Your visitors only have so much mental bandwidth to try to figure out how to get around your site. Good information architecture (IA) helps to reduce the amount of mental energy visitors expend to find what they are looking for, and allows them to spend that energy exploring and engaging with your content. Poor IA can burn through that same visitor’s mental energy too quickly and frustrate them to the point of leaving your site prematurely.
1. Mismatching link labels to their respective destinations. If the link in your navigation is Student Services and the title of the page that it leads to is Student Assistance, your visitors will question whether they are in the right place. Consistency of labeling leads to visitor confidence that where they are is where they intended to be.
2. Mixing different types of navigation together in one link set. Your Audience (information for), Topical (information about), and Tactical (actions to take) navigation should be clearly distinct from one another and never mixed together. For example, you might have an audience navigation that is a collection like this:
Instead, you should make Visit Campus tactical, and Mission and Vision topical to clean things up and avoid confusion.
3. Missing opportunities to use contextual links. For example, if you are writing about research efforts within a feature story about student achievement, you should link to your research page right in the body copy. Well-implemented contextual links anticipate visitors’ interests, keep them engaged, and allow them to explore the underlying connections between sections of your site that aren’t readily apparent in your navigation structure.
4. Including navigation in page body sections. Navigational elements should never appear within the body copy of a page. If you have pages that commit this crime, it is a sign that you need to revise your overall information architecture structure. Perhaps you don’t need an additional level of hierarchy, or you need to provide copy for the page, or perhaps you don’t need that page at all.
These improvements are just the tip of the IA iceberg. For a more comprehensive introduction to IA and visitor experience in higher education, check out my webinar from November 2013 that explores best practices in IA in great detail (105+ slides, to be exact!)
If you’re a smarty-pants and want to sink your teeth into more advanced concepts, I’d like to invite you to join me for our upcoming IA webinar series. We’ll cover a lot of territory and explore topics such as taxonomies, fixed vocabularies, multi-device user browsing behavior, iterative IA testing, evolutionary IA documentation, and much more!