and wants. The content on your website should serve the
needs and wants of your target audience.
- Decide and define the direction
of your website together with stakeholders. Set global objectives for your
website and define key metrics. Have a clear understanding of how you will
Identify roles of individual pages
are generally three types of pages:
- Navigation. These help users find what they want. The homepage or search results are great examples of navigational pages.
- Consumption. These are the pages that provide content (blog posts, product details pages, and so on).
- Interaction. These pages let users take action. Sign up, or checkout pages are typical examples of interaction pages.
Review all pages on
your website and specify the appropriate page type for all pages. Each
type of page should be optimized for a different kind of content and user task.
Perform a keyword search
Keywords are the
foundation of SEO. By carrying out keyword research, you can determine not only
typical search queries that your visitors use but also what categories,
subcategories, and even filters they need.
Start by understanding what search queries people use when searching for products or services similar to yours. While it’s possible to use both online tools (like Google Keyword Planner or SEMrush) and offline methods, I recommend starting with offline methods such as user interviews and contextual inquiries. Start by listening to your clients. You can reach out to them directly through social media and dedicated surveys. Focus on the language they use, match it with information from your analytics tools and note the best expressions that fit your website.
Define information relationships
When we create user-centered websites, we want to have an information architecture that is focused on users. The logical structure of your navigation and individual pages should match with the mental model of people who visit your website. It’s vital to invest in user research and conduct a series of card sorting and tree testing sessions to understand how users categorize information.
Properly-conducted user research will provide a lot of valuable insights for information architecture mapping. Those insights can help you organize your content on individual pages and establish relationships between pages to ensure users can find what they’re looking for efficiently.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Create a data model for content. Page titles, page descriptions, keywords, and media content descriptions are attributes that an information architect should consider because they have a strong impact on page ranking.
- Consider page priority. Ensure you’re giving the right pages the right amount of emphasis. If you have an existing website, you can use Google Analytics or a similar tool to understand what content is the most interesting for your visitors.
- Cross-link relevant content. Linking between pages that cover related material can be very powerful. It helps both visitors and search engines connect different pieces of information.
- Meaningful anchor text. Avoid vague links such as “More information” or “Learn more” because such text won’t help users understand what to expect from the next page. Invest more time in preparing an anchor text strategy for the site.
Use clear and consistent labeling
Clear and consistent writing simplifies the process of interactions for your visitors. UX writing plays a key role in bringing clarity to design, and it takes a central role in SEO architecture. It’s impossible to provide good UX without good copy. Thus, make sure you use not only clear but also consistent terminology across the website. Users should understand the meaning of UI elements before interacting with them.
This rule is applicable not only for
interactive elements such as menus but also for static content such as images.
It’s vital to use appropriate alt text for images and anchor texts for links.
By doing that, you will help search engines index and comprehend them better.
Flattening the website architecture
“Flat” site architecture is better for SEO because it helps to minimize the number of clicks from the home page to important content. A flat architecture means that users (and search engine crawlers) can reach any page on your site in 3 clicks or less (the three-click rule).
The three-click rule suggests that a user of a website should be able to find any information with no more than three mouse clicks. While industry experts often criticize this rule, one thing is for sure—search engines use the site architecture to understand what pages are most important. A page that is only one click away from the home page is important. A page that is ten clicks away is less important. In fact, the search engine spider may never even find a page that is ten clicks away from the homepage if you have low site link authority.
Make links relevant and useful for your visitors
When users look at a link, they need to understand why they see this link and where it will take them. Don’t stuff keywords into the anchor text of your links. This approach rarely adds value to visitors, and it can hurt your search ranking. Search engines are also against this approach because they see it as attempts to optimize for better ranking.
Offer information in context
Provide all required information such as
help text to make sure users can complete tasks without confusion. For example,
if you design an eCommerce website, you can provide a section with frequently
asked questions about the product on the product details page. By doing that,
you will make your page more valuable for your visitors and reduce the
interaction cost (visitors won’t need to search for the answer).
Remove duplicated content
The more duplicated content you have, the less happy your visitors and search engines are. Duplicated content not only requires more moderating effort, but it can also easily frustrate or annoy your visitors (especially if it’s auto-generated content by a content management system). Thus, conduct a content inventory and identify places where you have the same or similar content. Tools like Copyscape or Siteliner will help you conduct a duplicate content check.
It’s also recommended to create a site
structure that will clearly define a website’s various page levels, priorities,
categories, and hierarchies. Combine closely related content onto a single page,
and every time you want to create a new page, evaluate it according to this
structure. If you already have a page that serves the same purpose, there is no
need to create another one.
Even in a perfectly organized website, there
is always a chance of moving content, and you need to undertake URL changes
with care. There are two types of redirects you can use – 301 and 302. A 301
redirect means that the page has permanently moved to a new location while a
302 redirect means that the move is only temporary.
Prepare a sitemap
Building a sitemap is an important part of information architecture mapping because a sitemap is a great way to increase the “crawlability” of your website. Creating a sitemap is especially resourceful for content-heavy sites with dozens of different pages because sitemaps help search engines locate pages. Google recommends following this simple process to create and submit a sitemap to search engines:
- Decide which pages on your site should be crawled by the search engines, and determine the canonical version of each page.
- Decide which sitemap format you want to use. You can create your sitemap manually or choose from a number of third-party tools to generate your sitemap for you.
- Make your sitemap available to search engines by adding it to your robots.txt file or directly submitting it to the search engine console.
It is no longer necessary to choose between
good information architecture and optimized SEO. You can have both. And you
need both. SEO will bring the visitors to your site, but IA will keep them
there. That’s why your IA expert and SEO expert should understand how working
together helps build a compelling, highly ranked website.