The modern world is overflown with information, a huge number of sites force users to regularly process an incredible amount of data. Having access to such a large amount of research materials, users often feel frustrated due to the inability to find the desired data in the bottomless pit of useless information. This is largely due to the fact that the developers did not pay enough attention to the systematization of information on the Internet for a long time.
Like a library or bookstore, each new site requires a systematic approach to the process of developing proper navigation and data cataloging. Imagine a store without clear navigation, where all the books are stocked in one big pile. Let us assume that you are trying to find Lacan's seminars or a new novel by Michel Houellebecq in a store like this. The most common decision will probably be just going to another store, where all the books will be conveniently sorted out, because you will not have to waste your time searching for the right book in a pile of unnecessary ones. Such a simple comparison can determine the significance of a systematic approach to website data organization. One of the tools to systematize information on the site is to develop a proper structure.
What is a Website Structure?
A website structure can be defined as a structural projection of an informational space that provides intuitive content access. The site structure helps to form an understandable navigation system, using which the user can find the information he needs easily. The organization of a website structure is a necessity that a developer faces when designing usability. In addition to usability, correct site structure often solves broader problems that depend on the goals of your website.
Approaches to the Development of Organization Schemes
You should always use different organization schemes for different purposes, depending on the user's needs and your business goals. There are two approaches to the development of such a classification: top-down and bottom-up.
This approach is based on the goals and needs of users. You should start with the most general categories of future content and functionality. To achieve business goals, it is necessary to conduct a logical content cataloging, gradually breaking it up into categories. The result will be a hierarchical structure of the site, which can be used as the foundation for content organization and help you define proper functionality.
This approach can be defined as a way to develop the structure based on the content that is available at the time of launching. The bottom-up approach also involves accentuation of categories and subcategories. The development of such a structure should begin with the content research. Depending on the content provided, you should group elements into categories of the lowest level, and these categories into higher ones. This creates a structure that reflects users goals and needs.
Each of the above mentioned approaches solves particular problems. Before starting a website development, you should remember that each approach has its pros and cons. It is harder to work out a detailed content with the "top-down" approach.
The peculiarity of the “bottom-up” approach is that it adapts the website structure to already existing content, which can interfere with future content adding. In order to create a good site structure, it is necessary to balance between the “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches.
Rules of Website Structure Development
There are several rules that must be followed when developing a website structure. One of such rules is to limit the browsing “width” and “depth”.The “width” here is the number of options at each browsing level. You should limit the browsing “width” by working out the cataloging system and setting the organization principles in the upper browsing level. A well-developed cataloging system will reduce the browsing “width” at the lower level of the site structure, simplifying the search by category at the “upper” level.
There is also an opinion that the "browsing depth" should not exceed three clicks - this means that the visitor must perform no more than three actions in order to get to any part of the site. The balance between “width” and “depth” makes the content easily accessible. Without a doubt, this rule is reasonable.
Nevertheless, you should pay more attention to the transitions logic. With smartly designed transitions path, each next step looks logical and understandable to the visitor. Even if the “browsing depth” of your websites exceeds three or four clicks, it is unlikely to have a negative effect on conversion rates. On the contrary, if you have a “browsing depth” of three clicks, but have not set up a proper transitions path - you may mislead your visitors, they can get lost in the structure of your website and will not find the information they came for.
Peculiarities of Website Structure Development
Understanding your website goals and user needs is the foundation of a great structure. This data cannot be obtained out of thin air, and you have to conduct a research to realize your target audience’s needs before you begin to design the structure of your site thoroughly. As your website develops, you should keep the researches up to date in order to understand the dynamics of growth and changes in user needs. In this case, the Customer Journey Map tool will be of assistance. By controlling user needs, you get the opportunity to make timely changes to the site structure.
When developing a commercial organization website, the Client or a representative often does not understand the principles of Internet business functioning. If that is the case, it is important to explain that the development does not end after the launch. The Internet is a dynamically developing environment where business success is largely due to the timely integration of working business solutions. Subsequent additions and changes to the site after the launch should not lead to permanent fundamental changes in its structure. A distinctive feature of a good, well-developed structure is the possibility to adjust the website to the dynamics of business needs.
Regardless of how well you work out the site structure, it may sometimes be necessary to redesign its organization. As a rule, such changes are due to an increase in amount of content. When creating a small online store, you can implement scrolling of goods by the date of publication. Given a small amount of goods, such an organization can increase the conversion rates due to the fact that the user has the ability to quickly view the entire range of products, and it is highly possible that some users may want to buy an item that they did not even think about at the beginning. However, this will not work if you have a large number of goods, because the users will have to look through lots of unnecessary products in order to buy the thing they need. You should redesign and make fundamental changes to the website structure in these occasions. Your customers will not waste their time like this, and your earnings will decrease.
When it comes to the development of a website structure, there is no need to focus on only one cataloging system that is accepted in your business niche or that is used by your competitors. Certainly, one should be aware of the existing similar experiences, but it will be much more productive for the business to be guided by the user needs. In order to correctly identify user needs, you should conduct an UX research.
Read more about the implementation of UX research methodology at the early stages of product development in our article.
Architectural Solutions for Website Structure
Features a tree-like structure, the elements in which have “main” and “secondary” dependencies. The “secondary” elements are the narrowest concepts stored in the “main” element. In accordance with the hierarchy, the “secondary” element is dependent on the “main” element, and any “secondary” element might become “main” to another, if you wish to narrow down the concept further. For example, the “main” element is the “Main page” of an online store, the “secondary” is the “Catalog” page or the “Product card” - depending on the navigation system. By following the above-mentioned sequence, you can go all the way from the general "Main page" of the site to the "Product card" page, that is narrowly focused. In hierarchical type of structure, each "secondary" element must be a child of a "main" element (excluding the primary "main" element, which is the beginning of the entire hierarchical scheme). The hierarchical model of website structure is one of the most popular and easiest ways to display complex information flows.
Allows you to design elements of structure in two or more dimensions. The matrix structure is suitable for designing navigation in terms of a single element, taking different user needs into account. Typical example of implementation of this model is an online store product catalog, in which the sorting of a single list of products must be provided according to different parameters, for example, by color or size. It is important to remember that it is hard to process and visualize information in four or more dimensions. This means that matrix structure with more than three dimensions can create additional navigation problems.
In this type of solution, structure elements are not logically related. Organic structure does not have the principles of content cataloging, and it can only be implemented in conditions when the links between the content are not established. An entertainment website, during the use of which the user is ought to feel like a researcher is a vivid example of organic site structure.
It is one of the most common forms of organizing information, familiar to almost everyone. For example, a consistent structure can be seen in books, articles, video and audio materials. An example of a consistent site structure on the Internet can be a simple "Landing Page" where there is a consistent description of the product and contacts. A consistent organizational structure can also be used when designing onboarding in a mobile application and on a website.
The Main Principles of Website Structure Organization
Organizational principles are necessary for grouping and cataloging content. In fact, organizational principles are a set of criteria by which the elements are grouped. These criteria are formed in accordance with the results of research and a business solution that is successful in a particular niche. Therefore, it is necessary to form different organizational principles for sites with different purposes.
When developing a corporate site structure, the organizational principles are more likely to be focused on audience, so the second level of the tree structure will most likely contain the following elements: “News”, “About Company”, “Our Products” and other pages relevant for the target audience of this website.
The Upper Level of Structure
At the upper levels of website structure, organizational principles are focused on business goals and user needs. The lower levels are more dependent on the specific content and service functionality.
Consider a news site as an example - the content is located in a chronological order. This is due to the website’s primary purpose. As a rule, most users visit such portals to find out the latest news. Therefore, the upper architectural level is mostly focused on users primary needs.
The Lower Level of Structure
The lower level of a news portal will be heavily content-focused. For example, if the site specializes in IT news, then the content will probably be divided into the following categories: “Design”, “Frontend” etc. Thus, when designing the lower level it is important to detail and group the content properly.
You should not be limited to only one type of structure. During the process of development, your primary focus is the user needs, therefore you should implement the type of structure that is relevant to your visitors. Start designing the top level by creating a hierarchical structure and defining the needs of your target audience. Use any type of structure that will meet the specific needs of your site in the process of future development.
Question - Answer
I already have a website and it is structured in a wrong way. Is it worth creating a structure with new pages or should I restructure the old ones?
This question cannot be answered without a complete analysis of the current site structure. We can conclude which of the options will be cheaper and easier to implement only after the analysis.
When is a tag cloud useful?
This question is more related to SEO optimization. In order not to lower the current place of your site on a search engine query, you should ask a SEO specialist about the correct way to use the tag cloud.
How to properly organize the bottom level of the site structure if it has a large number of identical elements and they are added on regular basis (for example, online store product cards)?
In order not to make the structure too complicated for perception in a situation when the amount of content is regularly updated, one should correctly catalog the content (upper level of the site structure). If you work out the principles of content organization correctly, you will not have any difficulties in adding new content and distributing the already existing one without messing up the structure with similar elements.