Five Steps to Basic Website Organization

Posted by MAC9EC at Sep 12, 2011 03:05 PM |

One of the most common questions we hear from people starting out with a folder full of content and trying to turn it into a website is "I'm overwhelmed! Where do I start?"

Part of the myth at work in organizing a website is the idea that the first thing you do is figure out the complete, grand and overarching design of the site, create the structure, and then put your content into that structure.  While this SOUNDS nice - it is often a lesson in frustration and failure.  If you create your structure without concern for your content, you find yourself in the unenviable position of trying to shoehorn that content into the structure.

This has two bad side effects: First, you end up with empty or nearly empty  sections of your site, while other parts become a confusing dumping ground for many content items. Second, your user is forced to try and read your mind in order to figure out where YOU would have put something - rather than having its location make sense logically.

Creating a structure, then reviewing your content for how it should fit into that structure is the online version of "Ready, Fire, Aim!"

A much better process for the new website manager is this:

1. Review the items that make up your site, and as you do, look for logical groupings.  Write down a quick 5-10 words describing the content and purpose on an index card.

2. Organize these based on these groupings.  Don't worry about labeling them, or subdividing them into sub-groupings yet - just focus on putting your cards into stacks which are items of similar descriptions.  If you have information about your group, stack those. If you have project descriptions, stack those.

The point  here is to break up your content into more manageable groupings.  If you have cards which don't seem to fit in anywhere - consider different ways of looking at their content.  (Many times things like address, staff information, services offered can logically be combined into an a category of basic information about the organization.  What they have in common is not the content - but how that content is used.)

3.  Review your groupings.  Do they make sense?  Show them to someone who was not part of the process and ask them if they make sense. If they pass this test, work on coming up with labels for this content.  Keep labels simple, avoid puns or inside jokes, and think of what label most clearly describes the content in a group.

4.  Review your labels versus your content.  Are certain groupings under one label actually made up subgroups?  For example - if you have forms to fill out - should they all be together, or could they be broken up into small groupings within "Forms" that would make them easier to find.  Perhaps you have forms for testing, others for admissions, others for after care?  If you have a lot of content in one group, consider breaking it up into smaller groups underneath the original label.

5.  Once you're figured out how to organize and label your content, then go through and actually do so on your website.  You'll end up with a hierarchy that makes sense, labels that can be followed - and one of the nicest things is that Plone will turn this hierarchy into a logical navigation menu on the left side of your pages automatically.

The one thought I will leave you with is this:  Any website architecture completely thought out and implemented by one person will only work for that one person.  Always get input from others into this process - experts to make sure your facts make sense, people with no experience with the topics to make sure your organization makes sense to someone who doesn't know the topic or the jargon.

If your site organization makes sense to both experts and newbies, it makes navigating it and finding what folks are looking for far easier than something designed only for one end of the gamut.