A Guide To Creating A Successful Site Plan
Imagine trying to build a new house without knowing how many or what kind of rooms are going to be built. It would be a nightmare for you and the contractor! There would be countless hours and materials wasted, added expenses on change orders and rush charges, not to mention timeline delays on any project oversights. The same goes for building a new website…a master plan is needed.
The sitemap, or information architecture, defines the structure of a website and is an important strategic step in the process of building a new website or redesigning an old one. The following steps are essential to creating a successful site plan.
Identify Your Goals
Like everything in your business, your website should have a clear purpose. Before jumping the gun…start by answering the following questions and setting goals for your new site.
- What are your main objectives for the site?
- Who is your site for and what led them to visit?
- What do you want users to do when they visit the first time, second time and beyond?
- What is the most important message you are trying to convey to your audience?
- What kind of experience do you want visitors to have when they visit your site?
These are just some possible questions that should be discussed and the answers confirmed by all key stakeholders at the beginning of the project. I stress the word “beginning” because making major changes to the fundamentals after development has begun will most likely cause major headaches like, rework, added cost and delayed launch.
Let’s circle back to the new home example, it would be like deciding to move the kitchen after the plumbing and foundation have been laid.
Current Company Site
If your company already has a website, take some time to assess and analyze all pages. Review your website’s analytics to see which pages are performing well and which are not. Once any pages have been identified as no longer relevant or unnecessary, the decision can be made to remove or to update. If a page is being removed, it is important to apply a 301 redirect from the old URL to a new page that has similar information or answers a similar question.
Whether a new site is being built or a current site is being redesigned, it is a good idea to review competitors’ websites. By doing so, you can keep up with industry trends, learn from their mistakes and maybe get some insights on where your content is lacking.
There may be a page or two that all of your competitors have on their sites, but was missing from yours. If that page is relevant to your company and is deemed important or if it is prototypical for your industry and important for a user to make a decision, you may want to include a version on your new site. Similarly, you may see some things that are being done that create a bad UX, which you will want to steer clear of.
Now that goals have been set and an extensive review has been completed, it is time to start thinking about how to structure all of the pages on your new site. This isn’t as simple as grouping pages together…you need to take into account how a typical visitor will navigate the website. Creating a customer flow diagram is a really good exercise that will provide insights in a more visual way.
The site structure should assist visitors in completing the goals that have been set, as well as, make it easy to for a visitor to find what they are looking for. Site structure also affects SEO…the better the site structure the easier it is for crawlers to access and index page content.
Keeping in mind goals, visitors and search engines, pages can now be organized in a hierarchical fashion to identify the main navigation, secondary pages and tertiary pages.
While the site structure is a big part of the site plan, the strategy/plan shouldn’t stop there. This would be the equivalent of handing a list of rooms to your contractor without a blueprint…a well thought out and organized list, but a list nonetheless.
A site plan is taking the site map from list to centralized project hub. For the entire website project this document can be referenced, so it should include other important information like:
- Functionality requirements
- Custom layouts
- Content to include
- Calls to Action
- Footer links
- Additional information, i.e. links, plugins, etc.
If you want to geek out even more over the new site plan (like we do), you can capture other project details including, but not limited to:
- Links to content that will need to be integrated – on new documents or current web pages
- Links to old and new pages – this can help in determining which URLs will be kept and which need a 301 redirect to preserve any SEO love garnered over the years
- Notes, comments or instructions
- Page status
The site plan can be used by leadership, project managers, designers, developers and content strategists and will act as a living document that gets updated throughout the project.
Have more questions?
If you are considering building a new website or simply redesigning your current one, GLIDE can help. Contact us and get the conversation started!