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I just started working for a company and they're asking me for ways to improve the overall site design. One of the things that keeps standing out to me is their extremely odd internal file structure for the site, as I've gone through I've noticed large sections of repeated content, and other semi-beginner style mistakes that just haven't seemed to be gotten to.

As an example of current internal structure:


To me this feels really heavy and hard to navigate as a designer. My question is thus, what would be considered as best practice for site setup and sub-directory structure.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Well, there's what's logical for implementation/maintenance, and what's logical for users/usability. The latter falls into the realm of information architecture. Personally, the example currently used by the company seems to be nonsensical and ill-suited for either really.

To start with, I'd use some kind of CMS to handle the implementation/maintenance issue. There are myriad reasons to do this, and enforcing a consistent file structure is just one of the lesser ones. A decent CMS will also let you specify a custom routing system that decouples the information architecture from the file structure used for implementation.

Then you just have to decide on a uniform taxonomy for categorizing the content on the site in the most usable/intuitive fashion. I don't think there's a single standard for this, as it really depends on the content of your site.

You obviously already know to avoid overlapping/redundant categories, so all I can suggest is to give thought to the user experience:

  • Who is your target audience? Are there different user segments? If so, perhaps consider segmenting the site based on your main user segments, e.g. /consumer, /smallbusiness, /enterprise, etc.
  • What terminology does your userbase use? What's your user's mental model of your product/service/industry? Looking at search terms both on your internal site search as well as search engine referrals would be useful.
  • What are the most common use cases/user scenarios? Create some user stories that represent how/why most of your users would visit your site; then walk through it, putting yourself in their shoes. This may lead you to break the site down by purpose/goal, e.g. /discover, /browse and /community; or /learn, /shop and /support, etc.

User testing and other UCD techniques could also reveal powerful insights, such as which features/content should be grouped together. To be sure you get things right, continually monitor your site analytics and user feedback, also test, test, and test again.

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