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Maintaining Great Information Architecture Over the Lifespan of Your Website

We see it all the time: Your site launched roughly 18 months ago. During the prototyping stage, you worked really hard with our team to devise a truly solid information architecture for your site. You and your project manager went over all the details of how to fit your new site’s content into an easy-to-understand menu system. Your site’s navigation was crystal clear to just about anyone, and it even served as a resource for your prospects. Your content strategy had great topical metadata (like categories) that made a ton of sense and made filtering your content a breeze.

And then the site launched.

After your new site went live, you focused on the work of keeping your content strategy going. Prior to the launch, your team’s energy was laser-focused on getting your site ready for launch. Since then, though, your attention has been drawn back elsewhere. The time you do spend managing your site is primarily to create new content for your content strategy, or to reap the lead-generating benefits.

This is all totally normal.

Then, you need to make your first change to your positioning content (the content that describes what you do, and for whom). This content typically doesn’t change very often, but you’ve just added a new service, and it needs to be showcased on the site. So, you add a new page and situate it in a way that makes sense in the site menu.

Fast-forward a year-and-a-half. The main menus may have gotten a little longer, and some of the terminology might have changed, too. In general, your site is no longer quite so streamlined or easy to navigate. The tag system you use to categorize your content has grown to nearly 200 items. There may have been whole new sections added, that, in retrospect, didn’t quite work out (maybe adding a section detailing company picnics wasn’t really necessary, but it was a fun way to show off your company culture a bit).

Suddenly, the shine has worn off a bit on that new site of yours.

While the temptation to rip it up and start all over gets pretty strong right about this point, that isn’t necessarily the reason to do a full site rebuild quite yet. If the technology and design are still representing you well, and you’re still getting good-quality leads, a bit of maintenance is in order. Perhaps we might even go so far as to call it website stewardship.

So, where to begin?

Card Sorting, or, High School Redux

Let’s start by spiffing up the main menus a bit. To begin, go out and buy a pack of index cards. Yep, physical index cards, the ones you made flashcards with all through high school.

Next, take the painful step of writing each item in your main menus on a separate card. No cheating, and no assigning this bit of what may seem like busywork to an intern. The step of writing down your site’s full set of menu items is important, since it gets your mind in gear, allowing you to think in a dedicated way about what all of these pages are and what they do. In doing so, you’ll call to mind what is unique about each and every piece of content on your site. If you’re really in the mood to do this right, take 10 minutes and look through your site’s analytics before going any further.

Next, make up to seven piles of cards. You can have fewer than seven, but no more. The number seven is not arbitrary (well, sort of, but use seven, anyway). For each pile, put a card down that’s your main menu item. Each one of these piles will be a main section (“top-level menu item”) in your navigation.

Now, start putting cards into the appropriate piles. Don’t overthink it too much yet. You’ll probably end up with something similar to what you have now.

One thing that probably started occurring to you while you do this is that some things are redundant, and some things probably don’t require their own unique page. Make a note of which pages might not really need to be separated out in the main menu system.

Next, ask someone else in your office to sort the cards into the appropriate piles. Make note of any redundancies they uncover, too.

Finally, take a look at some of the redundant pages themselves, and especially take a look at your analytics (particularly your conversion rate on these pages).

Let Fall the Axe

Now, be ruthless! Take useful content from low-performing pages, and see where else it can be repurposed (without adding new pages, if you can). Remove pages that are in the way (being sure to set up a 301 redirect to an active page that serves a similar purpose!). Retitle any section that uses a branded term, or something that’s not clear to a person that doesn’t work at your company. Your blog should be titled “Blog,” not “Thoughts and Observations.” Speak human, because (very famously) attention spans on the Web are limited. Translating branded terms takes a lot of mental effort. Unless your branded terms are “iPad,” or “Frappuccino,” they will probably be confusing to most people.

You may note that certain sections of your site could benefit from a different sort of organization. When combining sections or changing how they work a bit, you might need to have some programming changes made, or you may not. Talk to your project manager. It depends on what you’re looking to do. That’s okay, and it’s normal this far down the road to make some adjustments.

Now, that wasn’t that hard, was it?

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