Whether you’re redoing your website or starting from scratch, chances are good that you have a lot of information to fit into your pages. Organizing all of it clearly is essential to a successful website.
We generally like to begin with content (see Which Comes First: Design or Content? for the pros and cons) and often create it in a Word document for the designer to work with. Word 2010 will (if you use the right formatting tools) automatically create an outline for you to look at as you work, as you can see in the example at left.
This works very well with my organizing method, which is to begin with the main pages of the site and then to sort the information into those pages.
Right now we’re working on a new web site for Rocky Grove Sun Company, a company providing alternative energy for homes and organizations in and around Arkansas. Their current website has about one hundred pages, many of which are hidden away in surprising places. We met with the guys from Rocky Grove and came up with a basic site structure (the top 5-7 pages that show up on the navigation bar) that worked for them and also would help visitors find their way easily. We talked about it with Tom Hapgood, the designer we’ll be working with on this project, and made a couple of adjustments. I typed those headings into a Word document, using the “Heading 1” style.
Then I went through all the pages and decided for each one where it belonged. I used “Heading 2” for subpages and “Heading 3” for subheadings within pages, and Word used that information to make a nice outline for me. Sometimes pages need to be combined or divided up, but I can make those decisions as I write and still end up with a clear and tidy document.
I worked this way in Word 2007, too, but I like the way 2010 gives me a constant overview.
If you like a more hands-on approach, or if you’re working with a site with so many pages or such a tangled structure that this simple method won’t work, try using Post-it Notes or index cards. Just write a note for each of the things you want to be sure to include in your web site (for Rocky Grove, that could include “micro-hydroelectric systems” and “what’s a photovoltaic module?”) and then sort the notes into logical piles.
This lets you try out multiple arrangements, and also lets several people work together.
Visual processors may prefer to create a mind-map or idea web. This is also an excellent starting point for brainstorming if you’re not yet sure what information you ought to have at your website. I like to do this on the computer. The program I use is ConceptDraw MINDMAP 5 Pro. It will let you brainstorm (it’ll even time you if that works best for you or your team) and then organize all the elements into a stylish diagram. You can color-code the various nodes to show who’s responsible for them, or change their colors as each section receives client approval. It’ll also convert your diagram into an outline for you, so you can send that to your copywriter.
Josepha prefers to do this kind of organization by hand on a markerboard instead of on a screen. This is good for groups. It also allows you to put the diagram up where you can see it all the time as you’re working on your content, and it’s easy to change. You can even check sections off as they get written, for that sense of accomplishment or to keep track when multiple people are working on the content.
Any of these methods helps to organize the content into a logical structure and makes it much less likely that you’ll end up with your products list on your About Us page or a video stuck someplace completely unconnected to anything else.
Once you have your ideas and information sorted, identify the essential keywords for each page, and get writing. Having taken the time to organize things first will pay off in a much faster and more successful content draft.