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Spotlight Session - Information Architecture

 4:57 pm on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

This year the Vegas PubCon conference offers an entire track of "Spotlight Sessions", where one or two people present for the entire time slot instead of a larger number of panelists. It's an approach that worked out very well in the regional PubCon Dallas conference, because it allows a deeper dig into the topic and also a lot more time for Q&A.

Aaron Kronis and I are going to be offering a spotlight session on Information Architecture [pubcon.com] - a topic dear to me heart and also one that can be full of confusion, so there is often difficulty even forming the right questions.

I'm wondering right now what people would expect to hear about during an Information Architecture session. Since it can be an full-blown career choice, there's a lot to choose from.

And whatever we cover, I'll report back here with the main takeaways from the session.

[edited by: tedster at 10:29 pm (utc) on Aug 17, 2010]



 1:46 am on Jul 31, 2010 (gmt 0)

It would be useful to cover the challenges facing corporate SEOs where they have to use enterprise-grade CMSs. For example, administrators like to build folder hierarchies that add numerous levels based on corporate divisions. I am dealing with one that has most web pages 9 levels deep and is planning for its next platform IA.

Another topic could be more generic - designing navigation structures to suit both usability and SEO goals.


 2:15 am on Jul 31, 2010 (gmt 0)

numerous levels based on corporate divisions

That's a good one. I touched on that just a bit in the past but in a spotlight session it could well be expanded.

My basic advice, in a nutshell - information architecture is for visitors, not for in-house ease of use. Large corporates are notorious for having trouble using the web, and this is a bedrock factor.

There is a lot more I could say on this particular facet - and maybe even start some more fights during Q&A ;)


 5:47 pm on Aug 3, 2010 (gmt 0)

My 2 cents:
I'm interested attending a session on information architecture (IA). My experience and knowledge have a hard time getting through to corporate decision makers.

One topic would be selling IA to executives and business units. Rather, do you have tips on how to sell it and why the end result works out for everyone, short and long term.

I'm in house and work with both external and internal web apps.


 11:52 pm on Aug 4, 2010 (gmt 0)

Thanks, Vinnee. I'll see that 2 cents and raise you at least 2 more.

I wish I had a magic bullet for getting through to the executive suite - unfortunately I don't. But I do have some tips and insights, and it could make for a lively discussion during Q&A. I suspect it's easier for me to get buy in from high up when I come in as a paid outside consultant. That's a bit better position than it would be for an in-house SEO.

I do have some connections who either are, or were, in-house. I'll see if I can gather some tips from them, too, to enrich the presentation.


 2:54 pm on Aug 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

Thanks, look forward to Vegas.


 3:17 pm on Aug 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm not an IA person at all, but one of the challenges I occassionally revisit is what would I do with something like the National Weather Service [weather.gov] site?

There's a huge amount of information spread over different agencies, domains, subdomains, etc., each of interest to different constituencies.

How would you even begin to get a handle on something like this? Define your users? Define your content? Or treat it like spaghetti, throw it on the wall and see what sticks?


 7:26 pm on Aug 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

Yeah, big sites have their own challenges, that's for sure. The place to start for any site is to define your purpose and what market[s] you hope to serve. From there on, with 1 million pages, I definitely hire a true professional in IA - like someone with a library sciences degree who is also web savvy.

There's an interesting large site IA project going on right now - with public blogging so we can play along at home: Istockphoto. They've produced some interesting video:

iStock F5: Information Architecture [youtube.com]
F5 Redesign - New Design [youtube.com]

The first video shows just how dramatic the change in IA is going to be.


 8:33 pm on Aug 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

Very interesting. So, from the videos, they first defined their user base and the different constituencies or types of user within that base. Then they developed an "outward facing" site map. I love that, never knew there was a term for it. That sure turns my thinking around a bit.

And the revamp is so much better than the off-putting design they have now. I can see where starting with those first steps really helped them focus on what the user wants and needs.


 1:12 am on Aug 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

I can't make out the structure in the video - are they making some parts of the site much deeper than before? It would be worth mentioning this in the presentation.


 5:01 am on Aug 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

Exactly - WAAAYYY deeper, based on what their users do. Looks pretty radical to me. I'm hoping that by the time we get to Vegas there are some tangible results and (dare I hope) data to share.


 10:24 pm on Aug 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

There was just an IA session today at SES San Francisco (see blog report [bruceclay.com]) and one of the points mentioned was this:

SEOs confuse architecture and construction as the same thing. You end up with the mental model of an SEO or a tech team, not the mental model of the user.

This is a point I made earlier in this thread, and it's ESSENTIAL. Because Aaron and I know that people will come into to the session expecting to hear about the technical aspects of site construction - url structure, what platform to use, etc - we will cover that, but as an extension of the main topic.

The main drive of Information Architecture is turning a visitor into a user, and that is my focus. Here's a link to our session description. Information Architecture at PubCon [pubcon.com]


 8:40 pm on Nov 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

I ran across this thread while following up on a recent post about information architecture, and I wanted to note something interesting about the the istockphoto redesign. It appears that they have implemented the redesign discussed in the videos, and I have to say I'm not terribly impressed.

While I can see where they were going in terms of usability and information architecture, their actual SEO is terrible. They are almost completely reliant on their site search feature for navigation of their actual pictures. They have a page of categories, but they are very general categories, they don't rank well, and they are not subcategorized at all.

To me this presents a problem as a user -- I tend to think in categories, and in many cases I would prefer to browse a thorough category structure rather than search by keyword.

Much more importantly, it is terrible for SEO. I happen to know something about this niche, and I have a very good idea of the sort of categorization and terminology that would bring in traffic, and I can tell you, they're not using it. Not even close. They pay for adwords ads to show up at the top of stock photo searches, and you can see why, because they don't do well in organic search at all.

I don't see any problem with relying primarily on site search for nav, that's probably how most users browse the site anyway. However, for SEO this needs to be backed up by a thorough taxonomic catigorization system and text descriptions. So I wouldn't consider this as a good example of information architecture for SEO purposes.

Separating the site into sections by user intent is a great idea and I think they've done a good job of that. However, the section that serves what they themselves said is their primary audience -- that is, people who want to browse and download photos -- is not very well categorized at all, to the point that it would be pretty much impossible to find a particular sort of photo you're looking for without using the site search.


 9:52 pm on Nov 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

I agree with you, freejung - so in my presentation I did not end up using much of their redesign as an example of how to do IA well. I really wonder what the whole story is here.

The main point I was making about IA in my session is that it IS difficult, but it is also worth the resources and time invested. If you do IA well, literally everything after that in the site development process flows rather smoothly.

SEO Blog wrote up a short but accurate summary of the main talking points - check it out if you're of such a mind: [seo.com...]

The one thing that write-up doesn't capture is the area of how many passionate disagreements come up on a team that seriously takes on this job. Those honest disagreements are not a sign that you're doing something wrong - it's the opposite. They're a sign that you are doing it well.

The human brain has an essential function of building categories for its experience, but each brain is somewhat unique. so finding an IA that works for the great majority is a tough job, full of trade-offs and compromises. But everyone should know that ahead of time, and every factor should be open for full team discussion. "Pet" ideas can create disasters.


 9:05 am on Nov 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

That's a really good point. I'm involved in a site redesign right now and we're trying to do the information architecture with a team of 4 (and we need buy-in from maybe three people who are not part of the team), which you might think would be manageable, but we spent a couple of hours yesterday arguing about what should be in the top level of the nav. We haven't reached consensus, and I suspect that eventually our leader will simply make an executive decision to do it his way and the rest of us will just have to live with it.

So I'm glad you said that, because I was getting a little discouraged.


 6:00 am on Mar 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

As promised in Austin, here are those links to other Information Architecture resources:

Information Architecture for the Small Site [webmasterworld.com] - part 1
Information Architecture for the Small Site [webmasterworld.com]- part 2
Putting Information Architecture into Practice [webmasterworld.com]
Webmonkey's Information Architecture Tutorial [webmonkey.com]

Any one want to continue the Q&A from the Austin session? I know I tried to slaughter several sacred cows today;)

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