Last updated Oct 23 2020

⚡ Ecommerce site structure

One really important part of your website you're probably forgetting to optimize - Casandra Campbell

Casandra Campbell, Testing and Experimentation Lead at Shopify, explains the importance of optimizing your website information architecture (IA) to improve conversion rates and user experience.

What Cassandra covers:

  • The importance of IA optimization
  • Data collection tools to help you formulate hypotheses for IA tests
  • Why a broad-to-narrow test plan will help you optimize IA
  • Different approaches to IA organization and optimization

Click below to read the transcript.


Hello everyone. My name is Casandra Campbell. I lead experimentation and analysis of Shopify, and I'm going to take the next five minutes to talk about the why and how of optimizing website information architecture.

Information architecture, also known as IA, refers to how the information on your website is organized. Typically the navigation, sometimes also called the menu, is one of the biggest parts of IA. So, I'm going to focus on navigation today.

Now, we all know how important it is to optimize product pages and checkout flows, but why optimize the IA? The most important reason is that, with the exception of some landing pages, it usually appears on every page of your website. This makes it a big lever for improving bottom-line results.

The second reason is that if visitors don't find what they're looking for, they have no choice but to leave. A good IA will help more visitors find what they need and know when they're in the right place.

If you want to optimize your information architecture, where do you start?

For the most part, I think you can treat IA optimization similar to how you would optimize any other part of your website. You'll need to collect data to generate some hypotheses about where there's room for improvement or what a better solution might look like. You can use many of the same tools you usually do for conversion research, but there are a few things I find particularly helpful for IA optimization.

If your company is big enough to get searched for in Google, do some keyword research to see what kinds of things people are searching for with your brand name. For example, I work for Shopify, and keyword research tells me that a lot of people search for the words Shopify and the themes together.

These kinds of searches give me good ideas for what people might be looking for when they land on our website. If you have internal site search set up, you can get even more specific data about what visitors are looking for. User interviews are great for capturing more nuanced information about how visitors are experiencing your website and also what might work better. And website surveys, like the ones that usually pop up in the bottom right-hand corner, are less nuanced, but more scalable option for collecting feedback from visitors. I encourage you to use a combination of tools and tactics.

Finally, most IA projects usually involve card sorting, but since card sorting usually only allows participants to react to the topics you created, it's easy to stray off course here, so tread carefully.

After you've generated some hypotheses, always put them to the test with a controlled experiment. I recommend a broad-to-narrow test plan when it comes to improving your navigation.

Start by making bigger strategic changes before moving on to micro-optimize the links you include, the copy you use, and the order things show up in. You'll be able to validate the direction much faster, and hopefully, you'll get double-digit conversion improvements much faster too.

As you start exploring how to optimize your own website navigation, here are a few ideas for you to consider. Try using the navigation to deliver context. If your product is confusing or not well known, the things that you decide to include in the nav could play a big role in helping visitors know they're in the right place. Try using the nav to enable self-segmentation. By creating alternative pathways that start in the nav you can deliver personalized journeys to important segments. Try highlighting promotions or other offers in the nav. Use the nav to answer frequently asked questions. And if your website has enough content to do a good job at this, use internal site search as a safety net, for anyone who still can't find what they need.

Of course, don't stop here. There are many more approaches you can explore on your own.

But before I wrap up today, I want to show you some of these ideas in practice. In the top example from Laguna Candles, we can see site search being leveraged, an option for wholesale buyers to self segment, and gift cards being promoted.

In the bottom example from Lip Bar, we have the nav being used to deliver context around the product offering; it's not just lip products. We see a product bundle called Fast Face Kits being offered as well as sale items. And we see several frequently asked questions like, “what shades should I use?” being targeted in the nav as well.

This is not an exhaustive list, and what works for one audience might not work for another, so make sure to do your own research and test. Good luck.