Website architecture is the organization and structure of website information. It is a phase that begins after a website plan has been documented, but before the website is developed. If your website had proper planning before starting to draft the architecture, you will already have a clear idea of (1) website objectives, (2) content requirements, and (3) user groups. These three components tell an informational architect what is required in order to produce a digital structure that will meet the needs of both the business and the website users.
Website objectives help architects prioritize information. They are measurable goals that answer the question, “What will the website accomplish”? More clearly, what the website will accomplish for the business. Will the website spawn a 15% increase in leads? Generate 25% more sales? Create $100,000 in new subscriptions within the first year? Help gather feedback 50 times faster from users of your products and services? Cut business costs 5% by automating processes? Whatever the objectives, they need to be defined clearly in a quantifiable, time conscious statement.
User groups describe who will use the website. They help architects categorize informational architecture in a way that humans can understand. Will the users be shoppers, researchers, investors, donors, potential members, and/or potential employees? Depending on time and budget, these user groups can be further developed into individual user profiles or personas that help the website architecture empathize with the user. This results in a deep understanding of who primary users are and what content they want.
Content requirements are detailed statements that answer the question, “What will the website do?” This helps the architect organize the informational architecture in a way that meets the needs of the business, website users, and the search engines. Will the website need a checkout process that can be completed in one step? Will the business need a way to recover abandoned orders? Will users want to track their orders? Will the search engines need to be blocked from indexing SSL pages and printer friendly pages to avoid duplicate content issues? Content requirements align with website objectives and user groups to define this final component. It’s at this point that the job of website architecture begins.
A website architect uses the components gathered above to start shaping, connecting, and forming the informational architecture. Making your website easy to navigate is a process that involves site mapping, task flows, and wireframes.
A site map is a lot like a business organizational chart. It’s a visual way of showing how the website will be organized. In this step, website architecture gives names to pages and arranges them in a way that makes sense to human users and the search engines.
A task flow is like a site map, but also shows how users will navigate the site. For example, a site map would show a block that represents the Contact Us page, but a task flow shows what happens if the user interacts with that page. If users submit the Contact Us page, where will they go next? What if they experience an error?
A wireframe is a grayscale digital skeleton that helps visualize how website pages will layout. Placeholder headlines, subheading, text, images, navigation, advertising, and other required content will be added to show the informational architecture users will view when visiting the website.
An organized and structured website begins with creating a website architecture before development begins. By knowing the objectives, content requirements, and user groups, you can produce an informational architecture that includes a site map, task flow, and wireframe that ensures a website meets the needs of both the business and the website’s users.