We all know that website design and development involves initial expenses, but cutting the costs here is not advised in a long term. In order to ensure and maximize ROI, you need to make sure that you design your website correctly from the very start in such a way that anticipates and delivers what website users need. The process starts with something called Information Architecture.
1. Define your audience
A lot of companies target quite a wide range of potential customers. Ideally the same would be expected from the website. It may try to accommodate the whole audience. It would not be possible without defining the business and marketing goals. Having done that, we should determine which (if not all) customer segments the site should target.
Firstly – Interview your client.
The best solution here is to interview client’s marketing managers, as they know the company’s strategy, marketing goals and their customers. Here is a list of question you should find answers to:
- How many groups of potential customers the company has
- What is the purpose of the project
- How would they prioritize customers
- Are there any segments to be ignored
- Profile of each priority customer group
- How is the website going to impact customers’ behaviour etc.
Secondly – Develop users’ profile
Interviewing the client is a good starting point in understanding customers’ needs. The next step could be doing the exact thing with actual customers, ideally from each priority group.
The outcome of your research will provide you and the team with a clear picture of potential customers and visitors of your website. Creating ‘personas,’ which are a fake customer profiles, is very common nowadays and gives great results. Knowing your potential customer helps to recognize their needs and anticipate their behaviour or buying habits. It makes it easier to motivate your potential customer to behave in a certain way or buy your client’s product if you know ‘him/her’ better.
Thirdly – Customer segmentation
Most of companies offer more than one product or service to their customer with span different verticals, usually offered to different customer segments. Such a situation makes it difficult to target the customer effectively. The best way to deal with the situation is to create a customer matrix which shows how the verticals relate to the customer groups.
Imagine that your client is a footwear manufacturer and is planning to sell their products online to their customers. The company produces four groups of footwear, which you could present in four separate columns. The ‘persona exercise’ resulted in identifying five different consumer segments, which could be represented in the rows. There is a specific profile behind every name, which influences ‘personas” choices. Not all customers will be interested in all types of product. In the table, you can put check marks identify consumer’s preferences.
This task will help to recognize the segment that the website should support. Then, based on company’s strategy and marketing goals, you should prioritize the main segments you should focus on. Let’s assume that company’s strategy is to reach to younger customer as their older customer sector is fairly established. Given that, the decision is to focus marketing efforts on sectors that match the criteria. Of course, we would not forget the other segments; however, we wouldn’t cater for them to the same level.
2. Make use of the ‘User flow diagrams’
When you have established what type of people your website will be addressed to, is time to think through some scenarios for them. You need answer questions like: How would they find your website? What will they want to accomplish on the website? Are they looking for the product information or recommendations? Are they visiting the site in order to make a purchase? What steps would they go through to accomplish their goals? All of this information will help you find an answer to the most important question. How can you as a designer map out their paths to account for all this steps. The illustration of it is called “user’s flow diagram”.
3. Sitemap development
Site map is a list of pages of a website available to users. It is a diagram listing all the pages on a website. Not only does it account for all pages, it also shows their hierarchy in the form of upside-down tree. The “trunk” of the site map is always Home Page or Index Page. So you start drawing up your sitemap from putting a box at the very top of the page and name it “Home”. What is more important, apart from naming it, you give it a number as well. Home page starts the basis of your numbering scheme. All sitemaps number each page in order to facilitate production. Web designers have information as for the importance of each element – which is primary, secondary and least important.
Numbering each page makes it easier for developers to much up wireframes, visual design files, and copy and content components to their correct page. Typically the home page is numbered 0.0
All sections that link off home page directly are represented in the next row down and numbered with even numbers 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, Any pages branching out from these sections get 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 numbering scheme, and any further pages would be numbered 1.1.1, 1.1.2 and so on.
4. Sitemap Tools
Information architects usually layout sitemaps horizontally on A3 size piece of a paper or an 11×7 tabloid. There are many popular software tools for producing sitemaps:
- Microsoft Visio,
- Adobe InDesign.
You can also fin several tools available online, such as:
- Slickplan. Com
- Microsoft Visio
Websites tend to be very big nowadays and they cannot be fitted on one page. Many Information architectures focus on one site section at a time. Whatever software or tool you decide to use will suffice, so use the one you feel the most comfortable with.
Categorizing and prioritizing information
It might sound quite obvious, but a key factor in creating a user friendly website is to prioritize information so that it is not presented to the user at once. You must predict what information is the most important to your targeted segment and prioritize these elements.
It is good to think of a website’s categories in 3 main groups: Primary, secondary and least important, and decide which information fall in which group. This is important, so that you can arrange the information on website according to the importance of information. Generally speaking, the primary set of important information will be your primary navigation. Clicking on any element from primary navigation leads to a “landing page” that is like an introduction for each section and contains links to all the sub-sections.
It is important not to include more than 7 elements in the primary navigation; otherwise it would affect usability and visual design. These elements should be related from the content perspective and similar in terms of visual effects.
Designing balanced website
The last challenge that designer meets while building a good sitemap is balance. You need to make sure that the number of choices on the main page (primary sections) is not overwhelming for the user. As we mentioned earlier it should be between 5 -7. Too many sections with not many content loaded underneath them leads to flattened hierarchy. The opposite situation, when there are not many sections but they are divided down into 4 levels, the hierarchy is too deep. From a usability standpoint, it’s best to limit a site’s depth to three levels if possible.