A Simple Process for Improving Your Information Architecture

Clarify your web content and improve user experience

Information Architecture is all around us. That’s not surprising in a field of information professionals, but it can always be useful to revisit our basics. Information Architecture (IA) is a set of practices and tools that help us organize and structure content in a way that users can effectively navigate and use. IA methods are best applied in an iterative way: the information we present to library users is rarely complete and finished, and it changes over time. 

First, look around—what information do you wish was better organized? You might find things like:

  • Sorting your library’s A–Z list of electronic resources by subject area
  • Adding categories to your news stories or upcoming events
  • Building a menu of pages on your website 

Once you’ve found something to improve, you can apply the established tools and methods of IA to get it into shape!

Step 1: Analytics

First, take a look at any analytics or usage statistics you have on hand. It’s information that you’re probably already collecting about your webpages and e-resources. Pulling a quick report of popular content can give you an idea of what to give priority to in your new architecture. Or if you see important content with almost no use, you’ve already got a clear idea of what to improve.

If it’s web content, what’s getting the most clicks? What are people searching for? If you use Google Analytics, this information is available in the basic reports. If you’re looking at a vendor-supplied system like LibGuides, their own usage reports should have similar information.

Keep in mind that just because something gets the most use doesn’t mean that it’s the most important piece of content. And just because something gets little use doesn’t mean it should be eliminated. Think creatively: What information are people searching for that isn’t on your site? Could you add it?

This analysis is your starting point for thinking about how actual use lines up with the use you hope to see. 

🌟 Want to learn more about user experience (UX)? Check out

Step 2: User Research 

You’ll want to pair your own hopes for the content with an analysis of actual user needs. And user research doesn’t have to be an exhaustive, year-long project. If you’re architecting web content, put a one-question survey on the site: “Why did you come to this site today?”

If you have the resources to go a little further, pair those responses with interviews with your power users. What did they hope to find? Were they able to find it? What did and didn’t work well for them? 

After talking to a handful of people, you’ll have a sense of both what’s going well (keep those pieces!) and which area to focus your improvements on. If people tell you that they can never find the library’s meeting room policies, maybe it’s time to rethink how policies in general are organized and included on your website.

For an even more rigorous approach, consider running a card sort activity:

  • Write each item that you want to organize on a set of index cards 
  • Ask users to group those cards together in ways that make sense to them
  • Look for commonalities in how people grouped things together

A card sort can be especially useful when thinking about your website’s structure or how to classify a set of resources. 

Step 3: Building a Draft Information Architecture

Take all that you learned from analytics and user research and put together an idea of how to organize your content. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and probably won’t be. But you’ll have a hypothesis for how things should be organized, which you can test and check with your users and project stakeholders. 

One quick way to check your IA assumptions is to put the draft through a Tree Test. To run a Tree Test, you’ll put your content into an organized hierarchy, but you don’t have to settle on a design or layout yet. 

Imagine a flow chart of how users can browse through your content. You put that chart in front of people, give them a task to accomplish, and see how directly they can browse to the right place. 

A sample tree test with Home as the top listing, location and hours underneath it, and a cluster of menu options beneath that
A sample Tree Test

In this example Tree Test, the participant has been asked to find hours for the library. First, they clicked on “Locations and Hours,” and now have a list of subcategories to pick from. Users must browse through a hierarchy of information without much of an interface attached. This lets you quickly evaluate your organization of information without having to worry how a particular user interface impacts it.

Tree Test tools like Optimal Workshop and UXTweak have free plans that are good enough to get real results quickly. The above example was created in Optimal Workshop.

Step 4: Iterate

Now you have your draft and your data on how well it performed. Maybe it’s good enough to roll out! Or maybe you found some weaknesses you want to address. Here’s where iteration kicks in. Loop back up to the Analytics section above. Look at how people are using your new draft, do some more surveys or card sorts, and get a revised version back into a Tree Test. 

With this process, you’ll have your architecture in shape in no time.

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Gale partners with librarians and educators to create positive change and outcomes for researchers and learners. The company empowers libraries to be active collaborators in the success of their institutions and communities by providing essential content that leads to discovery and knowledge, and user-friendly technology that delivers engaging learning experiences. For more information, please visit gale.com/academic