Information Architecture | Transalpine Internet Sevices

Transalpine has a department specialised in the highly technical field of website content optimization. We explain here how Content Engineering can improve the search engine performance of your website.

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Information Architecture

Information Architecture (IA) arises from the long-established field of systems design. It relates to the structures which classify and retrieve data, by means of an inherently comprehensible system of grouping and hierarchy.

However, as the ultra-domain superstructures of Web 2.0 develop, factors such as user interactivity, social media and cloud platforms present an evolutionary path to IA which makes the word 'architecture', if understood as a centralised, deliberately designed structuring, seem rigid and antiquated.

Our understanding of information is also changing. The internet is inundating the world with an unprecedented fluidity of sources, in a vast variety of formats and temporal availability. This suggests that the new information provision scenarios will be ever more anarchistic, pan-domain and even non-proprietorial in character.

However, it still makes sense for the 'message' a single organisation or business wishes to disseminate to take on a traditional, formal architecture, at least within the safety of its domain walls. This architecture will continue to reflect the marketing and PR strategies as they are strategically conceived.

How important a website's information architecture is depends of course on the nature of the site. If the site itself is a functional tool for internal organisational use, it may form the basis for many complex interactions that reflect the activity and flows within a company. If the site is primarily for external use, it may present a catalogue of products in a commercial shop front, and log transactions and itineraries. An information site, like ScienceLibrary.info, has a library structure, with a number of layers of indexes and cross-references between the various media formats.

There is, therefore, no simple answer as to what sort of information architecture a site should adopt.

Templates and Custom-made Sites

Too often the designers of sites come from a technical background, and may not be in a position to integrate the full range of applications and possibilities a site may have. Technology blinkers and computer programming illiteracy induce the adoption of ubiquitous templates, and flashy first-impression designs, which may not allow for long-term content integration and accessibility.

For example, although at first glance (for some) impressive, a template's built-in CMS (Content Management System) may present limitations to information architects in how they can control the application of good SEO principles in the generation of content. In particular, the use of 302 redirects, session IDs and other flags in dynamic URLs and titles, content behind barriers (e.g. log-in required), and search engine non-legible content (e.g. AV and Flash), illicit link farming techniques, such as hidden external links and social media link juice drains, are prevalent in template provided CMS systems, and need to be carefully assessed before their adoption.

Approaches to Good Structural Design

The key factors to be analysed and planned for in any SEO audit refer to the storage and indexing of present and future content, and its retrieval and editing.

Navigation

Navigation can have a rigid hierarchy, or be of an organic nature. Wikipedia has a stub system, where anyone can create a new path for knowledge, to which new contributions may find a natural place. On a smaller website, the breadcrumb system may be sufficient, and represents a mix between a rigid tree structure and the flexible, organic stub system.

Navigation should not rely on the back button, but allow visitors to move forwards (deeper in to the site) or return to the corridors between sections, without ever losing the global orientation and mental projection of the architecture around them. An emerging convention in large, complex sites is a multi-tiered navigation, one moving deeper into the specific zone of the site, and one returning the visitor to the lobby of the structure, and the administration facilities and exit.

Ensuring that the URL address of the page always reflects this architecture aids spiders to orientate themselves as well. A general principle therefore is to avoid non-legible content of URLs (codes and IDs), and use instead keywords which best describe the theme of the section in question.

http://www.sciencelibrary.info/subject9/topic88/entry.php?id=183

This may be an easy and logical way for a programmer to organise pages, but a far better SEO-friendly URL would be:

http://www.sciencelibrary.info/computing/seo/entry.php?title=information_architecture

URLs can be all UPPERCASE, all lowercase, or a MixOfBoth. However, consistency of use is best practice.

Cross-Referencing

A harder aspect of a good system architecture is building in automatic cross-referencing. How to get down to a particular page may be straightforward, but portraying accurately how that page relates to other available content, or future contributions, is anything but straightforward. And yet important for the conveyance of link juice.

Again, it depends greatly on the nature of the site, its target audience and its habits (e.g. academics behave differently to online shoppers), and the purpose of the site. In the brainstorming session at the start of the site development phase, creative ideas may emerge for this particular issue.

An example of a clever (I think) side-step to this issue is the 'purchased with this item' system found on sites like Amazon, in which similarities between products are assumed to be reflected in purchasing choices of customers.

This and other types of user-ranking and classification systems are known as folksonomy.

Specific page elements

A page can be broken into different sections and elements for analysis of best practice in information design:

Head Section Tags

meta tags in the head section of the HTML page provide information for both the search engine and the site visitor.

  • <title>
  • This tag is an important element for both the search engine and the user, who sees its content in the SERP listing. Care should be taken to ensure the title is specific and informative.

  • <meta name="keywords">
  • Search engines no longer give any credence to this tag. Many sites still pour dictionaries into it, but search engines have long lost faith in them as reliable indicators of content.

  • <meta name="description">
  • This tag also has no bearing on page rankings, but the search engine does return the content text of this tag in the result listing, so it is worth using. It should be a fairly short, concise description of the purpose and scope of the site for the searcher. The USP (unique sales position) of the service can be announced here to attract click-throughs.

  • <meta name="robots">
  • <meta name="robots" content="noindex, follow" />

    is a technique for preventing search engines from listing the URL in its SERP, yet pass on all the link juice value. As opposed to robots.txt which controls how search engines follow links through pages, but will still list the URL. Here are the possible permutations on the theme:

    content="index, follow" → the default setting, equivalent to having no meta robots

    content="noindex, follow" → suitable for duplicate index pages

    content="index, nofollow" → useful for when the content is unreliable, such as user-generated content in blogs

    content="noindex, nofollow" → kinda pointless, as it negates all outgoing link juice value

Frames

Bad news for SEO. Frames are looked at by search engines as separate pages, so no page link metrics can be shared. A better alternative for displaying content that is imported to a page is AJAX.

Cannibalization

This term is an appropriate, if indelicate, description for the effect of diluting the overall relevance of pages due to keywords being targeted to multiple pages. The search engine is unsure, as will be the human searcher, as to which page is the most relevant for a specific keyword.

The best solution is a careful design of the site architecture, to ensure keyword targeting is mapped out as a global strategy from the very beginning. A flowchart approach will clarify the hierarchy of site levels, and derivative branching can be accompanied by a similar increasing specificity of keywords.

Links with anchor texts to the 'mother page' for a keyword should be embedded in the text of a child page. For example, 'oscillations' could be the target keyword for a page in the ScienceLibrary.info Physics section dealing with all types of oscillations. Another page, 'simple harmonic oscillations', could have a link back to the more generic 'oscillations' page. This will ensure the search engine identifies the true primary page for the target keyword.

This information is imported from our site www.sciencelibrary.info. For further information, please visit the site, or contact us.

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