After the great first session, the second session we covered was on Information Architecture, where the agenda was to get an understanding of Information Architecture.
Bill Hunt, Founder/President Backazimuth
Shari Thurow, Founder & SEO Director, Omni Marketing Interactive
Eleanor Hong, Lead Editor, SEO, ABCNews.com
Adam Audette(@audette), President, AudetteMedia was to moderate this session but as Adam could not make it on time, the proceedings were moderated by Bill Hunt. The session got going with Shari talking about the misconceptions and myths around the concept of SEO and Information Architecture. Shari shared her views on why we need to care about Information Architecture:
- Customers: If people cannot find the information they are looking for, they will surely leave.
- Brand value: People remember the websites that fail to deliver the information they were seeking for.
- Design and development costs: How much time does it take to create a website? To plan and develop it? IA if done properly can save money while a bad IA is a million dollar mistake.
- Poor IA: It creates duplicate content problems and management becomes quite complex.
- Good IA: Good IA communicate devoutness to search engine and users and navigates people to the right places on your website.
Also to remember is that a proper IA ensures that a website is easily findable by browsing, searching and asking. What is Information Architecture?
- PR Sculpting
- Server performance
- Interface (page design and layout)
These are not part of IA says Shari. Then what is it?
The structural design of info, the combination of organisation, labelling, search and navigation within websites make the IA.
Be it Categorization or Taxonomy or Hierarchical structure, a site can have more than one pointed out Shari. She said SEO's need to work with controlled vocabulary. It provides guidelines but cannot be considered as navigational design. Navigation designs essentially are headings and link labels.
Another important factor to consider is how should the information be organised. Not by keywords, user task or process, topical focus, target audience and alphabetical.
Giving an example Shari said, it is crucial to keep in mind that the vocabulary for a patient than it is for a medical professional, will be different.
According to her, navigation labels are meant to be unique, distinguishable, scannable. If the links are not distinguishable, it could lead to pogo-sticking – jumping back and forth between pages and they would not convert. Most navigational elements do not need keywords. While if embedded text links are keyword stuffed, it leads to pogo-sticking. Moreover, credibility goes down if a page is not scannable. With too many links on the page, content is less findable while on the contrary page is not findable if less links are there. Thus, navigation label order is quite important. If Home is the first, then keeping About Us next, does not help the user who is generally interested to know “can you help me”.
A lot of SEOs confuse architecture and construction as the same thing. This usually ends up with the mental model of an SEO, and not the mental model of the user. This is sure to drive away the users.
Matching Mental Models
Shari explained that a technical team's notion of how a site works might not make sense to a user. The mental models do not match. She advised that the closer the match, the better the site will be. More the conversions, better would be the ROI resulting in better search experience. SEOs put too many keywords, confusing the user. Neither it is good for them or the search engines. By talking to people their mental models can be determined. Also, watching them in their natural environment helps. Testing is very critical to successful Information Architecture.
According to her, not observing what people do on sites makes it difficult to get hold of the users mental models. Also, during tests it is better to not ask leading questions and not to put keywords in the question. Imitating IA of other sites is a common mistake that most SEOs do.
The catch is to understand that SEO is not about optimizing for search engines but for people. Eleanor Hong, was next, who talked about the challenges of media sites. While dealing with large organisations, it is important to take into consideration that, one is dealing with everyone who has got some investment in the site said Eleanor. It might not be necessarily good for Information Architecture. The technical team understands that a user comes on the site to get some piece of content and they expect to find relevance information through navigation or IA.
She emphasised that Taxonomy and site maps are quite critical. It becomes important for media organisations to evaluate and refresh with time. All departments try to push their own agenda as each have their own focus groups. This creates major problem and the need to get the basic structure of the site and fixing them before moving the resources across the site is necessary. An in-house SEO needs to address the communicating value and understand why the site needs to look in a certain way from the IA perspective, reiterates Eleanor.
Pogo-sticking is a quite a concern. It affects search rankings. She gave an example of, how a story about parenting was put as a sub-section of an exclusive story on American hikers detained in Iran. It made no sense but such are the ways of marketing. The story was tested and moved out of the sub-section and it ranked higher in the search engine results. Prioritising what is important and what is not is a decisive factor. Also, she said Blogs that are buried within the main media site are not searchable easily.
If well thought out IA is not in place then to rank higher on search engines might not be that easy. Keywords may get higher rankings for a short term but to see the site top of the results, proper Information Architecture is required.
- Content needs to be organised and labelled, so users can easily find it
- Marketing and goals as well as site's business needs to be alignment while design and SEO can support taxonomy and prioritization
- Sub-domains are not the solutions