Information Architecture

Ecommerce has made the art of information architecture something that is often discussed by marketers and design agencies. Debates ensue about the merits of one strategy over another. Technical analysts may have a very different perspective than marketers. Sometimes this can lead to gridlock and stop continuous improvement in its tracks.

Unfortunately, most businesses aren’t exposed to these words. Information architecture is a foreign concept to them. If you’ve ever built a website you’ve at least been unintentionally involved with information architecture.

Some systems use the word category and some use the word collection. The idea is that you’ll group similar items together in a way that is easy to understand for the shopper. The closer your grouping matches their grouping the easier it will be for the shopper to navigate your site.

If you use a bottom-up approach to information architecture you’ll start with an individual product like Bread. What category of product should bread be lumped in? Baked goods?

A simple taxonomy would look something like Baked Goods > Bread. This grouping could also include Pastries, Cakes, Doughnuts, etc.

Having a single layer of depth within a taxonomy is fine if there’s a limited amount of information. However, additional layers may be needed depending on the number of items within a grouping. If your single layer has more than a dozen or so items it may become overwhelming for the shopper.

Therefore, it may make sense to add an additional layer.

  • Baked Goods
  • Baked Goods > Breads
  • Baked Goods > Desserts

The benefit of this layer is that it makes the groupings smaller and easier to manage. The drawback is that it may add an additional click (and corresponding page load time) for the user.

More advanced users will quickly recognize that there are multiple ways to categorize products. The specific taxonomy that is best for your website depends highly on your shoppers and their final intent. If you’re selling bread to millenials with highly restrictive diets then you may have a very different taxonomy than if you’re selling bread to a mother of five children.

Think about how this works within retail stores. Some stores have massive aisles stocked with tons of products. Others are smaller and have carefully curated selections of products. The grouping of the products together makes you think differently about what you intend to buy. You might have gone into the store to buy a “shirt” or “pants” but when you look at a manequin you may realize that you actually want to buy an entire outfit.

This happens on the web as well. There are pages titled, “Gifts for Mother’s Day” that are filled with items from a variety of different groupings that moms should enjoy.

Part of the value of an ecommerce software platform is that you’re able to make new groupings. You can actually make an infinite number of them. Each grouping can stand alone as its own unique curated collection of items. Even better these groupings can become a page that is indexed by search engines. That means your site might begin ranking for a whole new grouping of search terms.

The automotive parts retailer that comes up with a grouping called, “Best Father’s Day Gifts 2018” may begin to get new traffic to their website from shoppers that were searching for Father’s Day gifts. They weren’t searching for a new exhaust, new rims or a new stereo but the search query indicates that they’re open to being shown or wooed into a purchase.

These additional groupings of items are not limited to holidays either. They may be “evergreen” groupings that will always be relevant to a select group of shoppers. Let’s go back to the bread example. Some shoppers may be querying “gluten free breads” while others may be querying “high protein breads.” A single bread may be gluten free AND high in protein. So which grouping should it go in on the website?

Thankfully you can assign the product to both groupings. You can actually assign the product to an infinite number of groupings. The only caveat is that you need to pick a primary grouping for the product and mark that grouping with a Canonical code. This code serves as an indicator to the search engines that the primary place they should rank the product is within the primary category. However, each of the individual category pages can rank on their own.

Amazon recognized early on that they had limitless “shelf space.” They make a bunch of money every year by selling books that are not sold in any book store. Once they had the infrastructure in place there was virtually $0 in incremental cost to carry another product. The secret sauce that makes all of that work is strong Information Architecture.

One last parting thought. These secondary or tertiary groupings of products do not have to be primary ways to navigate your site. Instead they can serve only as Landing Pages. As a Landing Page they may be the first page that a visitor finds from a search engine. Therefore, make sure that you include relevant information on that page. Shipping policy, return policy, privacy policy, promotions, discounts and relevant links to other pages are all important items to display. Don’t force your visitors to go elsewhere to find important information. This may be the only page that they visit before they make a decision about doing business with you. You don’t want them to make that decision with a limited set of information.

Get creative and see what new ways you can come up with to strengthen your information architecture!

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