What is your preferred approach to information architecture…? assuming your are given the task to re-organise content on a considerably large site, you have to take your preferred approach to organising all the information, categorise it and present it in a logical manner. From experience, having worked on many complex web projects, it can make a big difference to get this right and offer your customers and easy way to understand how your content is organised. There are three standard approaches to IA that boast industry acceptance:
1. The SEO-friendly approach: if you work in ‘Search’, your approach will most definitely be this one, and the project will be led by the results of your initial keyword research for that website, so you will likely do the keyword research first and then model the data accordingly. If you are serious about it, you will probably run Pay-per-click campaigns too before you make keyword target decisions. This is much my preferred approach, particularly if an ‘increase in sales’ is the ultimate goal for the project.
2. The product category-based approach: analysing the product range on offer and categorise it accorgingly. This is typically the product-based approach. It works in the same way when you offer services: organise your services and the information about those services logically and build the site architecture. A combination of the first and second approach can be quite a fire-sure way to end up with a strong and robust site architecture.
3. The audience-targetting approach: imagine a situation where you would acknowledge your audiences at the beginning of the customer journey as what they are and who they are. You would segment your target audiences based on previous research and reflect the results of your audience knowledge on the website customer journeys, offers and navigation. You would address your visitors in a tailor way in order to be able to offer them customer journeys suited to who they are and what their actual needs are.
My practical, hands-on marketing experience on building Information Architecture started from working on Intranet development websites for a public sector organisation. I then moved onto development public websites. For many years, both my university tutors/lecturers and work colleagues and managers would think of option 3 as a big ‘no, no’. On another hand, option 1 was industry’s unknown territory until about 2004, and it still is these days in many ways.
Therefore options 2 was the most common approach to IA. In fact. Number 3 would often be suggested by those colleagues who were non web savvy users as it would sound obvious to them to model content in a fashion where you would address your target audiences. But other teams (design, technical, business development, content architects) would pose strong opposition. The main reason for this reaction would come in the form of something like this:
‘oh, we don’t really need to address our own audiences, they already know who they are, we just need to respond to their needs by offering in a compelling manner the products or services they are looking for‘….
For many years I bought in to that idea and for many years I preached on that too.
Today I still think Option 2 is a fairly good approach to IA, but not the only one and certainly not always the most effective from a marketing performance and customer-focused standpoint.
Suddently, a book I read made me stretch my mind and position on this whole paradigm to do with IA and content modelling. I read one of the most influential books in my online marketing career: ‘The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly‘. In this book, David Meerman Scott, the author explains how important it is to address your real customers once they step into your website. Much in the same way as you would acknowledge someone that comes in to buy in your shop with a ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’.
David challenges this whole myth about ‘product-based’ information organisation and prompts us to focus on the customer, who they are and their individual needs with the goal to tailor their search and offer them the exact products that are specific to their needs.
As I have only been doing consultancy outside my in-house SEO job for about two years, I have yet to see when I will be able to contemplate a client-based business model where I would be confortable offering such approach to Information Architecture. I am very keen on the idea that there has to be situations when a audience segmentation, customer-acknoledgement approach would beckon.
Only a few days ago, I have learnt via Twitter about a conversion rate optimisation success story that highlights this IA methodology, the Voices.com success story by the guys at Conversion Rate Experts.
Through online visitor surveys and other online user research techniques, these guys identified that the client website had two distinct type of visitors, which were segmented into separate conversion funnels.
I don’t mean to say that this approach can be applied to all sites, but that it is clever to try it and see what results it brings you. If we don’t test different approaches, we will not know what is the best one for our specific online business model. If you have a website where customers/visitors are not converting, perhaps it is the moment to address this issue from the root and take the customer-centric, audience-segmentation approach.