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Information architecture: Site structure

In this instance, site structure refers to the way the separate web pages containing information are organised. A site structure can be visualised by ‘drawing’ the individual pages and then connecting them with lines - the links on the pages.

Breadth versus depth

Depth vs. breadth in site structure

In principle, information is organised hierarchically. When determining the site structure, a decision must be made on whether to organise the pages horizontally or vertically. A structure that is too deep means the user will have to click too often to find the information he/she needs. A structure in which all navigation elements are on the first level only works if the number of elements is limited. More than ten items in the main navigation may confuse the user.

Sorting by priority

Subsequently, main and sub elements for navigation must be sorted according to priority. Here too, this must correspond to the priorities of the (most important) group of users.

Flexible design of the structure

When setting up the structure, future expansion must be taken into account as well. This means that the structure must be flexible enough to allow for new elements to be added in the future. Changing the structure of the site at a later stage may mean that the URLs of separate pages have to be changed. URLs should be rendered sustainable (see Stable, unique URLs).

Methods of organisation

There are a number of ways to organise the site structure. A few methods are:

This is based on tasks a user wishes to carry out (this applies particularly to Content Management Systems and Intranets).
By subject
Start pages and directories are organised this way.
By target group
Companies that provide services to both private customers and business often distinguish them as separate target groups.

Contents: Information architecture

  1. Introduction
  2. Site structure
  3. Navigation
  4. Naming

Web Guidelines version 1.3, November 2007.