Information Architecture: tips to maximise SEO

Search engine optimisation can appear to be a dark art with secret algorithms and mysterious robots deciding where you will rank on important results pages.

Information architects make decisions through the design process that can have a huge impact upon how well a website will rank. However little seems to have been written on the topic of how information architects can help to maximise SEO ethically.

I’d like to share six tips to consider when planning an information architecture that can make a real difference to SEO.

1: Keep your hierarchy as shallow as possible

The further your content is from your homepage, the less important it becomes in the eyes of search. A broad and shallow hierarchy will perform better than a narrow and deep one.

2: Make your landing pages count

The value of keywords on homepages and section landing pages is considerably greater than those keywords appearing on less significant pages. Plan your keywords alongside your information architecture development so that you can weave them into the architecture in the most advantageous positions.

3: Optimise your labels

When considering labeling, you should conduct some research with your users and from freely available web tools.

By running activities such as card sorting you can gain a valuable insight into how your users will describe and group your content. From analyzing your search logs you can learn incredible insights into the language that your users use to try and find your content.

Make use of tools such as the Google search-based keyword tool to find out how popular your labels actually are. This tool gives you a feel for how “searched for” your labels are in the context of global web searches and also points you in the direction of synonyms that might be more successful.

4: Design for your users and not for robots

By designing your information architecture to suit your users and their tasks, you’ll be on the right track for optimising it for SEO. It’s far easier to understand your users and their goals than to try and understand the nuances of the Google algorithms!

Research your users and understand why they will be visiting your site. Base your site’s information architecture on supporting theses tasks, and test prototypes early on to ensure you are on the right track.

5: Avoid content cul-de-sacs

Consider every page on your site as a homepage. As much as you may meticulously plan your site from the homepage down, users will be coming at you from all directions and your information architecture needs to cope with this behaviour.

Ensure that every page passes the navigation stress test by looking at a random selection of pages and interrogate them by asking:

  • Is it clear where I am within the site?
  • Is it clear where I can go?
  • To which part of the site does this page belong?

Content pages should contain multiple routes into them and multiple routes out from them. A page should never be designed in isolation but in the knowledge of where it fits within the task that the user is trying to perform.

6: Use analytics to inform what is really happening

Information architecture can only support your user and business objectives for a finite period of time. Business objectives change and user behaviour may evolve over time, and may change from what you originally discovered in research.

Keep an eye on your site stats and analytics, then adapt your information architecture as your site evolves to support what people are actually doing on your site.

If you want to find out more about Information Architecture and SEO please get in touch.

James is responsible for leading user-centred design projects across all industry sectors, and also runs cxlabs. He has written two UX books, speaks regularly at international conferences, and co-founded UXBristol.