Categorising your content should be an iterative and evolving process, using a mixed method approach. Here’s the best (ongoing) journey to take to sort out your information architecture.
In the last year as a UX Designer at Cancer Research UK I’ve worked on many projects with a focus on categorising a lot of content. And I mean a lot. Our news team at Cancer Research UK boasts some fantastic content, with articles uploaded almost every day. Our online shop has a huge product range, often surprising our users as they exclaim ‘I didn’t know you sold all of these products!’
When it comes to categorising already existing content in a way that is user led, rather than business focussed, it can feel a daunting task. There rarely will be a black and white answer and categories have to make sense in silo as well as part of their parent category.
The best way to come up with an intuitive naming and categorising system on your website is to use a mixed methods approach. Compiling the data from various methods will ensure that your organisational system is comprehensive and has considered all the possible points of confusions and dead ends in your website’s information architecture. I’ll talk about the most effective methods that make up the approach to sort out your architecture.
If you already have an existing information architecture built or a way of categorising your content, then tree testing is probably a good place to start. I use Optimal Workshop to create tree tests. Tree testing means you present users with the existing navigation on your site and provide them with a series of tasks. An example would be:
Q1. Where would you expect to find a children’s t shirt in the categories below?
This determines how well your current architecture is performing. This then gives you the best basis to identify areas that work intuitively, and areas that don’t work so well. Thus allowing you to narrow down your areas of focus.
Card sorting is a method to capture how users would organize your content onsite. Users are given cards and asked to put them in categories that they deem the most suitable. A card sort can be closed or open. A closed card sort provides categories for users in which to sort their cards. An open card sort allows for users to come up with the categories themselves.
This would normally follow on from tree testing and is more user focused, rather than confining users to your existing information architecture.
In card sorting we can start to look for patterns that emerge. Perhaps a topic label you never considered keeps coming up. Perhaps there is one category that doesn’t make any sense and so is being left without cards.
The beauty with both tree testing and card sorting is that you can observe both of the methods (it’s a harder approach to do if you are linking people to the tests from your networks, but can be done if you have access to people face to face). Observation of a user categorising content is often very telling, so where possible, try to do it. The user can talk you through their decisions this way, rather than you having to infer the answer. For example, a user can flesh out the decision to make a new category — ‘I have no idea what this category means, so I would make a new one, as I think that encapsulates a few of these remaining cards’.
Competitor analysis is extremely useful for your information architecture and the reasons are twofold. First of all, it’s good to know what your competitors are doing in the space to see how they have picked up on user behaviour. Secondly, you have to assume that users who are visiting sites in your specific space are used to a specific way of categorising. If it is uniform elsewhere and different on your site, guess which one is going to stand out as different and not necessarily conform to user expectations?
Take a look at how your competitors are displaying content — do they use mega menus? Are they using additional category blocks? What sort of parent and child labels are they using?
As always with anything new being introduced to your website, always test before implementing something that may have been inspired by your competitors. Check if changing the name of a topic level ensures more clicks on relevant content. Keep your eye on product discovery if you’ve moved a few of your products around in the mega navigation. If you see an uplift — good work! But always bear in mind that you have a specific audience, unique to your competitors, so don’t blindly follow their changes.
Gather your metrics
This one seems pretty simple and straightforward, but don’t forget it! Use either Google Analytics, or an A/B Testing platform such as Optimizely X to log metrics.
Consider, where are users clicking? Is there a category within your mega menu that is getting a lot of click through? Has a new topic label you have used for a group of your content articles increased click through rate and average time on page. These metrics would suggest that your content offering or labelling is working well for your user.
Whilst you can take confidence in your successful labelling, also use these metrics to look to other areas that are perhaps getting less clicks. Does the user understand the label? Or do they simply have no interest in the content that we are offering? Information architecture should be considered an ever evolving structure, so there is always work to be done and considered on it.
Consider search terms
Google search terms are your best friend here. They will inform what sort of content/products/services you should be considering (as there is obvious user interest for it if they are searching your site for it) and can also inform how you should be displaying this content.
For example, if you are working on a health news site, and you see users searching for news on sugar and health implications — your next article should address this. Perhaps even have it as a featured article on your homepage to make it easily accessible.
Elsewhere, if you are an online shop and you see users searching for beachwear during a heatwave, it may be worth creating a new parent category on your mega menu for summer products, rather than keeping this more hidden as a child category.
Adapting to search terms is the best way to keep your content not only relevant, but readily found.
As you can see, information architecture is an ever evolving structure for your website. Your continued work on it should be responsive to user needs and behaviour. With the mixed methods approach provided in this article, you should be ready to smash your information architecture.
If anyone has any other case studies or suggestions on how to improve information architecture, please submit them in the comments below!