What Is Information Architecture, and Why Does It Matter?

If your business sells products online, you likely--and rightly--see your website as a sales tool. However, it’s not as likely that you have a nuts-and-bolts understanding of the many overlapping systems that--when optimized--make your website as fine a sales tool as it can be.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a specialist in user experience, SEO, website design, and the other web development disciplines to properly execute a new website. But it does help if you have a high-level knowledge of these moving parts, and that starts with information architecture.

Information architecture is defined by the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) as the organization and labeling of website content to support usability and findability.

Information architects do not need to possess highly technical skills in programming and development. Instead, they understand how humans process, find, and interact with content. They then apply this knowledge to your unique business website. Information architects will take a deep dive into two major entities:

Your website content. What content does your website feature? How can it be organized? How can it be labeled? How do specific and categorical content relate to other content? What content types live on your website? What is the story of your website? What are the potential actions that can be performed on your website?

Your audience. Who are your buyers? What are they looking for? What language makes sense to them, and what is technical jargon that only makes sense within your industry? How do they find information? What design hierarchies do they respond to, and what confuses them? Are they in varying stages of the purchasing process? What do they want to learn? What do they want to do?

The information architecture stage of a website development project is crucial and often overlooked. It happens before technical infrastructure, and it informs user experience design while also paying dividends in search engine optimization.

While the end result will always differ from site to site, proper information architecture always begins with the same elements. Shari Thurow points these elements out in her informative article about information architecture:

- buyer personas
- scenarios
- content inventory
- user interviews
- usability testing
- other UX processes

Whether you are Amazon or a small business, you don’t have to be an expert in the field of information architecture to optimize your e-commerce site for sales generation. But armed with the above information, you can enlist the best information architect for the job early on in the process while also holding them accountable for their performance. The success of your business depends on it.