Your website is about communicating with your users. What pages you have and how you organize these pages play large roles in how well your site communicates.
In this consulting phase, Integrated Web Services (IWS) will work closely with you and every unit of your organization to map which pages your new site should have and how they should be organized. This process is at least as political as technical, so IWS strongly recommends that you organize a steering committee to help negotiate and manage these decisions. As we help facilitate this process, we will suggest the principles below to help guide your decisions.
The maps we will emerge with at the end of the consulting phase will show your future website's organization. This organization should serve your needs and, moreover, those of your website visitors. We will ask you the questions at the end of this document to help check if the maps are meeting these needs.
Most visitors won’t know or even care how your organization has divided its work, so this is rarely a guide to how to map your site. For example, even if your community projects are divided between two managers in different parts of the organization, you probably still just want one ‘community projects’ page that covers both seamlessly.
User friendly navigation tends to follow a traditional outline format, like in a textbook. So, for example, while you may want to highlight a particular program your unit offers, that doesn’t always mean it should become a ‘chapter title’ in your main navigation menus.
The way you organize your top-level pages will heavily influence both how many pages you have and the content you write on them. Once your site is built, adding to or changing the navigation of deeper pages is pretty easy. However, changing your main navigation architecture will likely have far-reaching repercussions in terms of rewriting and reorganizing. So you want to get the organization of your top-level page architecture right before you start building.
Norms for web navigation have developed over time and web users are getting accustomed to those norms. For example, most sites have an ‘about’ link. If there is no other navigation item called something like ‘people’ or ‘contact us,’ then most web users have probably learned to check the ‘about’ page for this information. So this might be a good place for you to put it as well.
The more words and links on the page, the harder the page will be to navigate. On the other hand, you need a minimum number of options so users can find what they want and also get a sense of your organization and its mission. Particularly in your persistent navigation, articulate the purpose of every item. For example, can publications appear under other relevant pages (e.g., Research and Outreach) or are they so central to your mission you want a separate link?
The web offers many strategies to highlight important parts of your site without putting them in main navigations menus. For example, you can:
The top pages in your site should briefly introduce and catch interest. If you have more details to communicate, put them in deeper pages. For example, on a Programs landing page, have a linked list of programs with brief descriptions and then a page for each program. This makes the ‘highlighting’ in (f) easier and is more usable than having all program information on one long page. The deeper your pages, the more text you can safely put on them; if users have gone that far, they are probably interested in knowing more.
Don’t maintain more than one page that contains the same information. For example, create and maintain just one ‘publications’ or ‘centers and institutes’ page, and link to it, or sub-sections of it, from several places.
Once you are reviewing maps, ask yourself each of the following questions. Once you have a good map—one appropriate for your organization and that communicates well with your users—your answers to each will be ‘yes:’