The third step of my web design process is called Content Strategy and Information Architecture. Sounds like jargon, right? It's actually a crucial early step when designing and developing a website that will help to ensure the website is successful. In this article, I will discuss what these two terms mean and why they're important.
Put simply, Content Strategy answers the question: what content are we going to have on the website? Whereas Information Architecture is about: how should we structure that content?
Once I've completed my initial research based on the discovery session, I will have learned about my clients goals, and what sorts of things that their competitors have on their websites.
This content strategy is a collaborative process, so I have a video call with the client to go through the process. I always have suggestions based on my research, but it's important to listen to the client and get their ideas. After all, it will be the clients website, and nobody is more of an expert on their business than the client. The goal of the content strategy session is to generate a high-level list of all of the main content that will go on the website.
Examples of some types of content are: products or services, company (team, jobs, vision), what we do or how we do it, contact, benefits, resources, updates (news, blog, PR), customers/testimonials, newsletter signups. Also, it's important to think if there are any other things to consider: Is there a specific tone used for the brand? Are there any Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) considerations - specific content that can help the website to rank higher in search?
Now we'll have a list of a lot of things, we need to start sorting, organising and grouping them.
We'll use a technique called card sorting to organise the items together into logical groups. This involves writing all the content ideas down onto sticky notes (or using a digital version) and grouping them together under specific headings. It's important to understand what the title of the group or page or section is, as this will impact a user's understanding of how to use the website.
This is all about organising the digital space, in the same way we would if we were talking about a physical space. To explain what I mean, here's a couple of analogies:
If we think about an office space, it could be arranged as an open space or cubicles. These organisational decisions affect how people feel working in and interacting in the space. The way that you divide up the space really affects how people are going to use the space. It's exactly the same when we are talking about the digital space of a website.
If we think about a market versus an airport, a space can be confusing or easy to navigate.
In a market there is a lot going on. It can be difficult to orient yourself amongst all the noise and confusing signals. However, in an airport, it doesn't matter where you are in the world or how big the airport is, you are able to orient yourself because airports use the expectation that people understand how airports work, and all airports basically function the same way. In addition, airports have really good signage which make them easy to navigate.
We want to use the same principles, of working with people's expectations, good signage and structuring content and pages into clearly labelled groups. The goal when designing a website, is to design something more like an airport than a market, so that visitors to the website are able to easily orient themselves in the online space.
Creating a map
The tool we use in web design for communicating the structure of a website is called a sitemap. This shows the hierarchy and structure in a visible way.
When working in a collaborative session with a client, it's easier and faster to do this in a simple document using tabs to indent different levels to show the hierarchy. Afterwards, I'll go ahead and draw out a visual sitemap diagram. This kind of diagram uses boxes to represent the various pages and content, and uses colour or other forms of visual contrast to differentiate between the page or section titles and content.
This sitemap diagram is then signed off by clients before moving on to the next step of the web design process.
Content Strategy is about what content is going to be on the website. Information Architecture decides how we will structure that content.
I have a content strategy meeting with clients to generate a high-level list of all the content that will go on the website. I'll have suggestions of possible content based on my research, but it's critical to get the clients ideas, as well as thinking about any other considerations such as the brand's tone of voice or SEO requirements.
We use a card sorting technique to organise the items together into logical groups. We want to work with people's expectations of how websites generally work, and use clear labelling of content groups so that visitors to the website are able to easily orient themselves in the online space.
Finally we'll create a sitemap diagram, which shows the hierarchy and structure in a visual way, and get this approved by the client before moving on to the next part of the web design process.