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Taking stock of GOV.UK’s information architecture

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As information architects at GOV.UK it’s our job to organise, label and group content to help people find what they’re looking for. This blog post describes the work we did last year, the problems we identified during a thorough review in January, and what we plan to do next.

Topic and subtopic  browse pages - the story so far

Throughout last year we worked with many of the highest-traffic organisations transitioning to GOV.UK to create subject-based browse pages for their content.

These pages currently provide 2 levels of navigation. The top-level page is called a topic page. These can be industry sectors like commercial fishing and fisheries, processes like setting up and running a charity, or more general themes like transport.

The topic page links to a number of second-level subtopic pages. These aim to pull together all relevant content about that subject from multiple organisations across the site.

Oil and gas was the first topic to be launched last February. By the end of December we’d created a total of 42 topic pages and 278 subtopic pages, to cover a vast amount and very broad diversity of content.

Together these topics and subtopics represent one of three classification schemes (or ‘taxonomies’) that allow users to navigate to content on GOV.UK - the other two being mainstream browse and this list of policy areas. Mark Hurrell described these in more detail last year.

Users can discover the topic browse pages directly from the relevant organisation pages (eg Intellectual Property Office) or from organisation services and information directories (eg Environment Agency). They’re also available as links from content pages and in site search.

We  intend that topics and subtopics will become the primary taxonomy, with every item of content on GOV.UK categorised in this way to improve navigation. We’re currently investigating the implications of this approach.

Firebreak review

During the recent GOV.UK firebreak we had a chance to review the topic/sub-topic browse structure. We felt this was a useful and important thing to do, for several reasons.

Firstly, owing to the nature of the transition project, we’d had to develop the browse structure piecemeal, one organisation at a time. Content in a particular subject area (such as environmental management) is often published by more than one organisation, but we couldn’t see the full size and scope of these various subject areas until all the user needs had been analysed and all relevant content was on the site.

Although they don’t need to be evenly sized, some of the subtopics ended up with more content that we’d anticipated, and others with much less.

Secondly, our vision for the functionality of  the subtopic browse pages changed during the course of the year, which affected the way we approached developing them. We wanted to reassess the early topics and subtopics in light of these changes.

We knew that both these factors led to inconsistencies and duplication in the structure, but we didn’t know how much .

Thirdly, we were keen to start using analytics and anonymous feedback to make suggestions for improvements. Whilst user research is the best way to establish what topics and subtopics are needed, we didn’t have the capacity to do research for all the content areas that were transitioning  last year.

And finally, we know that the current structure doesn’t represent all the subject areas on GOV.UK (since it’s based on just a sub-set of transitioned content), and we wanted to start identifying some of the gaps. For example, many content areas relating to public health or crime are not represented in the current browse taxonomy.

Things we plan to do next

Now that we can see the full picture, and based on the findings from our review, we plan to tidy up the current structure by:

  • identifying and removing duplicate categories
  • merging similar categories where relevant
  • removing empty categories with no content tagged to them
  • rolling out specific improvements to individual subtopic  pages

Longer term, as part of the wider piece of work our team is doing (which Ben recently set out), we also plan to:

  • identify and fill subject gaps to make the structure more complete
  • look at the relationships within the taxonomy and how these can be used to support user journeys
  • make it easier to tag content and clearer to publishers how to choose appropriate tags (looking at tools and workflow)
  • work out how this taxonomy fits together with the other subject-based taxonomies on GOV.UK to make it easier for users to browse to content
  • investigate how best to display  this structure on the site to improve navigation

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  1. Comment by Chris posted on

    We're cheering you on from across the pond and appreciate the insight you've shared to date. @ONgov is going through a similar exercise as we attempt to introduce a stronger navigation/IA to improve how users can browse our site.

  2. Comment by Malcolm Pye DECC posted on

    I work in Oil & Gas but I have to say the subtopic pages are not well linked. I know the data is on the website but even I have trouble fnding it. For example to get to the list of Oil & Gas licences you have to select Licensing then scroll a long way to the bottom of the page to find a link to the page with the information.

    • Replies to Malcolm Pye DECC>

      Comment by Vicky Buser posted on

      Hi Malcolm,

      Thanks for the feedback. Looking at ways to improve navigation around subtopic pages is something our team is working on at the moment.