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posted on October 14th, 2011

Website Design Issues – a Closer Look at Website Information Architecture

blc-img-newThe classic art v/s science debater extends to the discipline of website design very well. As many experts have duly noted, artful web design should be complemented by scientific information architecture principles. Information architecture is the science behind “findability” and it touches all aspects of your website layout like global navigation, search bars, tags, pagination, in-content linkage and footer links so that people can find information and take decisions of completing a sale or providing information for you to contact them. You can see that information architecture is the backbone of your online goals and a website that offers solutions and answers through proper information architecture, finds customers too.

To put it in a clear manner, if you have good information architecture, people can easily find your products and services, analyze its technical details and get answers to any questions that they have about them. However, it is easier said than done. A good information architecture is a challenge and if you overcome this challenge, you can convert visitors to your website into satisfied long term customers.

Customers’ “buy decision” depends on the information that they get on your website. While it is true that the information needed by one customer may vary significantly from others due to differences in their personality and buying behaviors, your goal should be to cover as much as possible and visualize your most inquisitive customer.

To visualize what all pertinent question a person might ask, it is important to collect as much opinion as possible. The good news is that help is available in-house. Your sales teams, customer care teams and grievance address department know what issues customers face regularly. It is also advisable to have some outside customers or people whom you know (that are neither customers nor your staff) to participate in the process of defining the “information universe”.

Placing This Information in a Digestible Manner

After your company has defined the universe, it is time to categorize and prioritize the questions and concerned. While some questions will be very pertinent, some may be completely baseless or useless. After you know which questions and concerns need to be addressed, decide on the pages (or URLs) on which these need to go. Some questions are so pertinent that they should be linked from everywhere. For example, if you offer airport pickup services on your website, a question may be – “What if my flight is delayed by an hour or more?” No pickup customer would like to avail the service without knowing your delays policy. Therefore, you might want to address this question on the home page, on the services page, in the footer and even give a reassurance on the contact/buy page.

Planning and executing this for a website that has many products and service might look like a gargantuan task, but in reality you can use a schema once it is built for the most important products or service categories.

Laying Out the WebPages

While your website design company can do a wonderful job at layout and design, you need to communicate the results of your architecture brainstorming sections to them. Good web design companies understand what it takes to “convert” visitors and would be happy to understand from you what each page on your website requires to convert well. For eCommerce websites, it is essential that the “Review” or the Shopping Cart” page does a good job at summarizing all conditions, terms, policies and assurances (like returns, privacy, defect in items).

Same is true for non eCommerce websites too where after addressing users concerns, you pay attention to details on your Contact/Request a Quote page.

Design or Redesign

Customers are inquisitive by nature. They look for information and base their decisions on this information. If you are building a new website, pay attention to the media that you use to answer their queries. Technical specifications of a complex industrial product can be well explained using text and images and it may be essential to reference it further too. In such cases, offering a PDF file download serves your purpose well.

You have text, images, rich media like videos, flash and also external resources at your disposal to offer answers to your customers’ questions.

If you are redesigning your existing website, you need to revisit the existing information architecture to see that everything is included and the choice of media is apt too. Keeping product/service landing pages clean with minimum information and links to PDF files, how-to videos, and links to blog posts on the product or subject matter are some effective ways of communicating with your customer.

Measuring & Improving the Effectiveness of your Information Architecture Set-up

Monitoring each and every phone call, support ticket request and the forms that are submitted helps you in identifying the loopholes in your process and in improving them. Going through their concerns or even proactively asking them questions help you in further refining your information architecture building process.

If your customers are trying to testify your expertise by asking questions about your company’s years in business or number of customers in California (or elsewhere), you need to understand that you need more testimonials and more expert documents like case studies or whitepapers. Of course, if you directly talk to customers, they may tell you all this without hesitation too.

In a nutshell, information architecture is the science of

 

  • Leading users to their destinations

  • Removing roadblocks and distractions in between

  • Clearly labeling your website navigation

  • Offering assistance at every instance and answering their questions/concerns.

Implement these steps and see your website conversion rate increase manifolds.

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