Website planning can be seen as daunting and it's difficult to know where to begin. Follow our simple guide to ensuring you engage with the right audience in the right way.
Website Planning stages
Think about what the website is actually for and then structure it accordingly.
A good website has good content, good actions, good photos, and good structure (sometimes called "navigation" or "content architecture").
Digital agencies all have their own processes to help you work out the optimum structure for your site, and choose what sections, pages and content you should create. This is our process for website planning.
What is your website for?
Make sure you know what your organisation and website goals are, and write content to achieve those goals.
Know who your audience is
You are not writing for yourself, you're writing for an audience. So understand who that audience is.
Provide simple routes to key content
Your audience should be able to reach important content in 3 clicks or less.
Keep the structure simple
Optimize your main links so there aren't too many. And keep the link names short, so they don't look overcrowded.
Document it all
Keep a record of your website goals and your site structure, so you can refer to it later.
It's easy to plan good website content.
What you'll need for website planning:
- Plenty of post-it notes. You may find it useful to use a different colour of post-it note for each of the first 3 stages.
- A white board, a door, or a blank wall that you can stick the post-it notes on to.
- Key decision-makers who run your organisation - these don't necessarily need to be people involved in the website, they can be anybody who has ideas to offer.
- The process is likely to take 1-3 hours, depending on how many people are involved.
Website planning stage 1: About your audience
This is to help you to understand who your audience is.
Your audience is not just a bland collection of random people - each individual has specific needs. Try to describe the main types of users. If you find you have a post-it note with "Everyone" written on it, throw it away: it's meaningless. Not even Facebook reaches everyone.
Ask yourself what types of user you want to reach, or who will want to use your website. On your post-it notes, write down each of your audience types.
Website planning stage 2: What does your audience want?
This stage helps you consider all the types of content you can deliver to your audience.
At the moment, don't try to link up content with audience type - just write down everything, with each type of content on a separate post-it note.
Stick them onto the wall (or door, or wipeboard) in a random way, but make sure they don't get muddled up with the audience types. Using different coloured post-it notes helps!
Website planning stage 3: What do YOU want from your audience?
This is essentially the same exercise as above, but with a different emphasis.
Whilst stage 2 is all about the things you offer to your audience, this is about what your organisation wants from the relationship. Again, write them on post-it notes and put them on another part of the wall.
By now you should have 3 groups of post-it notes (this is why it may help to use post-it notes of different colours):
- Content you can deliver to your audience.
- What your organisation wants the audience to do.
Website planning stage 4: Organise your post-it notes
This is to allocate each type of content and/or need to each category of audience.
Take the "audience" post-it notes and line them up horizontally, with a few inches between each one.
Under each of the audience post it notes, stick the "content" or "organisational need" notes that match that segment of the audience.
What you're doing is creating a structure for your content. But you're doing it in a totally organic way, building up from what you know about your audience.
You will almost certainly find that some content doesn't neatly fit into just one audience group.
For example, it's possible that the map is useful to 5 different types of audience. But it has to exist in one specific place on the website, so choose the audience group you think it would be most useful to, and put the map there. You can link across from one section of the site to another, so it's not as though the other 4 audience types won't be able to access the map.
Remember there isn't a right answer; there's only the answer which is right for you. This process isn't perfect, and doesn't answer questions for you - it just helps you to ask the right questions.
And you can change it all later on using the Treeline CMS.
Website planning stage 5: Prioritise your content
This is to decide which audience, piece of content, or organisational need is the top priority.
This is often controversial - but it's a terrific exercise! You're likely to argue and disagree, but remember that to get a useful outcome somebody needs to control the discussion and have a final say about the priority. Often that means being the "bad guy" for somebody in your team. But remain focused on the organisation's overall goals.
Arrange the post-it notes (in groups - each user type, combined with the content you've allocated to them) in order of priority, left to right.
You'll end up with a big table of post-it notes. Across the top is a list of audience types, in order of priority, from left-to-right. Running down from that list is the type of content each user needs.
Website planning stage 6: Rename things
This is where you convert each of the audience-types into a heading for your website. This will become the main menu across the top of the site.
Change the headings for each type of user. Where it used to say "Service User", it might now say "Helping you". Where it used to say "Press", it might now say "News".
Remember to speak in plain English. Don't use technical or obscure terms. And keep the labels as short as you reasonably can. Between 1 and 3 words is ideal, preferably just one word. Long section titles are not good for usability, and don't fit into the space available (i.e. the width of the web page). So if you have too many sections, or each section name is too long, you need to edit it down. Maybe you can make the labels shorter? Or maybe you can merge two sections into one (it's always better to have fewer, rather than more sections).
This is a good set of labels.
Home / Helping you / About us / Store / Events / News / Contact us
These are labels which do the same thing, but are much, much longer:
Home / Ways that we can help you / About us and where we are / Buy products and make donations / Upcoming events / News, media and press releases / How to get in touch with us
Long section labels look terrible and aren't necessary. Keep it short: it's easier to read and fits nicely into the space available. Remember that the width of the website can only accommodate a certain amount of content, so don't have too many site sections, or section titles that are too long - they simply won't fit into the space, and will look unprofessional.
Website planning stage 7: Document it all
Remember to write it all down when you've finished.
Make a list in a Word document which describes the content structure you ended up with. You can do this any way you want, but it's often easiest to do it as nested bullet points (each section is a main bullet point; the sub-bullet points are the types of content required for that section of the site), like so:
- About us
- Board members
- Why donate
- How we spend your money
- Donation form
- Latest blogs
- Blog archive
There are also commercial software packages available that you can us for website planning. At Treeline we use Slickplan which has a free version for a single site map.
By doing this series of exercises around website planning you will have:
- Worked out who your audience is.
- Worked out what they want from your site.
- Worked out what your organisation wants from your audience.
- Created a specific "channel" for each type of audience, where they can find all the information they need in one location (or find links to the content if it exists in another area of the site).
- Decided the section titles you need for your website, based on what audiences want, not on what you assume they want.
- Prioritised your content so that it matches audience expectations and is user-focused.
- Created a map which tells you what content you need to create
- It will also help you to understand what needs to go on the homepage - key information from each of your top priority areas of the website.