Once you know the goals of your website; what your owners/stakeholders want to communicate and what your intended visitors need and want, you are ready to start organizing your content. This can be done with a simple outline of proposed page titles. If you have the skill to create a chart, that works, too.
Thinking through your content hierarchy at the beginning of your website development is very important. One best practice that is good both for your visitors and for search engines is not to go more than three levels deep in your outline of pages. In other words, visitors will get to the desired information in two clicks or less. At most they will go from your home page, to one subtitle and perhaps a sub-subtitle. If they have to go further—they may just give up. Your outline will look something like this:
I. Homepage menu item
Best practice is that you never have just one subtitle or one sub-subtitle. If you do not have at least two sub-pages, just roll the content up to the higher level. This is Outlining 101, but it is also basic web content strategy.
Developing this outline will be an iterative process. You will continue to revise it up to the moment you start working with your designer and then you may still be “tweaking” it. At one of your planning meetings, get input from all of your stakeholders. In light of the goals of the website, what do they want to communicate? How do they want to group or present their content? At the next meeting, let them see the first draft of the outline. Revise and refine the draft with their input.
You also want to test your draft with potential users. Ask them to look at your outline and tell you if what they want to find on the website is listed and easy to find. If you cannot ask potential users, at least look at the outline as you imagine they might. Revise the outline again. Some content will be re-positioned in different categories or will be combined with content on another page to prevent additional clicking. Some content may be eliminated. As everyone looks at the outline of pages, ask them if every title and sub-title clearly communicates what the content will be. Keep working on the titles and sub-titles until they are crystal clear.
You may consider that working out such an outline is a tedious waste of time, but you are fashioning the structure of your content and getting buy-in from all the key players at the same time. Get it right and this will become a very useful blueprint for your website. If you do not do it or are sloppy and careless in thinking through your content hierarchy, you will have problems later on and needlessly waste a lot of time. No one wants that.
If you already have a website, you may wish to look at it and see if all of the content is organized in a way that makes sense and if it is easily accessible to visitors. If not, see what you can do to remedy the situation.
Does anyone else have suggestions for organizing web content? Please share it with us, if you do. Thank you.