The Simplest Path is the Best: Occam’s Site Map Strategy

Occam’s razor (Latin lex parsimoniae) is the law of parsimony, economy, or succinctness. It is a principle stating that among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected. – wikipedia

My previous post on design vs words was a big conversation starter, so I’m going to take this moment to further my side of the argument.

Case in point. Here is a “sitemap” or “ia” for my latest client. (My latest tool, Google Docs.)

words and structure make up IA in my opinion

Words and structure make up IA in my opinion.

With today’s most common information structure being the blog format, we have several navigation options. The TAB or PAGE (usually displayed across the top of the page – like old-fashioned web design) is one of the most powerful and thus important navigation structures. Next comes the Category structure. Often in a blog it is in the right or left column, running alongside the content itself. I often rename these Topics or Category Nav to point out their organizing function. These can often be hierarchical without much extra design overhead. And finally we have the TAG. This is the “everything is miscellaneous” navigation system that cuts across all design parameters. The TAG is the navigation of the future. SEO-friendly, structure agnostic, and limitless in it’s connective powers.

Without thinking a thing about color, design, or typefaces, we’ve got the basics of all our IA (information architecture) right there. Two main structures PAGE and CATEGORY. And one hyper structure: the TAG.

With just those two main structural systems we can define an IA for any site. The content falls in one of the PAGE structures (THE MAIN TOPICS or FOCUS) or it falls in the CATEGORY structure. It may be in several places. And that’s it. That’s all I need to know to begin an organized content strategy.

And from the MAIN navigation of the sitemap, we should be able to map every item of content and every link to a GOAL. What is the site supposed to do? What do we want the user to do? How will we show them the way to the actions we want them to take? And does every PAGE or CATEGORY have a specific purpose that aligns with the GOALS. We should be able to say “YES” to each of these questions before we move on to the look and feel of the site.

Let the designers and artists deal with the ART decisions, I’ve got my “information architecture” and I am ready to go to town on the CONTENT.

Because, after all, CONTENT IS KING, still. It does not matter how I arrived at the content (rss, email, aggregation site, search, adwords) once I am there, the story, the words of the content are more important that all the graphic design in the world. And of course, when this content is consumed on an aggregation site (Huffington Post or Yahoo News as an example) the creators have lost all control of the design anyway.

And at that point it is all down to the value of the content. Both in an SEO-value and a “was this helpful to me” value placed on it by the reader. Then the real magic does or does not happen when they decide to ignore it or share it. And there is no Information Architecture that will solve for that random and wonderful outcome.

It’s all about words. The simpler you can represent them in your “map” of structure and goals, the easier it will be to stay focused on what is important. Flying without a map is not encouraged.

John McElhenney

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