How to Plan the Content, Structure and Layout of Your Website
Building a website is similar to writing a speech, a paper or a book. You need a good concept. Without a concept, your site may be not user friendly and look messy. Even though making a concept for a website sounds like an awful lot of work, it will save you a lot of time in the future. Well-planned and -structured pages are easier to maintain and update than going over a chaotic one. Furthermore, the better your website is structured, the easier it is to find it via search engines. I am sharing the five steps I use to plan my websites below.
Step 1: Blank Space
When I build a website, I start with blank sheet of paper. It literally is a blank A3 sheet of paper. You can do this exercise also on your laptop, but I am a very visual person and drawing helps me to think more creatively and connect all the dots.
The first step is the overall mission and topic of the website. You need to know the topic why visitors will come to your website and how to address their needs. For example, if you want to build a website for your personal blog, you will need a basic layout where the posts appear on the main page in chronological order. If you have a business, you need to assess which information is important for your customers – apart from the obvious such as the address and description of your products/service, is there anything else which could be of value for your customers? Sometimes, additional blog content may be interesting, or a downloadable portfolio.
Once I have a clear idea of this meta-level, I move down one level and define the different content categories of the website. Most of the time, these categories will end up in the top bar as my main menu. My personal recommendation is to limit these to seven categories. This also corresponds to the current school of thought among the IT scene.
If necessary, break down these categories into sub-categories. For example, if you run a travel blog, you can break down your “Travel” category into “Destinations”, “In-Depth Guides” and “Solo Travel”.
Step 2: Visualise It
Now that you have an idea about the rough structure, think about your “landing page”. This is the main page visitors will see. What do you want them to see first? How do you want to guide your visitor through your website?
One the same piece of paper where I write down all the categories, I draw a sketch of the content displayed on the main page. I also find it very useful to get some inspiration from the websites I used most frequently and which I find most interesting and user-friendly. I usually make screenshots and save them in an “inspiration folder” on my laptop. I then make notes on my sheet of paper for certain parts which I found useful on other websites.
Make sure to make the website easy to navigate for your visitors. If too much is going on or the structure is too chaotic, people will just bounce off your page. Always try to keep it as simple as possible. Once you have found your structure for the site, you can look for website templates and assess which one will match your needs. Similar to what I mentioned above, there are different types of templates addressing different needs – a blog template is different from a company website or page promoting a podcast, for example.
I really like to work with so-called “Flow Charts”. These charts map out where the visitor is taken on your website – if they click on XYZ, they will be taken to ABC. How are XYZ and ABC linked to each other and to the rest of the website. Is all the content easy to find for your visitor and is your page intuitive?
The advantage of starting a website from scratch is that you can take Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) into account right from the beginning. When you map out your future page, think about how you could link certain pages or posts too each other. Furthermore, apply a keyword strategy to the structure you mapped out. Can you translate the categories into keywords? Can the same keyword be used for multiple pages or posts? I mentioned this in my article about SEO already: it can be really helpful to keep a spreadsheet of all your pages and posts, their keywords and how they are linked to each other.
Step 3: Try It
After you decided on the template, put your plans into action and try your structure. Start building the framework and make some test pages and posts. You can also use mock-pictures just to get a feeling what the website will look like. Click through the page and assess if it is intuitive and if the content can be found easily.
Step 4: Test It
When I started in tech, a friend of mine who has years of experience in the field stressed the importance of testing and that the time needed for it is very often underestimated: “Take the time you need to develop a website or app, then double or even triple it. That’s the time you will need for testing.” And he was absolutely right. Even though the testing phase is often being overlooked, it is crucial. Once you have the site up and running – even in a pre-launch version, send the link out to friends and family. See what they tell you and assess according to two dimensions:
- Technical issues: Does your site work, what is the speed of the site, are there any bugs you need to fix?
- Usability: Do they like the design, is it easy to use, is anything missing?
The first one is obvious but I think the second one is as crucial, if not more crucial than the mere technicalities. Your goal is not only to keep visitors on your page as long as possible but also, and more importantly, to give them the information they are looking for. It may seem daunting to ask people for honest feedback but it is better to hear it and fix the issues than to have unhappy visitors who will never return to your site. Furthermore, you will probably never find out why they did not come back.
Step 5: Go Live and Improve It
Even if you aim for perfection, do not get carried away and only aim to publish a flawless site. It is better to have a good site running which may need a bit of improvement instead of no site at all. Monitor your traffic and also always check yourself from multiple devices if everything runs smoothly. Once your website is up and running, you will see how you can improve it, which content is the most important for your customers and how they move through your site.
Do you have any further questions? Or did you build your own website and have some advice?
More from my Let’s Talk Business Series:
How to Get Started with IT Products without an IT Background
I Need a Website for my Business but Where Shall I Get Started?
What is SEO and Why Do You Need It?
Let’s Talk Startups – From Product Idea to Starting Your Business
Become an E-commerce Rockstar – How to Start Your Online Store
Is Starting a Business Really Easier and Cheaper than Ever Before?
Cracking the Numbers You Need for Your Business – Financial Statements
All information as of the date of publishing/updating. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended services above.