Information Architecture (IA) is not just a buzz word. Information Architecture is the art of structuring information to offer better usability in a digital landscape. It is often used in companies developing complex information systems, but lately its use in web design has been made popular as well.
It is actually an important factor of a successful website and if you're not focusing on it, you're probably making lots of mistakes that you don’t even realize—all of these mistakes are undermining your website and are decreasing your conversions.
We all want our websites to be easy to use and today’s guide will teach you how to achieve this, as we take a look at common IA mistakes that make your website less usable.
1. Misunderstanding your audience
This is key to anything you do, but it is extremely important when speaking of IA, because not knowing who visits your website can’t help you create solutions for them. Understanding your audience is crucial in creating a good architecture because different people use sites in different ways; if you have an older audience, you might want to aid all the processes on your websites, as well as make it accessible for individuals not having that much experience on the web.
You can only create good strategies when you know who you are creating strategies for.
If you have a website right now, look at the data you have to get an insight into the audience. You can also run a data survey asking a few useful questions. Based on this, you can create a strategy that will offer your users a better experience. If you are starting from scratch, you can look at the intended target audience and take it as your starting point.
2. Being inconsistent
Users want to feel in control on a website; they don’t want you to save their credit card information, they want to know where they are and where they can go, they want to be able to find information quickly. All of these things give a sense of control and safety; get them right and your user will trust you.
You will quickly confuse the user by having different types of navigation on different pages. You know the uneasiness you feel when your screen is suddenly bombarded with pop-up advertising that you don't know how to close? That’s the effect your page is creating on your users if they get confused.
Does the navigation look the same on all pages of your website? Do the headlines have the same color, spacing and size? Is the font for the body text the same? Are most basic elements similar on all pages? If not, make it so.
3. Using difficult language
Although it might not seem related to IA, the way you write your copy text is actually quite important for your users and the way they see your product. If you fill your website with jargon and internal language, visitors are less likely to understand it.
You have to keep your copy text short and simple. When you think you’ve achieved the necessary simplicity, go back to your editor and simplify a bit more. Always ask the question “would a 10-year-old understand this?” If not, simplify more.
4. Omitting a search function
Now if you have a one-page website, you are excused . But if your website has some more content on it, you are most likely in need of a search feature.
If your user is not familiar with your website and arrives there from Google, it will be just like being thrown in the middle of a city in Italy that he never heard of. Now he might speak Italian and be able to walk around for a while, but unless he knows where to head to, he will probably not find the police station too easily. It’s the same on a website.
Many users look for the search bar first when they enter a site with a large amount of content.
5. Using movable UI elements
If on your website you have all kinds of objects and elements moving around, you are better off without them. They only distract the attention of the user and cause irritation. One of the worst things that I have seen is the “fixed social media bar” that sticks to the article you are reading as you scroll down.
I don’t want to be manipulated into anything. I want to read the article and if it’s good, a simple share link at the bottom will be enough for me to act. I don’t need you to run after me continuously asking to share. I don’t want to share. I want to read.
6. Not offering users feedback
A website is most of the time a two-way system, with the user acting upon different elements and the system sending feedback in the form of opening another page, submitting a form or finishing the purchase of a product. You need to ensure that your website is good at giving feedback.
If your visitor contacts you through a form, post a message saying something like “Your message has been sent. We will answer soon”. If your visitor adds a product to the shopping cart, make sure he knows that the product is in the shopping cart at all times.
This can be quickly tested by asking a friend to perform specific tasks on your website. Watch him and ask some questions afterwards. Were there times when he didn’t know what happened? Were there things he was unaware of at times? If he has comments, you probably need to change something and be better at offering feedback to your end users.
7. Leaving it in the users’ hands
Visitors often make mistakes and the key to this is not making them feel stupid. Explain what went wrong and emphasize the fact that it’s not their fault, but rather something went wrong with the system. Always apologize and use understandable language. No, the user doesn’t know nor wants to know what a 404 is. Just tell him that the website couldn’t find what he searched for on the server. Offer the user the chance to navigate somewhere else and ensure that he is not confused or irritated by what happened.
Take a look at all the error pages on your website and optimize them for your audience.
Actively listen for feedback from your users. Some might be frustrated, some might be happy with a feature, some might be angry—make sure you listen. Guidelines and consistent elements mean a lot, but not more than the feedback from your users.
If you look over the principles above, you can see that none of this takes a lot of time to implement. Some of the things above can be done by yourself, so you only need to invest a bit of time.
Featured image/thumbnail, construction image via John Kinsella