This is the seventh post in a series that takes a look at information architecture (IA) best practices in higher education. Each post will focus on a specific best practice. In this post we’ll discuss how information architecture can support your brand.
For those new to information architecture, it is the practice of organizing information, in this case websites and the content found within them, to make it understandable and findable. Information can be messy and IA tries to make sense of it.
Actions speak louder than words
Let’s say your website is a store. The structure of your website is like the customer service of your store. The store may be beautiful and full of amazing things to buy, but if customer service can’t help you find anything or make a purchase, it’s all for naught.
If your website is poorly organized and full of unhelpful, incomplete, and inaccurate information, no amount of branding will help it. Visitors will leave your website unsatisfied and with a lesser opinion of your brand.
An intuitive website structure communicates to your audience that you care.
When you take the time to structure your website around your audience’s needs, they will notice. Actually, they probably won’t notice anything about the navigation or site structure—but that’s a good thing.
Good navigation isn’t memorable, it’s useable.
They will notice that they were able to find the information they needed, and that the site was helpful—and that’s good for your brand.
Four ways to create a structure that supports your brand
Here are some things you can do to make ensure you’re creating a site structure that supports your brand.
1. Talk to your audience to understand what they want
As I’ve written before, the best way to create an intuitive website is to talk to your audience. What information are they looking for? Why do they need that information? At what point in their journey are they using your website? You can only provide useful information if you understand what they are looking for.
You can also look at analytics—especially site search data—to find this information. Site search allows you to see what people are searching for while on your website. It shows the phrases they are using to search and when they are searching. It can be a powerful tool to understand your audience and how they use your site.
2. Pare down your content, get rid of the fluffy and superfluous
We often have the desire to communicate the brand by adding extra content to a website. To successfully bring your brand to the web you’ve got to balance branding focused content with content your visitors actually need and want.
Focus on delivering the content your users need and want first and then find ways in which brand-focused content can support and supplement it. Think of branding content as “discoverable” content—content that interested users will discover as they spend time exploring the website. Discoverable content does not get in the way of required content.
3. Make your content easy to read. Content written in academic-ease does not support your brand.
Our websites are used by very smart people, both students and faculty. And we want to make sure people know we are a top-notch educational institution. But that doesn’t mean our content should be written like an academic paper.
In fact, our brand guidelines explicitly recommend against highly academic language. I strongly recommend reviewing IU’s voice and tone guidelines before writing any content for the web.
4. Don’t sacrifice clarity of site structure at the altar of branding
The structure of your website and the labels in your navigation should be intuitive and understandable. It’s tempting to use branding phrases or words in your navigation. We almost always recommend against this. Basic but understandable labels will always be better than clever and confusing labels.
In the end, the best way to ensure the structure of your website supports your brand is to check it with your users. If they can find what they need you’ll be in good shape.