University of Vermont

UVM Self-help Web Guide

Organize your content

Whether you plan to rebuild an existing Web site or start from scratch, you need to think about your site's information architecture and navigation before you start creating pages.

Step 1: Know your audience Who uses your site most often — Students? Faculty? Parents? You might say "all," but the reality is every website should have a primary audience. The answer to this question is key, because you cannot always design a perfect Web page for all audiences. For example, you might choose to devote the bulk of your site — including your main menu and content — to students. However, if you still wanted to include some information for faculty and staff, you could provide a single "quick link" to a sub-page. Or perhaps you wanted to build a site that treats all audiences equally. Then your main menu could be geared toward audiences.

Step 2: Take stock of your content Do you already have a Web site? If so, then does any content (words or images) need to be updated? Are you building a Web site from scratch? What information will it contain? People tend to worry about colors and photos and the "pretty" things, but a website should be first and foremost about content. A website with pretty pictures and no content isn't much of a website.

Step 3: Divide your content into similar categories We encourage people to create an outline or to put each piece of content on an index card and create physical piles of similar types of content that seem to belong together. You'll start to see the similarities and navigational labels will begin to present themselves. The goal of this exercise is to create general buckets of information so that all site content fits into one of them and so that they can continue to grow within, not by adding new main menu items.

Step 4: Labeling your content Now that you have your content divided up into categories, what sort of patterns do you see? Do your categories seem to be geared toward audiences? Topics? Tasks? Consider which type of category makes the most sense for your site's main menu. You cannot mix navigational types, so you'll need to pick one. Select appropriate words/labels for each category. We strongly encourage you to poke around on other websites with similar missions to yours. Your goal here is not to re-invent the wheel, but rather to use similar nomenclature to what users might see on another website. For web users scanning quickly, there is comfort in the familiar.

Last modified September 13 2011 01:06 PM