Web Site Planning 101

Posted October 9th, 2007 by Mike Cherim

So, you want to have a web site. Hmm. Now what? Do you have the basics of web organization and size? Do you understand the way a web site works in terms of web-specific features? Linking for example, this is something you can now do. It needs to be considered. Have you? I find that many people know that they want a web site, but they really don’t know where to begin. Thus, I offer this article.

You see, as a person who makes web sites, I find it’s beneficial to the process and outcome if my clients understand the basics and have some idea of the content type and quantity they would like, so site organization can be considered. I often find I must explain these things, of course, mostly written as emails, but now I can just provide a link to this article and perhaps others can get some mileage out of it as well.

Foundation Pages

You may want a store, or a blog, or that very cool whatever web thing, but first the foundation pages as I call them — and what is going to go on them — need to be considered. You have to think of a web site as a communication tool — a means of speaking to those who visit. Think of this:

You have a small restaurant on Main Street and you are standing just outside the doorway under an awning. It is opening day and a crowd has amassed. You are very happy. ‘Now what?’ you ask to yourself. Obviously you want them to come inside so you clear your throat and you say so: “Welcome! Come inside.” And then you tell them…

What do you tell them? If your customers amass in front of your store, or curious passersby huddle around you as do your thing, whatever it may be, should you tell them a bit about you? What you do or what you offer? Why it is they should stay instead of moving on? Are you friendly and open? Are you helpful if you’re needed to be? Are you accessible? These questions are all givens if you have a brick-and-mortar store, and I say the same holds true on the web so all of it needs to be considered.

The foundation pages are recognized by most people and expected on most sites. People will look for these pages. The names are familiar in many lands. Therefore, to accommodate the flow of communication, you should probably plan to start with these pages:

Home page
In the first paragraph you want to sum up what the visitor will get from your site. Products, consulting, plants, crafts, stories, personal insights and ramblings, anything at all. Not everything, but a good taste. There is a side benefit to this as well, and that is making sure search engines are also well-informed. Keep it natural, though. Avoid speaking keywordese. The important thing here is to get to the point quickly, with the proper tone. You want to welcome, inform, then lead the visitor more deeply into the site if there’s a fit and they want to proceed — they will know after the first paragraph. You just point the way and make sure nothing is in their way.
About page
This content can be placed on the home page if it’s very brief. It doesn’t have to be a separate page, but users who want to know more about you will naturally look for it. Thus it’s probably best to offer it. Use this page to define who you are, your company’s background… whatever it is you deem important, and whatever it is you think people might ask. You are the person or entity talking to your visitors so you will hopefully know the right words. Remember it’s one-on-one. This probably doesn’t apply to some specialty sites, but I feel this is applicable to most.
Contact page
You really must have some sort of contact page so visitors can get in touch. Even if it’s the type of site where visitors wouldn’t ordinarily make contact. That is because you never know. Someone may need help, or maybe someone is in the position to help you. You just never know. Don’t post your email address on this page without some trickery to cloak it from email harvesting robots, but a contact form is a good tool to offer to establish basic communication. A second alternative is also a good idea: a phone number, fax number, even a mailing and street address, if applicable. It can lend more legitimacy to your organization if that’s important to you.
Help page
Or “Site Help” or “Site Info.” I feel this is important on the smallest of web sites, but sometimes to justify the page you’ll want to put a variety of information on it. Copyright statement, Privacy policy, Accessibility info, Disclaimer, whatever might fall into the help or info category. Most people won’t need it, and most won’t even visit it, but it should be there, ready for those who do.
Site Map
Every site should have a site map. Not that all sites need one, that might be silly, but there should be one all the same. Even if it’s a bookmarked list on the Help page. The important thing is to make sure a site map link is available — and not hidden — so that visitors who look for it will be rewarded.

Again, these are “foundation” pages and what I consider the basis of a web site. From there you add the pages relevant to the topical content — your blog, your store, your photos, whatever.

Using Linked Text

The very root of the Internet is linking. It’s magic and not something that can be done elsewhere outside of the web and electronic media. Links make instant connections from page to page, from thought to thought. A link is basically specially coded text (hypertext) to which function and default styling is applied by web browsers and other access means. You need to plan on using links on your web site to take full advantage of what this electronic medium has to offer.

For example, on your Home page you have a brief introductory paragraph. This is good opportunity to provide a link or two, using such text as “learn more about us” of which “about us” can be a link to the About page. If you want to provide a convenience to your visitors and/or lead them in a particular direction, links are essential.

Imagery and Graphics

When you are planning a web site, you should also include some images with your content. This is important for several reasons: you can set a tone, inform, support your text content, and help most visitors identify with the site and what it’s about. Just don’t rely on images alone. If they are important, text use is then critical to search engines and users who cannot benefit from imagery. This text can be provided as alt text, presented as a caption, or within the content itself. This should be considered.

Try to get the most out of images. Let’s say you have a restaurant. In your opening text, title, and headings, you can make that very clear. You can tell prospective patron that your spaghetti plate has the biggest meatballs in the entire world, but you know what they say: One picture is worth a thousand words. Thus, when you’re planning a web site, be sure to gather some images that might help support the message — or at least decorate the page.

Search Engines and Accessibility

When you plan a web site you should take the care and feeding of search engines seriously if being found is part of your agenda. One of the best ways to do this is to make sure your site is “accessible” (read up on this), and its content is clear a well presented. When you write content, do so in chunks, break it down into paragraphs and use headings and sub headings liberally. Headings can be very important to myriad users. Also make sure each page has a good title element, description, and keywords. Make sure all of your pages are interlinked (yep, links again), by way of some sort of navigation menu. This is expected on sites so it begs for your attention from the start.

Don’t Go Overboard

I see this on some sites and a lot of blogs. Owners provide too much at once, they have too much going on. They try to kill too many birds with one stone. The content loses its clarity, the navigation becomes blurred, the site become less accessible. Sometimes this happens slowly over time. First a calendar is added, then a recent comments plugin is added, then a tag cloud builds in the sky, then a poll feature, then a chat box, then icons and links and a host of other things start creeping in. Everything mentioned can be on a site, but it really must be planned from the onset so it’s done right. Also plan the accommodation and integration of potential add-ons down the road, even if you are 99% sure you’ve added what you want and nothing more.

Avoiding a mess tomorrow is accomplished with solid planning today.

11 Responses to: “Web Site Planning 101”

  1. Web Site Planning 101 responds:
    Posted: October 9th, 2007 at 1:02 am

    […] You can read the rest of this blog post by going to the original source, here […]

  2. Tommy Olsson responds:
    Posted: October 9th, 2007 at 1:18 am

    Aw, Mike. You’ve gone and used that dreaded “A” word again. You know no-one will read anything with the “A” word in it. :)

    Seriously, it’s a well-written primer. Well done!

  3. Dan Schulz responds:
    Posted: October 9th, 2007 at 3:20 am

    That it is, Tommy. I’ve been considering writing something like this myself, but I guess you’ve beaten me to the punch Mike. Bravo. :)

  4. Elliott Cross responds:
    Posted: October 9th, 2007 at 9:03 am

    Great article! You just summarized what I have been trying to tell a client for a few months…

    Now, to get them to read it… :)

  5. Carmelo Lisciotto responds:
    Posted: October 12th, 2007 at 6:38 am

    Well said, I will direct clients to read this article.

    Carmelo Lisciotto

  6. Alan Jackson responds:
    Posted: October 16th, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    A very nice and simple break down that comes right on time for me. I’m about to embark on two sites with actual clients. Having a clean base to work from in the way of content and structure will help out a lot. It’s hard to convey an idea of what pages they need in their site to someone who doesn’t look beyond the surface most of the time. Simple usability features might miss most folks.

    Good read and already bookmarked for reference.

  7. Exploring a Web Site’s Visual Accessibility - Beast-Blog.com responds:
    Posted: November 1st, 2007 at 9:27 am

    […] I guess “visual accessibility” is a term I just coined (at least in this context), but if anything fully captures the concept of visual accessibility, it’d have to be a combination of layout, readability, organization, usability, style, and content-clarity design considerations. This, at least to me, is important enough to warrant having its own nomenclature. When you view a web page in the traditional sense, as most do, are you able to find stuff quickly and is what you’re seeking exist? User expectations should be met. Take for instance a contact option (I think every site should have one): Is it easy to find the a contact option link assuming one exists? As another example, can you negotiate the main text content, or is it too small, crowded, or faint to make out? These are examples of design considerations that need to be made in regard to what I’m calling visual accessibility. […]

  8. bloggingzoom.com responds:
    Posted: November 2nd, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Web Site Planning 101 - Beast-Blog.com…

    If you are a web site or blog designer, one of the most frustrating parts of the business is explaining to a new or potential client some of the terminology. It seems like some people just don’t get it!

    This is a great article that EVERY potential c…

  9. Rob Hunter responds:
    Posted: November 6th, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    This article is a useful primer, although I noticed a copy problem in the Imagery and Graphics section.

    The get the most out of images, let’s say you have a restaurant.

    I didn’t understand this sentence.

Sorry. Comments are closed.

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