For all those unaware of what IA is here’s a description
‘Information architecture (IA) is the structural design of shared information environments’
In terms of websites, it’s making the site visible and usable by the end user. So if you take an example like a supermarket they would make their site very similar to how people would use their actual stores; Fruit down the fruit isle, beer down the alcohol isle etc. Where this falls down is when SEO (Search engine optimisation) is involved, don’t worry I’ll explain as I go along.
So why is there an issue with SEO and UX?
It’s simple, they conflict in some respects like a brother and sister, born from the same family but each have their own ideas. SEO is designed to increase your visitors through paid and organic search. UX is designed to allow users to navigate and have a good experience on the site. Both seem to have a clear path right? Well no your wrong.
SEO is pretty much controlled by Google and to explain some differences I’d certainly point you to search ‘SEO’ in google, this is one of many videos available explaining the do’s and don’ts, mistakes, blah blah.
In essence SEO is about the page content and it used to be about how many key words and meta tags you could get on to one page to lift it above it’s competitors meaning for dollar. Recently Google have been changing it’s algorithm and now even the people who created the backbone of this industry are moving toward a user centric design, giving a well built website rank over a site built purely for SEO.
So this is where the issue lies, SEO companies are all one of the same, trying to get your site higher than your nearest competitor. The issue lies in how much sway you take from them in comparison to your UX or IA. The role of a UX/IA is to make sure that the site is easy to navigate, therefore tackling the UCD approach that google are asking from people. ‘A well built website is more important than a content driven SEO page’. Now as I’ve been waffling a lot about SEO I’ll briefly explain how a decent IA would come to have the site structure mapped out in such a way that it’ll rank highly by just being built.
So how does an IA make a good site?
Imagine a tree if you would, now flip that upside down. That’s the basics of IA, a hierarchy of pages (Taxonomy) which have their location solidified by user backed data. This data is usually proven by two tests; card sorting tests where the testes are asked to group the relevant pages into categories and tree sorting tests, where the user is given scenarios to complete through various page hierarchies built off the back of the first test. This sounds simple when you write it out by crunching the numbers and fixing sites takes a lot of time and can be a mind melt, trust me I’ve been there and got the t-shirt!
So what’s this all about?
Yes I’ve been talking about SEO in a bad light but it’s not as magical as people make out, it’s certainly no Disney or even that scary clown that attends your daughters 4th birthday high on acid muttering how he’s been screwed by the system. It’s just about making an easy to use website with clear internal and external links. You don’t need to pay a fortune to an external company if your site is already held together with string. You should firstly employ an IA, fix the site structure and find out what people really want and look for. This way you can then build of a good foundation, you’d never build a house on 2 inches of sand so why would you do the same to your livelihood!