There are lots of things to think about when planning a new website, but one of the most important is navigation. In my experience people love to talk about design, about colours, about pictures, but when it comes to what goes where they are less enthusiastic.
Navigation is key and directly relates to who your site is aimed at and what you want them to do. Read my previous blog post if you want to know how to get focused on your web users: who they are, what they already know, why they visit the site and how often they come back to it.
Once you know these details you can get started on the site map. This is essentially a diagram of the pages that will make up your website, and how they will be grouped. I recently came across a technique called card sorting which I think is pure genius. Simple but effective.
So what you do is think about what information your visitors will want to know and write a title for each on a piece of card. If there are related items you can then organise them into groups. Each group can then have a title and a new card. This card relates to an associated web page. For larger sites pages can be grouped together to form sections. Take time to arrange your cards in what you think is a good order, and, hey presto, you have the beginnings of a site map.
From here you will need to cast a critical eye over your plan. Does it adhere to what visitors will expect? For example, most sites usually begin with a home page, and many web users will look for a contact page. These conventions exist because, by and large, they work and make life easy for the user: think carefully before you subvert that expectation.
If you are happy, you should record your card navigation some way. You could photograph it or just reproduce it in written form. Now ask people who are in your target group what they think: does it meet their goals in visiting your site?
Once you have tweaked your site map to your satisfaction, it’s time to start building your site and have a good time thinking about design, colour and pictures. With your tried and tested site map in place from the beginning, you are far more likely to deliver a site that works, for your customers, and for you.