Site Structure

Planning your website

Planning your website does not need to be difficult. If you follow these planning guidelines for a better quality web site, you will save hours of frustration later.

Once you have registered your domain name and arranged your hosting, it is very tempting to dive right in putting pages on your new web site. Without proper planning, however, you will quickly find that the web you have woven has become very tangled.

The first think to consider is the focus of your web site. In general, is your web site to share information, sell products or build relationships? Who is your primary audience? You also need to consider how technically savvy your readers are? What age group or social demographic? What information will your readers expect to find on your web site? What information do you have readily available for your readers? What types of information do you expect to put on your Web site, e.g., calendar, newsletters, staff profiles, etc.? Who will be the “webmaster” — the web manager — of your web site? Will you have assistance in maintaining your web site? How often do you expect to update the content on your web site? How much time per week or per month will you dedicate to updating your site?

Map it out with a Sitemap

One very effective way to plan your web site is to map it out using pencil and paper. (If you are comfortable using software, Microsoft Word has a great organizational chart feature that you could use instead. See example below.)Planning your Web Site StructureDecide what information, in a general sense, will be on each page. Connect other pages to the home page with lines and you will begin to see a navigational structure. A good “rule” to follow, is to limit each level of navigation to seven pages. As with almost all rules, there are exceptions.

You’ll notice in the example that I have a single page hanging off the home page: About Us. Pages that should be available from every page in the web site should be at the same level as the home page.

If you are going to use a content management system (CMS) like Joomla, you won’t need to be concerned about a file or folder structure. On the other hand, if you are going to upload the pages of your web site manually, you will need to have some kind of structure. At the very least, create an images folder.

Looking good

Put away your paper and pencil (or Microsoft Word) and hit the web. Spend some time, perhaps an hour or two every day for a week, browsing the Internet. Take note of sites you like and why. Perhaps you like the way one site handles navigation or how another one uses color. You might also note things you don’t like and why.

According to Nielsen Norman research, “users visiting a new site spend an average of 30 seconds on the homepage and less than two minutes on the entire site before deciding to abandon it. They spend a bit more time if they decide to stay on a site, but still only four minutes on average.” If they have to spend 15 of their 30 seconds figuring out which link to click on your home page, you’ve probably lost them. He says: “Thus, websites should have almost no features: focus on the words.”

Now you are finally ready to begin sketching some page designs. Start with your home page. Keep in mind the things you liked and noted in your earlier research. You probably noticed in your research that most web sites have a logo in the upper left corner of every page which links back to the home page. Depending upon your audience, you probably will not want to deviate from what most users expect to find on your web site. Other elements common to most web sites is left-hand navigation that may change as users travel further down into your site’s structure, and global navigation at the bottom of the page in the form of text links.

Unless visitors arrive at your site via a search engine, most of them will arrive through your front door: your home page. Think about the images you can use. Do you have a logo? If you’d like them to come back, you will need content that is fresh and frequently updated.

Now that you have your plan, it is time to create your web site.