There are methods for planning websites… and then there are methods for planning websites. Whatever the audience, whatever the goal, content organisation, and curation is absolutely key to creating a successful website that people will engage with and love. We’ll explain why you should be using a content first approach and a website planning tool. Learn our preferred methodology for planning any website project so that it comes out perfect, professional, and on time.
Plan Website Content First
Sure, a beautifully designed website with an amazing layout will help attract your audience, however, like a good slice of pie, it’s the filling that really counts. By applying a content-first approach to website planning, you are forcing the focus to be on creating great content. Once you fully understand what types of content you are working with, creating the website structure, user experience, and design to support it will be much more effective.
How to Plan a Website
Having a process for website planning is essential for staying organised – especially if you are creating multiple sites at the same time for you or your clients. We think our 10-step plan puts the different functions in the right place to cut down on backtracking and revisions, ease approvals, create positive UX, and ultimately lead to a successful final product.
Phase 1: Pre-Planning
Before you lift a real or digital pencil, you, your team, or your client needs to decide what the goals are of the website? Are they to gain readership, sell products, engage users, or educate students? Define what success will look like for the website and determine your performance indicators. Once this is clearly defined, continually ask yourself if it moves you toward or away from your goals.
Define the Audience
Another powerful benefit to using an interactive visual sitemap creator is that handling complex or very large sitemaps can be made simple. Use the section feature to easily break out the sitemap into sub-sitemaps. Expand and collapse sections of your sitemap so you focus on specific areas where you are currently working or sharing. Making edits to multiple sections or page groups of a large sitemap is easy using the batch editor. Assign page types, labels, colours and more.
Determine the Purpose
It is important to understand what you want visitors to do on your website. Do you want them to read through as many pages as possible or maybe find a product and buy it with as little distraction as possible? By outlining the purpose, you can create content, structures and user flow that is more favourable to achieving your goals.
Plan Information Architecture Elements
Just before you start creating content, it is helpful to identify data types, information hierarchies, and content taxonomies. This is the final piece to understanding the content that you will need to create for the website. Planning information architecture helps to promote content consistency, familiarity among pages and sections, and unifies the presented text and media on the site.
Phase 2: Craft Architecture, Content and User Experience
Map Website Architecture
Decide which pages you will need, how they will be structured and in what hierarchy. You may also start your website planning with the menus and navigation systems. We recommend using website sitemaps to better visually understand and explain where content will live within the folder structure of your website. Site mapping also allows you to test a variety of scenarios for content placement before you ever start coding.
When using the content first approach, now is the time to start creating actual content for your website. This may include text, video, audio or other media. For sites with a finite set of content (like a SAAS front end), you may want to complete the content in its entirety. However, with situations like blogs, you may want to create a few pieces of content and create a general template or set of templates for future content creation.
Diagram User Flow
Diagramming user flow through a site that supports your content, purpose, and audience will help to improve the user experience. Creating diagrams allow you to plot actual paths through the site from page to page by visitors. You may uncover unexpected dead ends, excess clicking, or other navigational issues. Your diagram may include separate paths for different types of audience members.
Phase 3: Design Layouts, Graphics, Infrastructure
It’s time to start putting together wireframes, style guides, typography and other elements. Don’t forget to regularly share designs with team members. Keeping stakeholders involved as much as possible ensures a feeling of inclusivity and smooths out the approval process.
You may or may not be involved in this step as it sometimes falls on the IT managers. However, it is important to understand the technology you will building for. This may include CMS platforms, frameworks, languages, system requirements, data storage, and media handling. Infrastructure can significantly impact how your content can be delivered, or how your website is structured and designed.
At this point, you should have the green light to start designing actual design mockups of what the site will look like including how the content will appear. Because you took time with steps 1-9, the actual design process should be quite smooth because you are locked into supporting your content, audiences, and goals. Share often with stakeholders throughout the process.