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Healthcare Information Architecture: 4 Ways It Can Benefit Your Organization’s Digital Experience

A hand arranges building blocks that have images relating to healthcare, including a medical cross, a capsule, a heart, a medical bag, a wheelchair, a stethoscope, a syringe and a pill bottle.

Your healthcare organization (HCO) could have the best content imaginable on your website. But if your users can’t find it quickly and intuitively, it’s not going to do what you want it to do. And it’s probably not going to help you with your conversion goals. That’s why content is only part of the equation for your site’s pages. You also need a strong healthcare information architecture (IA) strategy in place.

Whether you’re contemplating a full website replatforming and redesign or you just want to optimize your current site, IA plays an important role in your consumers’ user experience. Let’s go through four of the key ways your IA strategy can help your website turn healthcare consumers into your patients and members.

1. Healthcare information architecture helps establish or strengthen your site’s structure

Flat websites — those in which every page lives directly under the homepage or close to it — used to be all the rage when Google’s PageRank was a huge factor in search-engine optimization (SEO). Now, though, Google has dialed back PageRank’s importance in its search algorithm.

For large websites, which HCOs tend to have, Google’s search experts now recommend a hierarchical site structure for SEO. This pyramid-style site structure helps Google and other search engines better understand how your site is set up. We tend to see flatter structures in microsites — which are a common occurrence in HCOs as well. However, we nearly always recommend consolidating your digital presence for greater brand authority and easier maintenance over time.

The best way to figure out your site’s new structure is to simply draw it out, either with a diagramming program like Miro or on a whiteboard. (Fair warning: You’re likely going to need a big whiteboard.) This is called a visual sitemap. Then get a small group of your stakeholders together to figure out what works where it is now, what needs to move and where it should go. In our experience, the visual sitemap can help jumpstart important conversations within your team, such as:

  • Whether your site’s structure makes sense from the end user’s perspective (patients/members, caregivers, partners, career-seekers, etc., not just from the perspective of your internal departments and stakeholders)
  • Whether content that currently lives in one area really belongs in another
  • Whether your site’s key categories and subcategories are too broad or too narrow
  • Whether you still need certain content
  • Who owns what content

2. Healthcare information architecture creates a roadmap for content migration and URL redirects

We’ve seen this often with our clients — after the team comes together on a new visual sitemap for their website, the conversation turns to the hard work of changing the current site’s structure to match this new, fancy one you just designed.

I’m not going to lie to you. It’s a challenge to map all your site’s URLs to a new structure. Your content management system (CMS) authors will have to take the theoretical design you’ve envisioned and implement it on your site. But you can make it easier for them and avoid dead links and 404 errors with a comprehensive URL map.

Crawl your website to document all the URLs you’ll have to account for. Then have someone (or, ideally, several people) match the current URLs to the new structure for the visual sitemap. This step is important so you don’t lose your search rankings and website brand equity.

Hint: This is a good time to do a comprehensive content audit so (a) you can map the URLs at the same time as the audit and (b) you don’t waste time figuring out where a URL goes only to get rid of it a few months down the road.

3. Healthcare information architecture defines the navigational experience

Your visual sitemap and URL maps are very important to the IA process. But they’re internal artifacts. Apart from your own team members and stakeholders, no one’s going to see them or care about them. And it’s hard to get your HCO’s leaders excited about page-structure diagrams and spreadsheets.

But navigation is very much an end-user deliverable. Many users will find their way through your site entirely with the navigation menus. And navigation is a much more visual artifact to showcase your team’s progress to your internal leaders.

There are places within your digital strategy to innovate and try something avant-garde. Navigation isn’t one of those places. When you’re working on a revised navigation strategy, keep in mind that a healthcare consumer should instantly understand how to use the menus and where to go to take the action they want.

A strong navigation strategy is essential for two key reasons:

  1. It helps your HCO surface priority content, as well as the pathway or pathways for users to get to that content
  2. Your user experience (UX) designers will rely on the finished navigation diagrams to guide their wireframes and page designs

4. Healthcare information architecture lets you validate your strategies through user testing

Your team’s plans and diagrams can look great on the screen (or the whiteboard — you do you). But without user testing, you’re speaking in an echo chamber. Pushing a new IA strategy live without user testing can backfire if the strategy doesn’t resonate with your consumers.

That’s why we recommend setting aside time and budget for robust user testing for your IA once you complete the navigation stage. Our team uses card sorting, moderated user testing or both. We bring in testers with similar demographics to our clients’ user base — sometimes within their specific service area — to get their feedback on what works, what doesn’t and what may need further development.

We love it when an IA team’s plan comes together

Information architecture is a huge undertaking for already-busy healthcare marketing teams. If you need help to do the job right, we’re here for you.

Our healthcare information architecture experts bring years of experience and a proven process that will work for your team. Contact us to find out why our team is the right choice to help your HCO with its toughest IA challenges.

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Michael Adkins, Senior Content Strategist, Digital Health Strategy

As part of Perficient's Digital Health Strategy team, Michael partners with healthcare organizations to create informative, conversion-centered content for a variety of applications, including websites and blogs. Michael writes content that highlights clients’ service-line offerings, expertise in unique treatments, differentiators in competitive markets and additional factors that are important to patients.

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