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Planning Site Content and Organization

Decision time: do you want a blog-style website or a more traditional website?

It is far easier to set up and maintain a blog-style site than a traditional website, especially if you plan to frequently add new content (especially news). But you may want to build a traditional site instead. If that is the case then see the next section .

Creating a blog-style site

First, don't be scared by the idea of a blog-style site. Creating one doesn't mean you have to be a "blogger" who publishes opinion and knee-jerk reactions (or whatever stereotype you have in your mind). A "blog" is simply a different way to publish content. It's a technical term that refers mostly to a content management system, not necessarily a writing style.  

There are essentially three characteristics of a blog:

  1. A frequently updated website with entries displayed in reverse chronological order (most recent stuff on top).

  2. Each entry - or post - has a headline and a "body."  Entries most often include links to other news and information found on the Web and also often contain photos or other graphics.

  3. A "comments" link that allows readers to post their own thoughts on what the blogger is writing about. Not all blogs allow comments, but most do.


Quick plan: Before you create your blog-style site, take some time to think about what you will blog about. This will help you as you set up the software and will guide your early activity with the blog. But realize that you can always change course.

Here are three questions to answer in forming a quick plan for your blog-style site:

  1. What will you name your blog (1-3 words)?

  2. What is a good short description or catchphrase for your blog?

  3. What will you write about in the blog? What is your blog's mission (2-3 sentences)?

Use the answers to these questions on your new blog so readers will know immediately what you are all about. It's frustrating to stumble upon a new blog or website and not be able to quickly figure out its raison d'etre (reason for being). Remember, more than one person can contribute content to a blog site.

Once you have a quick plan for a blog-style site, you're ready to choose a blog system.

Large, traditional website

For any large site, organizing content should be a primary concern. But where do you begin? Try starting in the middle.

First, brainstorm the various sections of your site. Worry about their organization later. Take a stack of index cards. On each one, write the name of a page or feature you'd like to include on your site. Repeat this until you have a mostly complete list of the elements your site will contain.

When creating cards, don't overlook less obvious elements. For example, if you include an e-mail signup page, add an e-mail thank you page and an e-mail error page as well. The error page is in case people enter invalid information into the signup fields. If you include a site search, be sure to add a search results page.

Then, start to arrange the index cards in a logical fashion. You can start by simply clustering cards that are alike on a large table. Once you have several clusters, give each cluster a name. Each cluster represents a section of your site, and the cards in the cluster are the pages grouped within that section.

If any cluster has more than seven items, try to break it up into sub-clusters. For navigational purposes, you should avoid making any one section of your site too large. Too many page choices within a particular section make it difficult for users to click intuitively on the one they want. Simple, short navigation lists help users feel in control and not overwhelmed.

That said, if any cluster has only one or two items, consider folding it into another cluster. This isn't always possible or desirable. If one cluster has only one item, that might be fine. It also may mean that there's a sub-set of cards that needs to be written.

If you're left with dangling cards, it could be that those bits of content don't fit in with your site's core mission and should be removed or saved for future expansion. Or it could mean that you haven't quite thought through a particular site feature and you need to flesh it out more before you proceed.

Once you've got your cards arranged nicely, write down the order that you think will work. Then hand your cards to someone new and ask them to make their own clusters. Don't coach them. The point is to see how they would organize the material. Now take their suggestions into consideration and come up with a final list of content categories and subcategories.

The reason you do this so early in the process of creating a website is that your site's design, the software and hardware you require and your production schedule are all shaped by the content you will ultimately put on your site. This outline you create will become the roadmap, or site map, for the rest of your site's growth.

Finally, take the cards and arrange them on a very large surface so that they're all visible at one time. Try to place them so that the most popular, in-demand cards are on the right and the less in-demand cards are on the left.

Make sure that the top card is the home page and that as you go down by row, you see cards that are one, two, and three clicks down. Most of your content should be within three clicks, or rows, though some cards that are the outcome of clear, linear processes can be many more clicks down.

Take a picture of your cards or otherwise record your work - this will become your site map.

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