I’ve been doing a lot of Information Architecture (IA) work for clients over the past few months, and each time, I can’t help but think, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” Though I know the answer to that question before it’s even a twinkle in my brain’s fiber-optic nerve cell ending’s eye. It’s the same old song and dance, really.
The clients come to us and they just want to get optimized. They want rankings. They want action, not reports. So we give them what they want, optimize their pages and get results.
Some of these clients have been with us for years. So… why now? Why, after all this time, do we need to work on the site’s IA? If they are successful and happy, why change what ain’t broke?
Well, because it IS broke and we’ve succeeded despite that. There comes a time when you realize that the foundation (or lack thereof) that you have built upon is shoddy, at best, and it’s time to go back and fix it. This often requires a drastic new approach – like remapping their entire site.
Developing an IA plan on an existing site isn’t much more than taking a bird’s-eye view of all your site pages and arranging (or rearranging) them in a more user and search engine friendly format. Easy, in theory, but not always so easy in practice, depending on the size and disarray of the site.
Ideally, the IA is done before the site even enters the design phase. This allows you to build a navigation and categorization structure that is based on how people search. Start it right, build it right, SEO it right.
But, not everybody got that memo. Too many jump right into the site development and even the SEO before taking care of the foundation. So, if that’s you… what do you do?
Well, you go back to the beginning. Fortunately, the SEO work you’ve done doesn’t necessarily have to be lost, but you will need to be willing to walk away from a bad game plan if a better one comes up. If the IA aligns with optimization work completed, fantastic. If not, then let it go, man. Just let it go.
The great thing about IA is it lets you get a fresh perspective on your site. You have some keyword data and site analytics that can help you out. You can see how visitors have been navigating your site and improve visibility of important pages that aren’t getting enough traffic.
The IA lets you go back to the basics. You don’t have to throw everything out, but be willing to move categories, pages, and navigation items. The goal is to make everything easier to find and organized in a way that will give you additional search relevance.
So, how do you do IA for an existing site? One page at a time. I’ll generally run a spider through the site and get a list of all the URLs. Then, page by page, start working your way through them. As you do, you’ll find pages that should naturally be grouped together under a particular navigational heading.
As you work your way through, headings will change, pages you thought fit in one place will suddenly look better in another place, and you’ll create new navigational elements and remove old ones.
Consider each navigational position. Not just top, side, and bottom, but also the order in which they should be placed. What goes where can be important, not only for search, but for visitors.
You’ll also want to look for similar or duplicate content pages that can be merged and/or discarded. Cleaning out the clutter is as important to IA as arranging what remains. Also be on the lookout for pages and content that may be missing. Don’t have an “About Us” page? Add one. Missing a “Site Map”? Create one.
Take your time working through the IA and double check to make sure everything is right. Once you’ve done that, all that is left is implementing the new structure, redirecting moved pages and changed URLs, and checking your analytics to see customer engagement rise!