When we talk about content organization in the web world, we’re usually talking about information architecture, or IA. A well-designed IA helps visitors understand where they are on a site, and how the site’s content is related. (If you’d like to nerd out on the field of information architecture, we recommend the Complete Beginner’s Guide to Information Architecture by UX Booth.)
For web professionals, developing an IA involves user research, persona development, card sorting, spreadsheets, wireframes, prototypes, testing and more. (Oh my!)
For your purposes, though, we’ll think of IA as a sitemap on
steroids spreadsheets. In fact, we made you a template, which you’ll find below.
The first rule of IA is, the IA should make sense to the people who visit your site.
Consider your content from the perspective of your target audience. Your users’ needs and the website objectives should determine what pages you create, how you name them, what content each includes, and how they relate to each other (eg, whether they’re sister pages, child pages, or distant relatives with links).
Prioritizing site visitors could result in a website structure that differs from the organizational structure of your office or group.
If you can talk to actual site visitors during the planning phase to help with this process, WONDERFUL! If not, turn up the empathy and imagine what might assist, engage or confuse the people who visit your site.
Developing your site’s IA
Even if you don’t have a site already, you have existing content. Gather what’s been written in brochures, proposals, emails, memos – and yes, a website, if you already have one. Make a list.
Review the existing content to determine what’s useful, what needs updates, and what isn’t needed. (A helpful framework for existing sites being updated is a ROT analysis, which identifies content that is redundant, outdated or trivial.)
Remember, you’re looking for content that will be useful for the people using your site. You might not use existing text word-for-word, but it may give you a place to start.
Gather a team, and make an index card for each content piece your site should include (you could also use scrap paper, sticky notes, spreadsheet cells, Trello cards or other digital tools). Your cards should include valuable content identified in your content audit, as well as new content that needs to be developed. Consider what your target audience needs to know, what questions they will have, and what kinds of content will show them the key advantages or differentiators for your group of program.
You might, for example, have cards for student testimonials, degree program descriptions, application requirements, dates and deadlines, research opportunities, program history, contact form, team directory, events, and so on. Content is more than words, so you might also have cards for graphics, videos and photography that would be useful for your site.
Gather a team and start organizing those cards into groups. Your end goal is to determine which cards (i.e., content) belong on the same page, which pages belong in the same section, and what those pages and sections should be named. If you can recruit actual users of your site, this is a great time to get them involved so the content is organized and labeled the way users think of it. The Nielsen Norman Group provides these recommendations for card sorting with users.
When your card sort is complete and you’ve determined the structure of your site, you can enter the results into a spreadsheet and start working out the details. Add each page as a separate row, indenting by column to show sub-pages and sub-sub-pages (in the WashU Web Theme, your menu can go three levels deep).
Use additional columns to note the focus and purpose of the content on each page, existing content that can be incorporated, who is responsible for writing each page, who should approve it and the content type (static page, post, form, calendar, etc.; see this guide to content types in the WashU Web Theme). You can also include columns for graphics and photography notes, calls to action to include, links to include, assets needed, etc.
Sound like a lot? Use the template below to help you get started!
Customize this Google Sheet to plan your site’s information architecture.
When you’re done, you should have a roadmap for your site’s content. You can continue to update the spreadsheet throughout your project to keep track of the status of each page, ideas for future enhancements, redirects that may be required after launch, and more. The spreadsheet may evolve again after your site launches to help you plan and track ongoing updates to the site.
It’s content development time!
When the IA is in place, you should know what pages you need and who is responsible for drafting them. Then you can get writing.