While it may seem like a "quick and easy" task, defining the navigation structure and organization of your intranet site will be one of the most challenging tasks you will face in the course of your project. It is also one of the most critical success factors. The site structure, also referred to as the information architecture or taxonomy, is the foundation of your intranet. Creating an effective taxonomy is as much an art as it is a science. Use the wrong terms and your users won't be able to navigate by intuition. Make your site too deep and they will never find the content they're looking for.
One common myth is that if you integrate a search engine with your site you don't need to focus as much on the taxonomy. This is completely false. All web users can be generalized into one of 2 buckets; "browsers" or "searchers". Searchers, of course, will first use a search engine to locate content while browsers will manually look for the desired information by navigating the taxonomy. This is not to say that browsers never search, or vice versa, it merely suggests that all users have a preference for one method or the other when attempting to locate content. The most efficient site will have a well-organized taxonomy AS WELL AS a good search engine to satisfy both types of users.
Building your taxonomy
Creating a taxonomy on your own is arguably the best approach. After all, no one knows your organization's culture and terminology better than you. If you're short on professional taxonomists here are some tips to keep in mind when defining your taxonomy.
- The overall taxonomy should be wide, not deep
- Use primary terms rather than marketing oriented or slang terms (the goal is to use language that can be understood by a new employee on their first day of work)
- Try to keep some rigidity to the taxonomy, at least at the top levels -- this promotes familiarity for the users and enhances usability
- Build two taxonomies; the primary being functional-centric and the secondary being organization-centric underneath the functional-centric
- Try to limit your structure to just 2-7 items under each branch, otherwise consolidate
- Use real content to validate your taxonomy
- Define, validate, re-tool, define, validate, re-tool, and so on ?- taxonomy development is an iterative process
- The structure should be very broad on top and narrow at the lowest levels
Remember that the taxonomy is a tool to locate content. The best way to verify you have a model that works is to use focus groups to test the structure. Ask the group where they would expect to find a specific example of content within the structure and see if that maps with what you've defined. If they keep missing, you need to go back and re-work the structure based on their feedback.
Bryan A. Mjaanes