Master Information Architecture by Designing with Data
In today’s digital era, having an impactful and compelling website is a critical component for any business or organization. A useful site that connects with your audience instills trust, screams authority, and drives action, can mean the difference between remaining relevant and competitive or falling silently to the wayside.
Despite the critical importance of websites in today’s competitive landscape, many web designers find their creations falling short on the performance matrix, under-delivering on KPIs and leaving those in charge scratching their heads for an answer.
Simply put, sometimes innovative layouts and stunning visuals aren’t enough. Lack of data in the design process can create a disconnect between what “works” and what looks or feels appealing.
The marriage of data and design makes for a compelling approach to data-driven design processes and can act as a guiding force for strategizing and implementing site architecture and design elements that not only look great but meet or exceed performance expectations.
Market Research – Where it all Begins
In life, as in business (and web design), having a clear direction and goal in mind from the outset will make for a predictable journey to that end.
If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable
Market research is all about understanding your audience, analyzing the competition and competitive landscape, and looking introspectively inward to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Your “market” represents the gameboard, along with all of its components and pieces upon which your design strategy executes. As it relates to market demands, what elements are vital, required or expected of your design and website?
- Visible accreditations or licensure;
- Prominent reviews and ratings;
- Specific contact or support channels;
- Information such as guides or training materials;
- Product/service visuals or demonstrations;
- Transparent pricing.
Market demands vary and will be particular to your specific industry, geographic location, and other factors.
Competition / Competitive Landscape
You know what they say: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. While you don’t need to become best friends with the competition, monitoring their activities, strategies, updates, offerings and other prerogatives can provide you with insightful and useful information.
Competitive data can be used to leverage the time, resources and hard work of other brands to identify those activities or strategies that either perform well or fail in the market.
By doing so, you can learn from costly mistakes, while benefiting from winning concepts already battle-tested in the market and proven to either work.
Further, understanding the competitive landscape in its totality will help you understand what you’re up against, and can help you formulate ways to uniquely position your design in the market such that it stands out among the sea of competitors vying for the same business.
Target Audience / Customer Avatar
Without a deep understanding of your target audience, any web designer is prone to missing the mark badly, failing to connect with, engage, inspire action, and meet the needs of their visitors.
Considerations with regards to your audience should include both demographic and user behavior data.
Demographic Data to Consider:
- Age brackets
- Geographic locations
- Family size
- And other relevant data
- Behavioral Data to Consider:
- Needs and wants
- Pain points or complaints
- Desired solutions
- Likes and preferences
- Purchase habits
- And more…
The specific types of behavioral and demographic data that will be most useful and relevant to your design will be mostly dependent on your brand, vertical/niche, offerings, and other particulars.
Product / Solutions Audit
Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees as it were. Taking a step back and assessing your product/solutions and other offers can provide perspective on necessary design elements, positioning, and framing that can help turn a non-performing offer into a critical source of revenue.
Utilizing information uncovered in the previous steps, cross-reference your offers and take a hard look at whether or not your products or services meet market and user demands, needs and want.
In what way do your offers stand out (or in what ways can you make them stand out) from those offered by the competition. Utilize this data to formulation unique positioning and strategic approaches to incorporate your offers’ USP or value proposition.
Keyword research is a vital component of the design process, and will largely dictate how information is architected, organized, presented and delivered on the site.
Approach keyword research from a bottom-up or top-down funnel approach.
Necessary components of keyword research include:
- Keyword competition;
- Keyword intent (buyer vs. research vs. informational, etc.);
- Stage of funnel each keyword targets;
- Organization of content for search engines and user experience;
- Link modeling for internal link and ranking strategies.
Types of Content May Include:
- Sales/landing pages;
- Service/product pages;
- Resources, guides, tutorials;
- Informational and supportive blog posts or articles;
- Information Architecture.
Information architecture is essential for user experience, search engine optimization, and conversion rate optimization. Utilizing data from the previous market and keyword research phases you can begin to optimally architect information in a way that is conducive to better performance.
Elements to Incorporate into your Design Architecture
Site Structure: Determined by both market and keyword research, your site’s structure can be first mapped out by using an organizational chart for ease of visualization.
URL Mapping: This step, while mostly administrative and somewhat tedious, involves the creation of each URL structure optimized for both readability by users and optimized for search engines to understand. Once created, assign designated keywords to their respective URLs.
Page Flows: An understanding of user behavior and the ideal buyer journey should also shape how information is structured and organized, helping both users and search engines to “flow” seamlessly through information in a way that answers their questions and solves their problems with the least amount of “friction.”
Value Propositions: An understanding of the problems and pain points facing your target audience will enable you to architect, draft and present unique value propositions tailored to each individualized problem or issue.
Topic Clustering: Once you’ve mapped out your keywords, pages, and content, group or “cluster” those topics that are semantically relevant to each other. Clustering your content can help with search engine categorization and relevancy metrics.
Interlinking: Once mapped out with pages and content clustered, seek out opportunities to link between related pages.
Tailoring design to user needs and expectations is never far from any designer’s thought process, yet knowing exactly which strategies or tactics have the best chance of performing well is often unclear. By utilizing a data-driven decision-making process, web designers can leverage information in a way that helps them formulate a plan tailor-made to perform and exceed expectations. Designs using data versus personal opinion, experience improved levels of engagement, higher conversions, enhanced user experience and overall performance.
As a professional web designer, you have a responsibility to both the users, and to the organization for which you are working, to use and implement all available tools to deliver the best end product possible. Data is one of those tools and one in which there is an excellent potential for success when used correctly.
Featured image via Unsplash