The Land Trust Alliance is a DC non-profit group working in land conservation. They were struggling with as a result of a switch from a flag HTML to a CMS managed website. The new CMS site was built without any information architecture requirements, and the developer’s attempts to create one were unsuccessful.
As a result they had “a pretty site and some good content that nobody can find – including staff,” according to the team leader. They needed an intervention to get specific recommendations for navigation improvements and restructuring content.
This project included a discovery phase, a quick-win review, a design strategy and a robust information architecture proposal to improve top-level navigation and reposition content four clicks down.
These four streams of data — research (old and new), inventory and analytics –allowed me to come up with the cluster of labels that were used in the new information architecture proposal.
A dive into research informed our effort to better understand the strategic goals of their site and who they believed their primary audiences were. Older research files did not match up to the current environment, but did offer a window on aspirations. The internal team was given documentation to enable them to do some user interviews and gather current information on the top tasks users had on the current site. These interviews provided another leg of research to pair with the older research documents for our baseline review.
I used Power Mapper to pull a copy of the site URLs into an Excel Spreadsheet for analysis for the inventory. The inventory showed there were 4000 separate URLs on the site, and my analysis demonstrated three out of every four pages was duplication, in-accurate outdated material.
I suggested to the team leader that there were some quick wins and strategic decisions ahead to address duplication. I recommended integrating a social media sharing widget to replace the email-only option that had contributed to website bloat. I also advocated they host some of their content on third-party sites and integrate it back into their website. This helped leapfrog inadequate technology on their CMS system and gain new audiences and SEO clout. Flickr was an inviting venue for their unique and special photography collection. Google Calendar provided better functionality and less maintenance for their events pages.
The next step was to look at analytics Google Analytics for top content and categories and Webmaster Tools for top links to site information. After their vendor integrated these missing tools, behavioral data from the site could inform current strategy and program direction. My analysis of the top visited pages fed a comparison graph between the volume of pages devoted to each site section and the amount of traffic it was receiving. It was clear there was more effort was needed on some sections, and less effort was needed on others.
The next phase of the project involved coming up with a new plan for the information architecture. When I weeded down the content on the site, excluding images, calendar pages and duplicate or inaccurate or out-of-date content I was able to zero on about 500 essential pages. These pages were verified against Google Analytics to assure that pages popular with users were not left behind in the process. Using an Excel Spreadsheet I experimented with a new top-level and utility bar navigation.
When label names were in doubt, I referred to Google Insight for Search to discover which terms and phrases were the most popular. Otherwise labeling followed best practices in usability and readability for short words that would not result in wrapping within the navigation buttons.
To guide this phase, I also created a two-page Web design memo that synthesized the earlier Web research that was still relevant with what my research had found. This memo summarized six things for the team to develop a common language around the project: the site goals, site branding, audience, top tasks, critical success factors and technology constraints.
One of the technology constraints identified during the discovery phase was that in addition to the public facing site, the Web site actually linked to data from six different Web sites managed by the organization, creating a level of complexity and opportunities for future integration.
I submitted three documents to the LTA team for discussion and review:
- The Web Design Strategy Memo
- An org-chart style presentation of the proposed information architecture for the first and second clicks
- An excel spreadsheet that presented my recommendations for third and fourth level clicks across the entire site
At the meeting with the team, I presented my proposal to them, along with the business reasons behind each decision and where relevant the evidence based design theory from usability best practices on why I recommended structuring the site this way.
To make the Web Design Strategy memo their own, I counseled them to get a leadership agreement. After alignment is achieved, a memo from the top supporting the project could be distributed across the organization along with the design strategy memo and the PPT site-map as attachments.
My recommendations for the new information architecture and way ahead were well received and the internal team took it in-house for further consideration and vetting. With some fine-tuning my last deliverable was a wireframes document created in Visio and then saved as a PDF for easy distribution to the team.
The client was satisfied with the recommendations and expressed enthusiasm that it gave the organization what was needed to take their Web site to the next level. The team leader told me that they were very excited about the roadmap they had in hand and felt optimistic that when implemented it would make the site more accessible to more people.
“Kathy brought loads of experience and great ideas, backed up with specific reasons, to our website information architecture problem,” said Rob Aldrich, the LTA Director of Communications. “Her recommendations pushed the comfort level of the group, but we decided to follow them based on her bona fides. I recommend her without reservation.”