How information architecture helps your SEO

If you are struggling to make improvements to your website's search engine rankings, bad information architecture may be the culprit. Let's talk through about why IA and SEO matter and how good IA increases your SEO.
Connecting IA and SEO

If you own or manage a website that is trying to reach the right people and convince them to buy a service or product, you should not only care about your website’s information architecture and its SEO but how they work together.

We define information architecture, or IA, as the structure of your website and how the content and data needs to be organized. It’s more than just your site navigation, it’s how your website flows from one section to another and how your website connects to the rest of your business.

A good IA connects your website to other parts of your business, allowing you to create a better online experience for your customers, unify your data, and make data-driven business decisions.

Is your data structured this way? If you are struggling to make improvements to your website’s search engine rankings, bad information architecture may be the culprit. Let’s talk through about why IA and SEO matter how good IA increases your SEO.

Why IA matters now more than ever

As we previously talked about here, information architecture was a word commonly used in the early 2000s to describe someone who helped take offline materials and put them online. It lost its luster as roles like “user experience” and “user interface” came into popularity. It has once again been making its appearance in product teams, as it’s more important now than ever.

But, information architecture is more than just someone who organizes information for your website. It’s about organizing your data so you can do meaningful things with it. Organizations have SO many databases, third-party platforms, technology stacks, and they quickly get out of sync. You don’t know what numbers are real, you can’t prove the ROI of your initative, and you feel like you’re competing more with another part of your organization than an actual competitor.

You can’t make data-driven decisions without unified data and it’s a good information architecture that fixes this problem.

Why SEO matters now more than ever

SEO used to just be about ranking high on Google for specific keywords, but it’s no longer just a tactic you can kinda, sorta cheat your way through. It’s about building trust and credibility with your end user. Your customer or patient will no longer accept just any piece of content, written with the sole purpose to rank for keywords.

You need to have the words they use, plus:

  • An easy-to-navigate website
  • Words and pictures that help solve their problem
  • A clear product or service, making it easy for the person to buy from you
  • Quality articles, videos, and infographics that add value
  • A UX (user experience) that reflects your brand and who you are

Last year we saw a lot of changes in SEO. Building trust and credibility, with the real people using your website, was the focus of every change, as there were a lot of algorithm updates released.

SEO is just a strategy—an intentional decision with a plan—to get more traffic, trust, and credibility for your website. As search continues to get smarter, remember: whatever is good for your target user will be good for search.

How IA and SEO work together

An organized website makes sense to your users

When your website makes sense to users it also makes sense to Google. As the search algorithm continues to improve, creating an intentional IA and exposing it to your end user makes things easier to find.

A website is just a bunch of data (text, pictures, videos, products) and technology (contact forms, e-commerce functionality, search functional). When it is poorly organized people will not use it.

You want to make it better organized so more people use it, link to it, stay on it, and buy from you.

An intentionally architected website makes the connection between services and locations easy. In this example from Target.com, a user can see if their closest Target offers in-store photo printing, has a Starbucks, or a CVS pharmacy. They can also be looking at shoes and know what location has a Women’s 7 saddle brown sandal in-stock.

Give your website a quick check:

  • If a user types in a relevant search term in your search box, do they get results that make sense?
  • If I’m interested in a product or service you sell, can I easily find out what location I need to go to in order to purchase this product or service?
  • Can I browse your locations and easily tell what services or products are at what location? (Think about this example: You need to get photos printed and are trying to find out if your local Target offers this service, as you can grab groceries at the same time. You want to find out what services are available at what location.)
  • If I’m interested in a product or service, can I browse to other related services/products? What about sub-services?
  • Are your products or services grouped by application? (Think about this example: You are sending your teenager on a church youth group ski trip. You need to buy her gloves, but you don’t want to browse just regular gloves on REI.com, you want to find ski gloves on REI.com.)

Users stay on your website longer

A big trust signal for Google is how long someone stays on your website. If I’m looking for “best tires for towing” and I land on a poorly written article, I’ll bail. If I land on an article written by someone who knows what they are talking about, has good headings, includes well-formatted content, and then deep links me over to tires that are all applicable to my criteria, I’m going to stick around.

Google knows that I stay on the better site longer than the bad site and moves the good article up higher in the search rankings and the bad article down. Rinse and repeat, which gives Google more and more data to continue to show searchers the most relevant, helpful results.

In it’s most basic form, a good information architecture allows you to easily feature products and services, keeping people on your website longer, sending quality content signals back to Google, increasing your SEO. (Example from Huckberry.com)

Give your website a quick check:

  • How much of your site content is written to sell your product or service versus help a customer or patient with a problem? If it’s not helping them solve a problem, users will likely bounce.
  • Do you provide additional content that is relevant to the user? This can include related products, articles, videos, and other helpful words and pictures.
  • Do you connect your content to your products and services? (Think about this example: You are trying to figure out what to wear to a semi-formal wedding in August and land on this article on Huckberry.com. In it is relevant, on-trend products you can purchase. There is a relationship between their content and products, which is part of an intentional information architecture strategy.)

Your rank for zero-click searches and voice search

If you are struggling with ranking on search enginges in 2019, it’s just going to get harder. Zero-click searches (when the answer is displayed directly at the top of a Google search result) and voice search ads a level of complexity for Marketers.

If you are moving to a good website architecture that unifies not only your website, but connects digital to offline, you are going to make huge leaps in future-proofing your website for these more advanced search capabilties.

Google tells me what time it is in London, so I never need to click on any of the search results to find the answer. This zero-click search means top-ranking websites will not be clicked on anymore.

Give your website a quick check:

  • Do you currently show up in any Google snippets? If not, you are likely not taking a value-first approach to content and not creating an architecture that is easy to understand and easy to navigate.
  • Go to your homepage and look at your site’s navigational structure then your site’s search feature and results pages. If you can’t see how the architecture helps point to your customer’s key problems you help them solve, then your architecture isn’t set up to help your customers.

The great thing about information architecture improvements is that it rarely ever means adding additional SaaS products, platform enhancements, or other expensive additions to your marketing technology stack. It often causes the opposite–which is getting rid of messy data integrations that inhibit a good user experience.

An independent parter, like Branch Strategy, can help you evaluate your website’s IA and make sure that you are headed in the right direction, allowing you rank better on search engines, letting your site users stay longer on your website, increasing revenue, and growing your business.

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