SES Toronto Live Blogging: Information Architecture, Site Tuning & SEO

Information Architecture:


Bryan Eisenberg, SES Advisory Board and NYTimes Bestselling Author,


Ezra Silverton, President & Founder, 9th sphere

Dan Klyn, Information Architect, Riders Discount

First Up is Dan Klyn

I’m not going to get into what information architecture is too muchin a technical sense, I’ll talk more about the nature of what information architecture is

Let’s look at an example ‘goldline’ – it’s obvious this page has been shaped by SEO – H1 tags etc etc, I found this through the phrase ‘curling gear’, but this page says curling gear everywhere, but doesn’t have any obvious way to find curling gear. So I click on ‘curling equipment’ link, and it’s a duplicate page ‘optimized’ for ‘curling equipment’ -there is a stupid weird link that I found eventually. So this site has goooood SEO? but horrific information architecture, not intuitive for users.

What is information architecture? I’ve found that looking at the building blocks, the basic underlying stucture is how to achieve an understanding

  • ontology
  • taxonomy
  • choreography

Ontology basically means ‘of being’ – speaker says that ontology is about the semantics of what someone is talking about – using a lingerie example (thank you sir, for the images), a client decided a product positioning strategy would be to change the way ‘underwear’ and ‘panties’ should be referred to as ‘pants’ – but this breaks the ontology of what everybody thinks of in the real world. This is a fundamental problem with the ontology of the site.

Obviously this is an issue for search

Before you can move on to taxonomy, the classification of things, you first have to decide upon a ubiquitous ontology, where what your saying means something that other people can understand.

Taxonomy – the science of order and arrangement

Speaker presents a taxonomy that they created for a client a while ago – it looks like a well laid out site navigation, classifying different types and styles of flooring, from prefinished to bamboo to engineered – the process of deciding how things should be labled. Sometimes there are clashes between an SEO decision of what to call something, based on keyword research. If the keyword research dictates a page should be labelled in a way that doesn’t fall into a logical taxonomy, it can be counter-productive.

Choreography – circular dance

once an ontology and taxonomy for a site have been completed, there are interactions between the site and user that have to take place – dealing with how users interact with the site, in accordance with the taxonomy and ontology, is dealing with choreography.

speaker uses a shopping cart page as an example – somebody decided on this example page that before you can move on to check-out your product, you need to have entered a zip code and a shipping type. This is counter to the ontology of online shopping that big beasts like Amazon have created already. the choreography of how users expect to move through a checkout has been altered in this example case, which gives you a large CHECKOUT ERROR if you don’t put your zip code in – these are disconnects between what it means to check-out, and what the site has decided is necessary.

Information architecutre isn’t just graphics, it’s about choosing the right way to present information, it’s a whole way of life in which the aim is not to make something look good, but to make it BE good.

Ezra Silverton is up next

plans to cover:

  • strategic planning around goals
  • site structure and architecture
  • tips to improve site performance
  • seo considerations
  • case study

strategic planning

  • confirm your purpose – eg, to sell our new service
  • set clear website goals- the WHAT – eg, make the website our primary selling tool, build credibility, educate and sell services
  • strategic planning around your goals – the HOW – eg: awards, samples,e comm

site strucutre:

  • what needs to be on your site to achieve your goals
  • create content first and organize to align with goals
  • guide visitors through the path of conversion
  • determine navigation
  • design/gui
  • technical development

taking SEO into account at each level

site performance

  • ensure architecture is structured for code efficiencies
  • golbal CSS- use CSS for gradients, drop shadows, etc, instead of images (CSS3)
  • global javascript file
  • optimize images for web
  • use CSS sprites – which are quite cool, load once, use many
  • server side caching
  • minimize number of page layouts, use includes
  • content delivery network – use other servers’ resources, like youtube if you can’t  handle video

performacne tools:

  • firebug – – shows running time of the pages and each requests’ response, where js is spending time
  • page speed form google
  • yslow from yahoo

suggests using both the google and yahoo tool as they address different things

SEO considerations

  • goals plus content plus navigation come first
  • SEO enhances marketing efforts
  • keyphrases in consideration – will implementing the keyphrases into navigation/content help achieve sites goals and ensure good usability/
  • google has made page speed a ranking factor

Case study:

there was a lot of unorganized content, hundreds of pages of non-speed-optimized content etc

steps in redesign:

  • primary goal – to convert more visitors
  • audited old website – structure, code, analytics, marketing efforts and complain logs
  • learned existing sales process and information necessary at each stage
  • determined strategy
  • gathered all information/content
  • determine navigation and calls to action
  • revised content to incorporate keyphrases
  • creative design
  • technical development
  • user testing
  • changes and launch

the end result concentrated on the three types of users they expected to come through the site – the further you get into the site, the more specific you get and the more detailed the information gets

Traffic increased by over 80% with the same content. Page views went up – all engagement metrics were basically positive.

Final notes

  1. focus on your goals and let decision support them
  2. site performance tactics are important bu don’t let it control your site – similar to seo tactics
  3. don’t forget your visitors’ experience


Q: For the first presenter – you mentioned a disconnect between keyword research and information architecture, but shouldn’t looking at keyword research help drive how that information architecture comes together, even more-so than management intuition?

A: Yes there can be a benefit to looking at how people are searching for things in determining your architecture – Chevrolet management recently decided to never use the word ‘chevy’ again, but from an SEO perspective, keyword research might indicate that this is a mistake

Author’s Notes: I’m not going to go into too much editorial detail on this one, as I did the previous session, in part because I was actually a speaker on this panel at last year’s SES Toronto session – but I will say that it was immensely different, and I think somewhat unfortunately, SEO took a back-seat this year. There was a lot of talk about defining ontologies and whatnot, but very little actual merging of that information with real-world SEO and how to implement a site structure that benefits a site, other than labeling your categories with good words… there is so much more meaty information needed for people who want to reconcile the often abstract concepts of information architecture and real-world on-site SEO goodness. The one question I documented here was actually asked by me, because I sincerely believe that it is a major mistake to embark upon defining your information architecture, ontology and taxonomy, without first looking at keyword reserach and figuring out HOW PEOPLE SEARCH FOR WHAT YOU OFFER – if you appeal to the words and phrases people use to search for your products or services, not only will you actually have a chance at snagging them from search engines, but when they land on your site there will not be a disconnect between searcher intent, and what you display (unless you display something that does not realte to the search term you optimized your page for, which is truthfully not that uncommon an event, but it’s a different problem, that’s just lazy SEO that doesn’t take searcher intent into account).

Overall session: fairly informative but too narrow in scope, and not SEO focussed or connected enough

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