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We’re continuing with our series on Infrastructure Architecture (IA) and search engine optimization (SEO). Previously, I introduced you to IA and I gave you a brief overview of applying infrastructure architecture to blend with your SEO efforts.

Now let’s backtrack from the actual IA systems and processes for a minute, and talk about what our user comes to our site for: fulfilling their need to find information.

Remember, IA is about making your content easier to find faster on your website. It’s not about ranking high in SERPs. You can have beautifully optimized pages that rank well consistently in search results, but it if weren’t for that, and if you haven’t applied IA to your site, it’s highly possible the best ranked pages on your website still can’t be found by your readers.

So, in talking about user information needs, we know on one level that everyone seeks information in different ways, but we’re darned if we can take that knowledge and apply it to our web pages.

Searching for one of your staff’s phone number or email on your website is one information need; discovering how to apply for financial assistance or learning how to set up a home theatre system are others. And each one is a different information seeking process.

When we talk about user information needs, we need to consider both knowledge-seeking behaviors and the highest priorities on your website for user requests.

According to “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web,” here’s a very common way information search and answer processes are presented in our sites.

Too simple:

  • The searcher asks a question
  • Something occurs – search or browse
  • Searcher gets an answer
  • Done!

This method causes more problems than it solves, because in real life, it’s messier than just asking one simple thing. If we are just looking for a phone number or email, this is fine. But if we need to compare home theatre systems or figure out which bilge pump system is best for our boats, this does not work well.

Besides, very often we start out our searches in the mode of “we don’t know what we don’t know.” How often have you begun a search, thinking you’re seeking one thing, but by the end of your search (or in the middle), you realize that’s not really what you’re asking, because you’ve discovered in your journey that there was so much you needed to know before or in addition to your original seek and learn mission.

Finding information is not a straight journey from A to B. Since most of the information stored on our sites is text, and there are a million ways to use text, to present information and concepts, “ask a question, get the answer” misses all the variations and possible solutions the searcher really needs.

Once again, let’s turn to “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” and see four types of information needs:

  • The right thing – also known as “known-item seeking”
  • A few good things – exploratory seeking; start out looking for one thing, end up learning something else that more accurately reflects what we need
  • Everything – exhaustive research; we discover not only what we were looking for, but a whole lot more that gives us an even better understanding of our original search query
  • Need it again – re-finding that information for later use because we just can’t take the time to look at it right now

(Image from “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web“)

These are not all inclusive, but most of your web page users’ needs fit these categories.

We’ll continue exploring this topic in a week. At that time, I promise you I will tie all this in with SEO.

If you’re curious about how you can expand your SEO knowledge and skills, check out Search Engine Academy’s classes on basic, advanced and master SEO.

In the meantime, why not eyeball your site and look at it from your audience’s point of view, to see if your most important information is only one click away?

All the best to you,

Information Architecture and SEO: How It Helps Your Users (Part 1) was last modified: February 22nd, 2012 by Nancy Wigal