Organizing Content / IA

You have a lot of important information to share with your audiences. Help them find it by organizing your content in a logical, intuitive, and easy-to-find way.​

A vital part of the web update process is the construction of an effective Information Architecture, which forms the foundation of your site.

Information is sorted in a way that allows people to find what they're looking for, as well as offering search cues that lead to other points of interest. You can apply this technique to the site as a whole, as well as to how information is organized on a page.

Most people go to websites looking for information or to perform a task. Prospective students want information about degree programs, housing, social opportunities. Parents want to find out about costs and safety. Some people are looking for positions as professors and staff members.

If they can't find what they're looking for, they're not likely to stick around. Clear, consistent organization will make it easy for people to get to what they want and feel a connection to Mason Nation.

Know Who You're Talking To​

Mason's primary audience is prospective students, but they're not our only audience. Current students, faculty, parents, alumni, researchers, and donors are just some of the other groups you serve. Determining your audience will help you figure out what information you need and how it should be organized. We want everyone to find what they need with a minimum of fuss.

Know What You Want to Say​

Instead of looking at what you have and trying to sort it, ask yourself what should be on the site. Determine your site goals, and start organizing the information around those goals. Imagine this was your main menu:

  • Academics
  • Financial Aid
  • Campus Life
  • Visit

By using clearly differentiated menu topics, people can typically find what they want quickly. The main menu can also be an opportunity to highlight something unique or special about your unit. If you're doing incredible research with opportunities for students to get involved, make research a top menu item. Just make sure you have enough information to back that claim.

When you have five to seven high-level topics, pull out your content inventory and make sure all important material will fit into the new structure. If you can't fit some topics cleanly into your main menu items, you might need to adjust or rephrase them to make sure everything has a logical home.

Know How You Want to Say It​​

You can use a variety of techniques to determine your top-level topics, as well as the subordinate pages that fall under them.​

  • Card Sorting. Write your topics down on sticky notes, then get members of your department to place them in various categories on a white board. You can move them around and reorganize them until you're happy with your organization. Don't forget to take a picture when you're finished.
  • Hierarchy Outline. Follow the outline form you used in school. Roman numerals for your top-level topics, capital and lower-case letters for secondary pages.
  • Spreadsheet. Put your high-level topics at the top of each column, then put subordinate topics where they fit best.