Information Architecture (IA) is a commonly used term for the art and science of organizing and labeling content (documents, web sites, blog posts, emails, etc.) to support findability and usability.

In different systems, we can find different tools and solutions for supporting Information Architecture. In SharePoint and Office 365, we have a lot of tools and options, including sites, groups, lists, document libraries, folders, content types, site and list columns, managed metadata, workflows, document ID and many more.

If we want to use these features to organize the content, there’re a lot of best (and worst) practices you can find all around the internet. As always, there’s no “silver bullet” which can be the one and only best for everyone. Every company is different, with different needs and requirements, backgrounds and cultures. Every small piece has to be considered in order to be successful.

Tools and practices

Whenever I work with my clients, there are some suggestions I always make. These include:

1. Organize your content

Always organize your content and use a clear, easy-to-understand and easy-to-apply structure.

Enforce your users to use the structure consistently.

For example, don’t upload/create everything in the “Shared Documents” library. Or don’t upload a document with title “Marketing Campaign 2013.pptx” to the folder “2012” in the “Campaigns” document library. Or never upload “CustomerXY.docx” to the site of CustomerABC.

Creating subsites, lists, document libraries or even folders, should be aligned to the governance plan. Always.

Keep the structure clean, intuitive, easy-to-understand, easy-to-use and easy-to-find.. Mess becomes bigger and bigger, worse and worse over the time.

Don’t fly without an actionable governance plan.


2. Content Types

Use Content Type Hub, it has a lot of benefits through inheritance.

Never over-complicate your Content Type hierarchy. Keep it clean and intuitive.

See my naming conventions below, and apply to Content Types as well.

3. Site and list columns, Managed Metadata


Keep your metadata structure clean. Remember, you need someone to administer and govern metadata.

Keep in mind that users are lazy (sorry about it!). They tag their Facebook pictures much more than their enterprise documents. But simply forcing the fields to be required is not the solution: you’ll end up to see a lot of invalid and fake values, and (not) surprisingly, you’ll see the default values selected the most if any. Metadata management is a culture, a psychology, you must find out how to motivate your users.

Always use site columns instead of creating your columns on the lists or libraries. It means more planning and preparation at the beginning but much less headache later.

Keep your metadata structure clean and intuitive.

4. Naming conventions

Don’t be the lazy user. Names like “docx” is highly NOT recommended.

Using the user’s name in the name of site, list or library, or even a document is also a bad practice. For example: “Joe’s sales library

Always add title to your Office documents. Always.

Use descriptive names. Always. The title is one of the most important columns, make it to be readable and understandable. Make it to be useful. For example “Marketing Presentations” folder or “Sales demo 2013-12-01 CustomerXY”

Always include the intent of the document in the title.

Be careful with word breakers in file names and title, see my post earlier.

Rename the sheets of your Excel files. “Sheet 1”, “Sheet 2”, … don’t make sense when it comes to findability.

+1: Use versioning, instead of storing separate documents with names like “Sales presentation 2017 Q1 – v1p7.pptx” or “Marketing slides v4”.

With these easy steps, you will be one step closer to have good information architecture as well as good search – and findability. The way is still long, though, but you know, it always starts with that first step. Next, you are ready to improve search – as described in my latest infographic.

And if you are just ahead of migrating your content to Office 365, it’s a good time to consider cleaning and enhancing your information architecture. Start with your metadata. Now.