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Site Architecture

Site architecture is the plan for creating a website. It includes all aspects of the site from the look and feel, to usability, functionality and technical aspects. A new building has to have quality architectural plans in place for not only the builder to create the structure, but also importantly to ensure the amenity of this new built environment.

Consider the scenario of looking over hand drawn novice plans of your future family home, so proud of the great job you had done and happily explaining the drawings to a real architect to finalise the plans. After studying your design, the architect pointed out a couple of anomolies he saw, one door that wouldn’t open if the adjacent casement window also open at the same time, and a sliding door that wouldn’t open because there was a fireplace set into the wall it needed to slide into. Without a professional designing the architecture, a builder would have just gone ahead and built, without realising the problems they were creating. Redesigning in those early stages was simple, imagine the difficulty if the house was almost finished, walls would have had to move or some windows bricked in- not a pretty sight.

Your website is the same. A good plan of the site architecture in the beginning can accomplish much and eliminate issues down the track where they are inconvenient and costly. Creating quality site architecture underlying your website is also a blueprint for search engine optimisation (SEO) success, it is also one of the most overlooked elements of a website.

Not all website designers have site architecture expertise. Whilst a finished site may be aesthetically beautiful, it may be very unfriendly to search engines or even to your human visitors.

Site architecture has many components

  • Navigation:  There is some evidence to show that for 80% of users, if theycan’t find what they are looking for on your site in under 3 clicks, will leave your site.
  • Don’t make your visitors search for the call-to-action hyperlinks. Every page should have a direct link to a call-to-action page, this page could be a ‘contact us’, subscribe, shopping cart buy now, request a quote, or just about anything you would like your visitors to do
  • Make it simple for your visitors to build a relationship with you. If you need them to fill out a form or questionnaire, keep the number of questions small. Only request information you need for the transaction or the minimum of what you can use for research. Not only will you make it simple, you won’t alienate your visitors by asking so much personal information they feel their privacy is being compromised.

 Does your site work for people?

Whilst you and your website developer may be able to find everything on your site and zip around at speed, how do you know if it is user friendly to outsiders who have never seen your site before? The way to find out is through user testing.

User testing has outsiders try out your site architecture by actually using it. Depending on the complexity of your site you may choose 10 test subjects and follow a program similar to the following:

  • Give your test subjects a list of activities to fulfil, this may be to-
    • start on the home page
    • find a product they would like to buy
    • book a restaurant table
    • request an information booklet
    • subscribe to a newsletter
  • Watch for visual feedback on how they are getting around the site architecture and structure. If you can, have your testers talk about their thought process as they are performing these tasks. Document the pathways they are taking to investigate your site.
  • Formal feedback could consist of questioning around:
    • Does the website look trustworthy
    • Is it visually appealing
    • What is confusing
    • Who do you think this website is targeted at
    • Who would find it most useful
    • For the subjects you are interested in, how would you expect to navigate around this site
  • Allow your testers time to freely use your site and then question them about more subjective ideas they may have about the ease of navigation, what they liked most and least etc about your site.
Using all of the valuable data you have collected, you can now improve your site. Once completed, retest with a new group of users and compare the results.

Does your site work for Search Engines: is it SEO friendly?

The site architecture has an enormous impact on how SEO friendly your site is. In the initial development consider building your site using SEO friendly foundations such as WordPress or an HTML/CSS combination rather than a system which most search engines can’t actually ‘read’  such as Flash which is also not supported on most mobile devices.

From a content perspective, don’t forget to make the most of the free Google Keyword Tool to see if Google can discover what your site is all about. If the keyword ideas match to your vision of your site, you are on the right track. If not, then you may need to adjust some of what you are doing. For example, there may be many good graphics on your site, but if they are not described accurately of it alt-text is not used well with key words, you are losing much of the validity of the visual information from an SEO viewpoint.

Each page or post needs to be allocated a category which is reflective of the content. This will also help the search engines decide what your page is about. Similarly, it is critical that you devote a page or post to a keyword phrase. Don’t try and ‘stuff’ every page with as many keywords as you can. Human users and search engines will benefit from and appreciate the clarity of a well developed page per keyword phrase.

Don’t make your users or search engines guess what the keyword phrase for each page is. Ensure the keyword is in the page name, URL and and Headings where valid.

By following this path, you will end up with a website whose site architecture facilitates a brilliant user experience and with as many users as possible coming to your site because they were able to find it as it is SEO friendly.