Creating SEO-Friendly Information Architecture





Blog Date

June 6, 2024


UK, Manchester

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Creating SEO-Friendly Information Architecture

Creating SEO-Friendly Information Architecture

Information architecture (IA) is a major topic in the world of search engine optimization (SEO). It involves the organization, arrangement, and labeling of content for a website or application. IA is an umbrella term that covers the processes involved in establishing navigation, categorization, hierarchies, and sitemaps.

Fundamental to SEO, information architecture influences many different practices, including user experience (UX), user interface (UI), and interaction design (IxD). As described by, the goal of information architecture is to help users efficiently find information and complete tasks. Sounds pretty simple, right? For smaller websites, it’s often quite straightforward. But for larger sites, information architecture (IA) requires a high level of critical thinking, strategic planning, and intuitive foresight.

IA is the intersection between your brand and your site’s content/how users engage with it. Subsequently, it plays a vital role in both SEO and UX design. You want to make sure you create a site’s IA right the first time, as it lays the foundation for your site’s content and pages. Sure, there may be moments of pivoting, adapting, and making changes. But establishing a solid IA from the start sets the groundwork for fruitful SEO and meaningful user experiences.

For big brands, online stores, and massive websites that are often most challenged by IA, this article will distill a handful of information architecture best practices and pointers as it pertains to advancing SEO and UX.

Information Architecture is Not Limited to One Discipline

Information architecture is not limited to one particular discipline. Content strategists employ IA best practices when reviewing data, segmenting content, and organizing it into categories. Likewise, UX designers utilize IA when conceptualizing menus and site features to help users understand where they’re at on a site and how to find what they’re looking for.

My favorite analogy is to think of IA as a bookstore. Most bookstores are intuitively organized with clearly defined sections, genres, and formats. They also emphasize fresh ideas and showcase cool new stuff that makes them unique. Some visitors know what they want while others are just browsing. Great bookstores make it easy to accommodate both ends of the spectrum.

Just like noteworthy websites, successful bookstores offer a sense of personality, novelty, and perspective, all while being easy to browse and explore. For the more obscure and esoteric information, bookstores use the same creative, flexible IA-minded thinking to adapt and provide meaningful experiences.

There is no inherent “right” or “wrong” way to go about IA – just the right way to organize things for your brand and your buyers.

The Many Shapes of Information Architecture

The beauty behind information architecture is that it takes many different shapes. It can be eCommerce-related, like how products, categories, facets, and filters are used. Or it can be content-related, like how resources are tagged, categorized, and accessed on the site.

For websites and applications that involve a lot of content, creating good IA is easier said than done. At any stage of the journey, IA and SEO challenges can arise. The classic example is when information architects and dev teams define taxonomies/hierarchical structures without the input of SEOs.

Those involved in the initial stages of IA determine navigation labels for certain departments, categories, or sub-categories, mostly by way of prioritizing how to best serve users. In many cases, keyword research, search data, and valuable SEO input gets neglected. There are many other SEO challenges that can arise from “bad” IA, including:

  • Duplicate content issues due to content being found in multiple categories
  • Thin/low-value pages consuming crawl budget
  • Inaccessible or orphaned pages that don’t get indexed
  • Navigational structures that are overwhelming or confusing for users

These are just some of the most common challenges involving IA and SEO. Let’s dive deeper into the scenarios and best practices to deliver exceptional user experiences and SEO outcomes.

Prioritizing for IA and SEO Success

Cleaning up poor IA can often involve many different solutions. Even one specific problem can have more than one fix. Much depends on the nature of the website, its content, its users, and the specific scenario at hand. That said, there are a number of common fixes that offer effective tools for certain situations.

Amid the sheer volume and vastness surrounding deep websites, prioritization is a crucial perspective that takes many forms. In the context of IA, here are a few guidelines that can help course-correct for SEO:

  1. Keep Navigation Simple: One of the most perplexing aspects of information architecture is sorting navigation hierarchies and menus. This is especially the case with large websites with many layers of categorization and potential overlap between certain categories. It’s easy to employ navigation strategies that utilize mega menus and drop-downs that present users with many options. But oftentimes, too many options can do more harm than good, ultimately overwhelming users with decision overload. In turn, this can exacerbate bounce rates and weaken engagement, which can translate to diminished SEO over time.

A general best practice when arranging IA for navigation systems is to keep things as simple as possible. You want users to make their way around a site without feeling frustrated or lost. Simplified navigation and menu options add value to IA as they maintain a coherent and logical flow of information. This helps steer users to the right places without interrupting or dictating their experience.

  1. Canonicalize Polyhierarchies: Another common scenario is finding that multiple hierarchies may be suitable for a given topic. When the same page, product, or theme is found in multiple categories, content can become duplicated and pages often compete with each other. A simple solution is canonicalizing polyhierarchies, thereby prioritizing just one URL among other similar options or potential duplicates.

The canonical-chosen option can be pinpointed by reviewing the most common path to the given product/page as well as identifying the most common use cases according to search volume and keyword data. In essence, SEO can help guide the way by determining the best choice for the canonical hierarchy, including which disruptive duplicates might be worth deindexing.

  1. Address Thin/Low-Value Pages: Pages with thin content, no content, or inaccessible content can contribute to index bloat and wasted crawl budget. While these pages sometimes serve a purpose for users, they are oftentimes congestive for search engines and problematic for SEO. These are typically category pages with very little content/items, redundant product pages found in multiple categories, or pages receiving little-to-no links, such as orphan pages.

Running a crawl report and conducting an SEO content audit can help you pinpoint where these low-value pages are found. Once you’ve determined which URLs are in fact adding bloat and consuming crawl budget, use tools like the Meta Robots Noindex tag and Robots.txt Disallow to deter search engines from crawling and indexing them.

  1. Add Supporting Content Layers: A lot of sites that are challenged by IA (think online retail) are transactional by nature. But that doesn’t mean everyone landing on the site is ready to buy. In fact, a study by Episerver showed that only 1 in 6 online shoppers (or 17 percent) are actively prepared to make a purchase the first time they visit a site. A majority of first-time visitors are searching, gathering information, and comparing prices.

To account for these SEO opportunities, consider adding a new layer of support across various pages and categories on the site. New layers can take the shape of blogs, buying guides, expert Q&As, how-to guides, white papers, workshops, forums, etc. and they’re particularly useful in supporting product and sub-category pages that may be a few clicks deep.

Not only does this strategy help generate additional organic traffic from informational and long-tail queries, but new layers provide support for internal linking. Additionally, they can help cultivate a stronger community around the brand, which is never a bad play for competitive brand environments.

A carefully-planned information architecture not only adds value to the user experience but also to the business as a whole. It goes without saying that for SEOs, content strategists, UI, and UX designers, IA holds tremendous importance for a number of reasons. There’s obviously a lot that goes into IA, and this is just skimming the surface. If you have specific questions, concerns, or challenges that you’re facing with IA (or technical SEO in general), feel free to reach out to our team at MCR SEO. We’re glad to help.

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