WebProNews recently sat down with Ted Ulle, the Senior Search Analyst for social media consultancy firm Converseon to talk about information architecture. If you're not familiar with the concept, Wired's WebMonkey site has probably as good a simplified definition as I've seen anywhere: the science of figuring out what you want your site to do and then constructing a blueprint before you dive in and put the thing together.
"Information architecture should be the bedrock," Ulle tells WebProNews. "It's where you build the foundation. It's before you do anything else."
"People leave it out because it's messy to come up with the right information architecture," he continues. "You need to be, first of all, visitor-focused, and people make mistakes right away because they're company-focused. They want to tell you the company's story. Well that's boring. The visitor wants to know, 'what's in it for me?' and that's where the architecture has to be set up."
Chances are, if you have multiple people involved in the design of your site, not everyone is going to agree on every element. "The key thing is don't let somebody refocus you away from your users when you're doing it, and expect that you're going to have some nasty yelling fights with each other," says Ulle. "This is a passionate area. No two people's brains work exactly the same."
"Everybody on your team's going to have the thing that they're sure is exactly what you need to do," he adds. "You have absolutely got to go through that, and it's not easy, and it's not quick. But when you get the right information architecture set, it's very interesting because all of a sudden the keywords flow, the content flows, it falls into place, then you do some testing with it - with some third parties who come in and tweak it, but if you get it right...don't think the fights are a sign you're doing it wrong. They're a sign that you're doing it right. You're getting passionate. You really, really care."
You've probably got a lot of emphasis placed on social media, and that's a good thing, but in all likelihood, it needs to start with your own site. The whole web is social, and this is your main channel.
"It's related to engagement," says Ulle. "If there's any word that I see coming up, even for search engine ranking these days, it's measuring how engaged you are with the audience, and that doesn't just mean social media engagement, although it does mean that, but it's your website. Actually engage people. If you get one more pageview out of each visitor, that's going to roll right to the bottom line. There's no way that that one extra page across your entire visitor population is going to be insignificant."
So where to start? Well, that Webmonkey piece is actually a detailed five-lesson information architecture tutorial. It's got a lot of great information. We've also got a lot of great interviews with experts talking about the subject that can give you more insight. Dey Alexander Consulting also has a pretty impressive list of resources, divided up into introductory articles, discussion articles, and research.