Before any work begins on the actual construction of the site, it is very important to stop and think about the information the site will contain.
Consider the Audience
Take a moment to consider the answers to the following questions:
- Who will most likely use our website?
- What will they be most interested in learning about?
- What is the most important thing we need to communicate to them?
- How much time will we have to keep our site updated?
The answers to these questions should influence the type of information that you will want to put on your website. For example, if you are an academic department it is likely that prospective students interested in learning about your programs will encounter your website and wish to get an impression on not only what courses you have to offer but what life is like for a student of your department in a more general sense. To anticipate the needs of such visitors, you may wish to include information about student and professional organizations and student testimonials.
It would be helpful to talk to your current students and ask them what information they were looking for when they were considering your program and if they were able to find it. You could also ask them if they have any specific informational needs now as current students that could be satisfied by your department’s website.
The final question on the list, “How much time will we have to keep our site updated,” is often overlooked but is perhaps one of the most important questions to consider. Given the limited staff, resources and time that every department must juggle, it is a given that some of them will have more time to dedicate to maintaining a website than others. If keeping an updated Web presence is a high priority for your Department, then a section that highlights news and events sponsored by the department would be an excellent addition. The important thing to consider is that such a section would be refreshed with new content at least weekly. Anything less frequent and the site would seem stale and forgotten.
If you do not have the resources to update your site very often, then it would be best to only include the most general information and to not have a News or Events section at all. On the Web it is better to have no information than to have stale or outdated information.
Build an Outline
Once you have considered the likely audience of your website and the information you think they will find relevant it is time to design what’s called the “information architecture” for the site. “Information architecture” is a fancy way of describing a basic concept; the information architecture of your site is simply what the pages of the site are called and how they link together.
One common way to define these relationships is through the use of an outline. The top level of the outline (indicated here by roman numerals) indicates the most important links of your site that will appear on your site's home page. Items that are nested beneath these elements indicate pages that link from the page in the previous level of the outline. For example, here is a partial outline of the Department of Biology’s website:
- Areas of Study
- Biology Core Courses
- Biology Option Courses
- Biology Electives
- Science Education
- University Studies Courses
- Course Waiting List Procedures
- Faculty Research
- Maija Bluma
- Allan J. Bornstein
- Marilyn Burleson
- James Champine
- ...and so on.
- Facilities & Opportunities
- Area Natural Resources
- Animal Room
- Center for Aquatic Studies
- ...and so on.
In this example, there is a link to a “Courses” page on the home page, so it is at the top of the outline. Then, on the “Courses” page there is a link to Biology Core Courses, Biology Option Courses, etc., which are a step below “Courses” in the outline because they are linked from the courses page.
Note that any of the pages in the top level of the outline (the roman numerals) will always be available to visitors via the navigation bar on every page.
Common pages for most departments are a “Contact Us” page, with campus mail, telephone, email and fax information for your department. Also, a list of profiles and contact information for the staff of the department is a helpful resource for most visitors.
Once you’ve completed the outline of your site, please email it to the office of Web Design & Support, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will review the outline and give you feedback on the site’s proposed structure. Usually, feedback turnaround will be on the same or next day.
After any changes or additions have been made to the site’s outline, it’s time for the next step.