A good information hierarchy makes users happy. If they can easily find, understand and use the information on the intranet, it saves them time, which can be measured as increased productivity in the organisation.
There are different ways to work with information hierarchy (or information architecture/IA) on your new intranet. If you already have an intranet or information stored other places, you probably already have a certain way of structuring the content and a structure that the employees are used to. Before you get started with the new information hierarchy, we recommend working with the transition and considering what to copy and what to change when you are switching from an old intranet to a new one.
Strategically creating your information hierarchy will save a lot of time and resources throughout the process, because once you have a template for the structure, it's easier for everyone to add content to the hierarchy. And it's easier for the end users to find, what they are looking for.
Important considerations regarding your information hierarchy
Some of the important questions to ask when creating your hierarchy:
- Where is your information stored now? (Systems, network drive etc.)
- What types of information does your organization have?
- What type of information would you like to have stored on the intranet?
- What type of information would you like to link to from your intranet?
- In relation to your strategy/purpose, what would be the best way to setup your information hierarchy on the new intranet?
- What are the employees used to right now?
- Are there any new and innovative ways to present different kinds of information?
Flat or deep hierarchy?
Once you have answered the above questions, you will have an idea of your current situation and your desired future. Now - what would it look like on the actual intranet?
There are fundamentally two ways to get around it - either by creating a flat or a deep hierarchy. Of course, you can choose a solution in between if it fits you better, but there is a strategy related to both of them.
Choosing the flat hierarchy, you also presume or hope to see the users going through the actual hierarchy to find what they are looking for. By choosing a flat hierarchy, you want to create as few steps as possible for the user to find the desired information.
The opposite is choosing the deep hierarchy, where you presume that users will use the search engine on your intranet instead of going through the actual hierarchy. This requires more work on the titles and search words, but can make it a lot easier for users to find what they are looking for. With this strategy, it's okay that some information is located behind more than three clicks, whereas the flat strategy is about creating content behind a minimum of clicks.
Test your information hierarchy
Now that you have created a structure/a template/an empty hierarchy, it can be beneficial to test it with actual end users, to see if it's logical and easy for them to use. Doing this before creating the actual hierarchy in Colibo can potentially save you a lot of time and resources.
You should not only think about how to create the most awesome hierarchy but also test the hierarchy with end-users, as this will make sure that it's also awesome and logic for them. In the end, the intranet is primarily for the end users, not the intranet managers. So make sure that the intranet is created for the majority of the organisation and not the minority.
You can test it by creating the hierarchy with post its, a whiteboard or a simple digital setup and then giving a handful of end users small tasks and see how easy it is for them to navigate the structure and find the information you ask for. If it's logical, that's perfect, if the end users find it challenging, have an iteration more, optimize the hierarchy and test it again until it's logical and intuitive.
What can go wrong with a poorly created information hierarchy?
Well, if there is no thought behind the hierarchy at all, it will not tell users anything, which means, they probably won't find what they are looking for - or at least not as fast as they expect. Ten additional seconds is enough to create a lot of frustration for the users.
If there is no direction, no approach, no sequence, the structure feels random. And a random structure will result in random use. A poor and randomly structured information hierarchy can result in:
- Low use: If the users don't find what they are looking for the first time, it's unlikely that they return the next time, which results in a low use of the information on the intranet.
- Loss of trust: Users will not trust the intranet as a platform if they are met with a random hierarchy. If there is only put a minimum of time into creating a logic structure for the end users, it shows, and then it will be a lot harder to promote the intranet and get employees to use it. It's like selling a product, you didn't really put enough effort into.
- Information hoarding: If users don't find what they are looking for, once they find it, they copy it and create the content somewhere else, where they can find it the next time. Imagine everyone having local copies of the information they need? Or worse, creating their own structure for finding the information on the intranet. There would be an overload of information - often outdated or several unnecessary versions and copies.
What is a good information hierarchy?
Meaningful: And by meaningful, it all depends on the purpose of your intranet. Why do you want users to enter the intranet? What experience do you want them to have when looking for information? What kind of information would you primarily like them to look for? It all depends on your foundation for having an intranet.
Predictable: Titles and descriptions should be predictable and not confusing. This means no abbreviations and no use of words and phrases that are only understood by few people. Predictable titles for content are easily understood and intuitively acted upon.
Navigable: How navigable your hierarchy is, mostly depends on your choice of strategy for your hierarchy. It will almost always be easier to browse broad and shallow hierarchies than it is to browse a narrow and deep one, but no matter what, you can still make it navigable. Make it easy for users to have an overview from the beginning with the right titles and groupings, and make sure to keep the overview a priority no matter how deep or wide your hierarchy is.
Consistent: If you have decided on a structure, stick to it! And make sure that everyone who is creating content on the intranet are familiar with it. Sticking to one consistent structure for your hierarchy will make it a lot easier for the end users. No matter where in the hierarchy they are going, it's almost the same - or at least it looks the same.
Complete: Think it through and complete it. You don't have to do it all at once, but make sure that the template is complete and doesn't miss anything or have obvious gaps to it. It's natural that creating or moving content will take some time, but the strategy should be complete before letting the end users into the intranet.
Last, but not least, it's important to create an information hierarchy with user needs, future change and scalability in mind. And for this, you need a plan with some fundamental principles, that everyone creating information and navigating the structure is familiar with.