The principles of information architecture

wireframe working

The way in which a website is structured is a hugely important factor in determining how people find, understand and engage with content. In the absence of a sound structure, problems related to usability, content management and multiple re-designs can cause problems for both users and webmasters alike.

The process of planning and defining a website’s structure is known as information architecture (or IA for short) and it’s a practice that’s most often associated with user experience. However, an understanding of website structure and how different content elements relate to one another means that IA impacts digital marketing at a wider level and is therefore something many of us can use when strategising and planning.

Defining information architecture

The Information Architecture Institute offers the following definition:

“Information architecture is about helping people understand their surroundings and find what they’re looking for, in the real world as well as online”

IA is essentially about organising, structuring and labelling content in a way that enables users to find the information they need to complete a task.

One of the leading pioneers of information architecture is Peter Morville, who along with Louis Rosenfeld in their book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (affectionately known as the ‘Polar Bear Book’) outlined the main components of IA:

  • Organisation schemes and structures – how information is structured and categorised
  • Labelling systems – how information is represented and defined
  • Navigation systems – how users browse and navigate through information
  • Search systems – how users look for and find information

As part of an ‘information ecology’, users, content and context work interdependently. The following Venn diagram illustrates how IA sits at the intersection of these three areas:

IA Venn Diagram

Through evidence gathering, IA allows us to organise content and design users flows based on a target audience and the technology and data related to the website. Research, which may include competitor analysis, card sorting or usability testing, sits at the heart of IA and informs the actions and decisions to be taken.

The opportunity for digital marketers

The process of information architecture allows all of us as digital marketers to take a step back and consider how the different pieces fit together as part of the bigger picture. We’re often so focused on our specific areas and disciplines (for example within paid, owned and earned media) that we take a siloed rather than holistic approach to how we build and structure websites.

Information architecture gives us the opportunity to consider cross-channel experiences. Digital display, social media and search means that there are now multiple ‘front doors’ to a website. Users rarely enter a website through the homepage and navigate using pre-defined journeys. As a result, we must map the customer journey across multiple touch points and design sitemaps, wireframes and taxonomies to meet user needs and ultimately what they expect from a website or app.

Key tasks of Information Architecture

The key tasks and deliverables associated with information architecture are not the domain solely of UX or IA professionals. Digital marketers working across many different disciplines can benefit from practising IA. For example, when an SEO looks at how products on a search page should be ordered, he is practising information architecture. Likewise, when a content strategist groups and categorises content, she is also practicing information architecture.

Some of the IA tasks that can add value to the work of any digital marketer include:

User research and analysis

Information architecture involves putting the user at the centre of the design process (an attribute of a user centred design (UCD) framework) to ensure that their backgrounds and goals are considered as early in the process as possible. As such, user research involves gathering data about user behaviours, needs and motivations to understand how people use information and applications.

User research is typically conducted using a number of different techniques and analysis, all of which provide insight to inform further IA enhancements:

Card sorting

Card sorting is a user-centred technique that enables you to label content elements onto cards from which users can then group and organise based on the site structure that makes sense to them.

There are two types of card sorting techniques – open (users organise topics based on categories that make sense to them) and closed (users organise topics based on pre-defined categories).

Interviews and discussions

Interviews can be conducted formally or as more of a casual discussion to go into more detail about someone’s attitudes, beliefs and experiences to really understand the users visiting your site.

Interviews should take place early on in the website creation phase so that users research can be incorporated into the objectives and goals for the site.

Focus groups

A focus group, which is a moderated discussion with between 5 and 10 participants, typically enables users to talk through how they use a website and explain their attitudes, motivations and beliefs.

The benefits of a group discussion is that ideas can bounce off one another and you can begin to see patterns in terms of what users expect from the information they encounter on a website.

Surveys

Surveys are typically conducted online and include a series of questions aimed at the target audience of your site.

Online surveys enable you to collect data at scale at very little cost from which you can gather insights into who your users are, what they want to accomplish and the information they’re looking for on your site.

Task analysis

Task analysis enables you to learn about users’ goals and expectations by observing them in action.

The benefit of task analysis is that you can identify the information your site must support to help users achieve their goals, where road block are hindering journeys and where you can refine or redefine your site’s navigation and search functionality.

Use cases

A use case is a written description of how users interact and perform tasks on a website. The goal is to outline how a system’s behaviour will respond to a particular request from a user’s point of view.

Use cases are particularly useful because they define who is using the website, what the user wants to do, the user’s goal, the steps they take to accomplish a task and how the website should respond.

For a definitive list of user research methods check out usability.gov.

Navigation and hierarchy

A website’s navigation and hierarchy is related to how information should be displayed and accessed. The user research process will help inform how different pages and content should be connected with one another and how they should be organised to enable users to get to the information they need.

This process will be a balance between what the user expects to see and how the organisation wants to group information and the output of this process will influence how the structure for the rest of the site will be created.

website-architecture

Nomenclature/ labelling

The labelling or nomenclature of a website refers to how different sections and pages are named. This activity can fall under the remit of many different disciplines, including design, content strategy and SEO. What a page or section is called will inform how the website’s navigation and hierarchy is titled and how users will find information across the site.

Wireframing

Wireframing can be regarded as the blueprinting of digital design. It’s a primary way of defining the information hierarchy of a web page and the connections between different screens and content elements.

Wireframing allows you to plan the layout of a page and define how users should process information. Like an architectural blueprint, it outlines the structure of a page visually and illustrates where information and content must go.

Wireframe example copy

Taxonomies and metadata

Taxonomies are about how information is grouped, categorised and organised. Metadata is about how the information is described to ensure content can be found and understood.

As with all the IA tasks, user research will play a leading role as it’s important that everything makes sense from the user’s perspective. Choosing the right taxonomy will underpin the structure of the site whilst the metadata will ensure that users can navigate and search intuitively.

Summary

During the creation of a new website or the evolution of an existing one, the structure and organisation of information across the site is an essential element to success.

Crafting content and structure with the user in mind should be the primary objective and it’s surprising how often this isn’t the case. Many websites are built around an organisation’s corporate objectives as opposed to the users’ and information architecture is about putting the user at the heart of the design process.

Whilst IA is often seen as a user experience task, it’s something that all digital marketers should be aware of and practice. For example, a good website structure that intuitively works for users is much more likely to be valued by Google and other search engines. And an understanding of user research and analysis can help content marketers to use the right terminology during content brainstorming sessions and host the content across the site where it makes most sense to users.


Presentation tips from a first-time TED speaker

Tim-Urban-on-Inside-the-mind-of-a-master-procrastinator_755x9999

Speaking and presenting forms a big part of what we do as marketers. The ability to articulate an idea that generates interest, enthusiasm and unity is a skill that is often underrated but is nonetheless hugely valuable and can pay huge dividends when executed well.

For anyone that isn’t aware, TED is a conference held in North America every year that covers big topics related to technology, entertainment and design. Speaking at TED isn’t easy – it’s often by invitation only and the audience have very high expectations (past speakers include Al Gore, Seth Godin and Bono!). So when the writer Tim Urban was invited to speak at TED he panicked – and then blogged about his experience in the run up to the big day.

Tim’s talk on procrastination proved to be a hit and it was delivered in the same tone, verve and humour as his blog. Tim’s presentation looks so casual, when in reality he spent many months crafting and editing to get it just right.

Whilst you can read about Tim’s experience yourself, I thought I’d summarise some of the nuggets of wisdom that I took away from Tim’s approach which I believe offers some great advice for anyone preparing to stand up in front of an audience and give a presentation.

Tim’s top three presentation tips

1. When asked to speak in public we generally have three main options:

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 22.56.50

2. Each method has its own pros and cons but for a big presentation (such as a TED talk or a pitch) a well-memorised script is probably the best bet for most of us:

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 22.57.09

3. However, beware: if you choose to go with a script, the risk of disaster increases unless you go all out to memorise, practice and refine what you’re going to say!

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 22.57.26

Of course, every speaker is different and will have their own preferences as to how they should deliver a particular talk or presentation. However, it’s nevertheless interesting to get an insight into how a real-life TED talker planned, procrastinated and then ultimately delivered a talk that has generated over 4 million views to date!


A quick-fire guide to Programmatic Marketing

Programmatic robot

Programmatic is a very hot topic in the world of marketing right now. As Ad Age points out, the advertising industry is on a march toward automation, and programmatic marketing gives marketers the opportunity to purchase advertising more efficiently and – given the right data – more effectively, too.

As a relative newcomer to the world of programmatic marketing, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. Trying to get to grips with programmatic can really make your head spin! I therefore thought I might be an ideal person to provide an introduction to programmatic for anyone tackling this area of marketing for the first time.

Rather than producing a lengthy guide, I thought it might be useful instead to provide a quick overview of the key principles of programmatic marketing and a glossary of some of the main terms (jargon?!)

Introduction to programmatic

So, what exactly is programmatic marketing?

Programmatic marketing is essentially about using real-time technology (the majority of the time) to deliver the most relevant messages to targeted consumers in order to maximise response. Through audience insights, messages are tailored to the right person, at the right moment, in the right context, usually via display ads, although increasingly through other formats such as video, too.

Data is key

Data is becoming increasingly important to marketers and programmatic marketing thrives on quality data.

Effective programmatic marketing combines data from the audience (including demographics, location, interests and behaviour) and the environment to provide a more engaging, relevant experience. This data can be first, second or third-party, with first-party data (gathered from owned channels) providing the greatest insight into customers.

The opportunity: personalisation

Programmatic marketing gives marketers the opportunity to personalise at scale and to reach different customers with different creative messaging across media channels and partners.

Because advertisers buy impressions individually (not grouped by thousands or millions), each ad marketplace allows an advertiser to serve one specific ad to one single consumer in one single context.

Programmatic technology therefore offers the promise of ‘life-pattern marketing’, enabling marketers to reach consumers at key moments in their days with powerful messaging. Along with a response signal, this technology can identify what resonates with individuals at the moment-to-moment level to optimise the timing, relevance and effectiveness of the ads they see.

The business case

Programmatic marketing is growing at an incredible rate, with eMarketer estimating that it’s on track to make up 59% of total US digital display advertising spending in 2016 – $15.43 billion (over $5 billion from 2015), prompting many to suggest that programmatic is the future of online advertising.

The chart below from BI Intelligence summarise some future projections:

Programmatic projections copy

Whilst there are a number of potential downsides to programmatic that marketers must consider (including inventory quality, cost implications, and fraud), it nevertheless offers some major benefits for marketers, including:

  • Pay only for the consumers you want, in contexts that generate impact
  • Enrich the consumer experience with more first-party data
  • Increase reach across many more properties than just a handful of sites
  • Scale campaigns up to very large volume
  • Show maximum campaign effect, with the best return

A glossary of top programmatic terms

A Forrester study from 2014 that found that only 23% of marketers understood programmatic buying, a clear indication that this is an area many still find confusing:

Programmatic Buying Still a Mystery to Most Marketers copy

Part of the confusion is no doubt due to the terminology involved and I’ve therefore picked out some key terms and phrases. This is by no means an exhaustive list (others are much more comprehensive) but will hopefully give you a primer before delving into more detail:

Programmatic buying

Programmatic ad buying refers to the use of automation software to purchase digital advertising on a web page. Ad space can be bought in two ways: directly or through real-time bidding.

Programmatic direct

Programmatic direct (aka programmatic guaranteed, programmatic premium, programmatic reserved) is where automated software is used to buy guaranteed ad space (impressions) in advance from specific publishers. This approach does not involve an auction and the benefits relate to a more efficient ad buying process (the automated process is quicker, offers more pricing control, faster access to ad inventory and provides analytics).

Real-time bidding (RTB)

The process of buying digital inventory from multiple publishers on an impression-by-impression basis, typically involving an auction pricing mechanism and bidding strategies determined by pre-defined rules or algorithms.

Ad exchange/ marketplace

An ad exchange or marketplace is an auction-based platform that enables multiple parties, including advertisers, publishers and ad networks, to buy and sell advertising inventory to the highest bidder. Prominent ad exchanges include Google’s DoubleClick, Microsoft Media Network and OpenX.

Private exchanges

This is an ad exchange that is open to an invitation-only group of buyers. Private exchanges are typically run by individual or groups of major publishers and allow brands and publishers to work with the partners they choose.

Advertising inventory

Ad inventory is the ad space (calculated in terms of the number of page impressions) a publisher has available to sell to an advertiser.

Demand-side platform (DSP)

A demand-side platform is a system that enables advertisers, agencies and networks to automate the purchase of ad impressions (including display, video, mobile and search) across multiple ad exchanges.

A DSP uses sophisticated targeting and optimisation algorithms to assess the attributes of every ad impression and assigns a bid based on those attributes to get the most value for each individual impression.

Supply-side platform (SSP)

A supply-side platform is the publisher equivalent of a DSP that enables publishers to automatically sell ad impressions for the maximum price they can charge.

An SSP allows publishers to connect their inventory to multiple ad exchanges, DSPs and networks to access a large pool of potential buyers in real time.

Data management platform (DMP)

A data management platform is essentially a data warehouse used by agencies, publishers and marketers to manage and merge data such as cookie IDs. This enables advertisers to use a variety of other data sources to generate audience segments for improved understanding and targeting.

Programmatic Creative

Digital ad creative that contains design elements, which integrate with programmatic and real-time bidding strategies to enable advertisers to deliver a message that’s tailored to the audience viewing it and the environment on which it’s being viewed.


Looking forward to a mobile-first future

Mobile future2

I was reflecting this week on the recent changes Google have made to their search results and the potential affect this will have on marketers. The changes only apply to desktop and I agree with some experts that it’s likely that Google are looking to standardise the ecosystem across devices as part of their continuing move towards a mobile-first design.

I believe this is significant because mobile-first is something that will impact us all and something we must be cognisant of in how we plan, optimise and execute our work. Whilst mobile-first is becoming an increasingly top priority across the marketing industry, I still don’t believe everyone has full grasped how all-incompassing mobile will become.

This presentation from Benedict Evans of Andreesen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist firm, eloquently summarises some of the key trends in mobile we’re currently experiencing and those we’re likely to see in the years ahead.

The video of Ben’s presentation goes into the detail nicely but some of the key stand-out points for me include:

  • The smartphone industry dwarfs PCs – 4bn people are buying phones every 2 years instead of 1.6bn buying PCs every 5 years:

Smartphones dwarf PCs

  • ‘Mobile’ doesn’t really mean mobile – people are more likely to be using their mobile in the home, even as they sit just few feet from a desktop computer:

Mobile doesn't really mean mobile

  • Mobile’s multiplier effect – increased sophistication from mobile is as important as the increase in scale:

Mobile's multiplier effect

This really brings to life some of the challenges and opportunities we face as marketers and it will be interesting to see just what the future holds. However, one way or the other it looks as though mobile will eat the world!


My three words for 2016

'Three musketeers' by Nezih Durmazlar

As another year begins, it’s time once again to look forward and set out the three words that I will look to shape and define my 2016. This is a practice I started in 2011, inspired by Chris Brogan, and it’s really helped me to think about the actions I need to take to make a difference in my life.

However, before I reveal my three words for 2016 it’s customary to firstly review my three words for 2015 and reflect on how these have influenced my life:

Meaning

Finding meaning in the work I do is something I’ve become increasingly conscious of and is something I proactively sought in 2015.

In the summer I made a big decision to leave my job as a corporate digital marketer for a role within an agency. I made this change primarily because I wanted to ensure that I continued to develop my wider digital marketing skills but also so I could add real value to a range of clients across different sectors and industries.

Reflect

Reflecting on the work we do can often get lost in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Changing jobs certainly made me evaluate my work and what I’ve achieved not just in my last role but those from subsequent years, too. That process encouraged me to keep an ‘accomplishments’ journal, something where I can jot down my achievements, whether big or small, to help me reflect on my efforts, the progress I’m making and where further improvements can be made.

Transform

I’m not alone in finding change daunting and I experienced a lot of change in 2015!

Starting a family, moving into a new home and starting a completely new job, all in the space of a few months, was certainly testing. But whilst these experiences have been stressful at times, they’ve nevertheless been brilliantly positive life changes. As a result, I’ve definitely had to transform my mindset, outlook and routines but I believe that these will all help me grow, both personally and professionally.

—-

As with all my previous years’ words, I will continue to look back and live by these. I never see any of my ‘three words’ for one year only. However, to focus on what’s important for the year ahead my three words for 2016 are:

Prioritise

I’ve noticed that with so much change in both my personal and professional lives there’s a much bigger need to select the right things to work on. I used to have weekends and evenings to myself (most of which I most likely wasted watching television or sleeping!). However, although that time seems like a luxury I would love to have available to me now, the reality is that this isn’t the case and that this is actually a blessing in disguise.

Much like the way in which Twitter’s 140 character limit forces writers to be clearer and more precise, the reduction in the time I have means I have to be more selective in what I work on and prioritise what’s most important.

Learn

Despite the squeeze in time I now have available, I am nevertheless determined to continue learning.

The digital marketing landscape I’m involved in is continually changing and therefore to remain competitive I want to be aware of the trends as they happen.

I also want to ensure that I keep educating myself on topics outside of my immediate sphere of influence and expertise. For example, what’s happening in the world of economics, politics, science and the arts? I’m therefore going to focus my learning around micro (areas closely related to my work) and macro (areas that are not closely related to my work but have a wider influence) topics so I have a well-rounded view of the world.

Patience

In some ways this word is related to the previous two and the life changes I’m experiencing. Things aren’t all they used to be and I therefore have to be patient as I navigate the journey ahead.

I believe patience is also key is respect to investing in myself. I know the learning and career choices I make won’t always have an immediate payoff so I have to be patient and confident that I’ll be rewarded in the long-run if I continue to make decisions for the right reasons.


How to win with 10x content

With the ongoing rise in content marketing, smarter search engines and increased competition within the earned media space, what does it take to really stand out and gain attention?

With a new year ahead of us, now is as good a time as any to aim for a new set of higher standards for the content we’ll be producing in 2016 and onwards.

Earlier this year, Rand Fishkin produced an excellent Whiteboard Friday explaining why the creation of ‘good, unique content’ must die:

Rand’s main point was that the days of producing reasonably good, useful, unique content is no longer an acceptable level of quality for those aiming to rank highly and generate interest in search. Instead, we must set our sights much higher:

Content scale

The trouble with ‘good, unique content’ is that it’s relatively straightforward to produce and can be easily scaled, meaning it’s difficult to obtain a genuine competitive advantage. To have any chance of success, at the very least content should be as good as the best result in the SERPs. However, to really stand out, content producers should aim to create content ten times better than anything else in the search results.

Gaining a competitive advantage through 10x content

Inbound.org deifines 10x content as:

“Content that has gravitas, is enduring and worth paying attention to”

The term ‘10x content’ is just another way of articulating the need for content producers to go above and beyond. The modern criteria for content has changed as a result of the emergence of content marketing as a discipline, the increased focus on user experience, the transition from link building to link earning and ultimately a shift in user expectations. People simply expect more from content today (faster page load, great design, quick answers to questions).

Content creators therefore need to respond. The criteria for 10x content includes:

Entertaining/ moving/ thought-provoking

If a piece of content is genuinely entertaining, moving or thought-provoking, it is more likely to evoke an emotional response and generate interest.

Provides genuine utility

Providing utility adds real value. Content should solve a problem for the user, answer a question or help them achieve a goal.

Educational

Similarly to the above, content that fulfils customer needs by educating and teaching them something new or interesting is more likely to build a trusted and emotional connection.

Absorbing/ immersive

An immersive experience is a web environment that uses compelling imagery or video as the focal point of the content to absorb the user’s attention from the moment they hit the site.

Visually stunning

Great visuals and design can be used to augment and add value to other content formats, such as articles, apps and videos.

Detailed

Detailed, long-form content that provides value for the reader has been shown to have higher success rates within search and social and is something that has again been picked up as a possible ranking factor following the release of Google’s quality guidelines.

Includes in-depth research

Content that is well-researched and/ or backed up by sound data and reasoning adds credibility and provides a point of differentiation.

Provides a uniquely positive user experience

Providing a positive user experience should be the minimum standard. 10x content is about providing a uniquely positive user experience that integrates design, branding and UX principles to stand out and offer something different.

Designed and produced for the right web experience (mobile, desktop, tablet, browser)

Content should always be optimised correctly for the target user’s preferred channels and platforms. And with users expecting quick results page load speed is essential, too.

Includes optimised data visualisation/ infographics

Infographics and data visualisations should offer a clear purpose, message and value, backed up by good data and design.

 

Not all of the above criteria needs to be met in order to be 10x content but it helps when there’s a combination, for example entertaining + visually stunning or data visualisation/ infographic + genuine utility (there are many infographics that look pretty but offer very little value!).

Examples of 10x content

Inbound.org provides a superb list of curated examples of 10x content to ecourage great work. This list inspired me to seek out some 10x content examples of my own which I’ve highlighted here along with some thoughts on what I believe makes the content so good:

Chasing the Chariot: In search of the soul of English rugby

England rugby

An example from the Guardian of a very well-researched, in-depth piece of content that uses imagery, video and sound recordings to provide a genuinely absorbing reading experience.

McDonald’s Killed the McWhopper, so We Made it Ourselves

McWhopper

When the McWhopper was proposed in summer 2015, there was a lot of coverage both from the mainstream press and across social media. Nevertheless, Serious Eats still managed to rank highly in search by offering their own unique approach to the creation of the McWhopper with content that combined entertainment with education and provided genuine utility for the reader.

How To Suck At Social Media: A Guide For Businesses

Avinash

At over 9,000 words, Avinash Kaushik has produced a social media user guide for businesses that is not only very detailed and well-researched but also educates, provides great utility and includes a number of very useful graphics to bring the frameworks, case studies and examples to life.

Steps to creating 10x content

So how does one go about producing 10x content? For a start, it isn’t easy (which is why there’s a competitive advantage to be had). However, producing 10x content starts with a shift in mind-set and a focus on what can genuinely provide value. And then it’s about putting a process in place that includes the following elements:

Focus on user experience

Content should be readable, optimised for multiple devices and easy to interact with.

Search engines, particularly Google, also appear to be frowning upon sites that induce ‘pogo-sticking’ – where a link in the SERPs is clicked but the user almost immediately returns to the search results. Relevance and good page load speed are therefore essential.

A.B.R. – Always Be Researching

Good content starts with a true understanding of what your target audience will respond to. What are users already searching for? What is generating buzz within the social space?

There are a number of really useful competitor benchmarking tools for content marketing such as Socialcrawlytics.com, Quick Sprout and BuzzSumo that can help to identify insights as to the type of content activity, strategies and tactics that are working for others in your industry and what, as a result, might best work for you.

BuzzSumo overview

Solve problems

The goal should be to fulfil the searcher’s task and not just their query.

Most searchers will be looking for a solution to a problem so help them by considering the questions that they’re looking to answer. Some of the research tools suggested above will provide an indication but so will other forms of data, including internal site search data, blog comments and search trends from Google and Bing.

Stop producing standard quality content

‘OK’ (1x content) content is a waste of time. Unless you’re providing real value by being genuinely unique, outstanding or engaging, you’re unlikely to get results.

The days of producing lots and lots of mediocre content optimised around specific keywords are gone. Even large brands with strong domain authority need to create content that goes above and beyond to see any kind of impact.

Build relationships

Finally, look to build relationships. Share great content by others that’s relevant to your industry, co-operate with other thought-leaders and influencers and engage with customers and prospects across your different online platforms.

This type of activity will help foster ties with other content creators, leading to better reputation and visibility.

Impact of influencers

Summary

As content creators, we have a responsibility to think carefully about the longevity of the content deluge. With so much content being created, there is a risk of ‘content shock’ and therefore we must raise our standards to stay relevant and add value for consumers.

Not all content can and should be ‘hero’ content. This takes a great deal of time and effort and simply isn’t possible to produce time after time. However, we nevertheless must acknowledge that the criteria for modern content has changed and that more is required to stand out and make an impact.

The goal now is to produce content that is better known, better trusted and better referenced.