So, you’ve been asked to build a website, and it’s far from small. At this point, the question isn’t “how will you build it,” it’s “how will you plan it.” Slickplan understands how hard it can be to plan large websites, and thankfully, has many tools to help you do just that. This article will explain how to get started planning your next large website project, as well as how to use Slickplan to make the project a lot less stressful.
What are large websites?
Before explaining how to plan large websites, we must first define large websites. When it comes to websites, small versus large can be subjective. Some would consider a 100-page site large, while others think it takes more than 1,000 pages to be called large.
Large websites are frequently used for three types of organizations – governments, universities, and enterprises. Many of these sites have anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand pages. Some may even have a million pages.
Of course, maintaining websites of these sizes can be quite the challenge, in addition to the sheer amount of time that it takes to build thousands of pages. For this reason, large websites often require a team of creators, spanning from website developers, to content and marketing professionals that ensure the entire site is unified, maintained and easy to navigate.
It’s all in the architecture.
When you are building a large website, one that has hundreds or thousands of pages, the focus quickly moves from how does it look, to how easy is it to navigate. Even though most website users will not visit every page on a website, they could theoretically visit any page, and if they want to find that page, it needs to be easy to find. This is why many large websites use a website architect (or at least someone that understand information architecture) to plan large website architecture.
If you aren’t familiar with information architecture, here is a short summary: it is the process of organizing information. Since websites are, in their simplest form, information hosted on networks, some method for organizing that information is a necessity – especially if you are hosting close to a million pages of information. Without some form of information architecture, website users are bound to get lost, confused or frustrated, defeating the purpose of most websites.
User Experience vs Information Architecture
Before we talk about information architecture for large websites, we should first discuss user experience. Although the two are related, they are not the same. User experience (UX) refers to the effect a website gives the user. UX (and user interface) designers specialize in creating sites that are easy to use and responsive to the user’s needs. They, however, are still dependent on some form of organization, and that is where a website architect comes into the equation.
A website architect understands information architecture but also recognizes the role of usability, web development tools, and online marketing. They oversee the planning, development, and maintenance of a website, and make sure the site stays aligned with both the needs of the organization and the user. They are the quarterback for a winning website development team.
Creating Architecture for Large Websites
There are many ways to approach information architecture – the easiest of which would be to simply hire a qualified architect. However, if you would like to plan large websites on your own, it can be approached by following these 10 steps:
- Project Brief: Start by defining what you will do, how you will do it, and how long it will take you.
- Website Goal Definition: Consult with business decision makers to define the goal of the website.
- Define the Target Audience: Conduct research or work with marketing to determine who the ideal website user will be.
- Competitor Analysis: Learn about the competition and define how your website will differ.
- User Goal-Problem-Solution: Websites should solve problems. Figure out your target audience’s needs, then create a solution through your website.
- Scenario and Mind Mapping: Plan the routes your target audience may take while navigating your site and get all your design ideas written down.
- Information Architecture: Use all of those ideas from your mind map to organize and structure your content.
- Prototyping/Wireframing: Start building your rough draft for approval to business decision makers.
- Prototype Usability Testing: Send those prototypes out and get feedback.
- Project Specification: Clearly define the scope of the project and receive approval from business decision makers.
To learn more about information architecture, check out some of these great books on the topic.
No need to reinvent the wheel.
Once you’ve thoroughly planned and organized your website using information architecture, it’s time to start building. However, do not be dismayed, many times you do not need to start from scratch. Unless your business or organization is new, a lot of its existing content can be recycled. Here are three ways to repurpose existing content for a large website redesign.
Analyze Your Existing Content
You’ve received the go-ahead to redo the current website, and your first impulse is to delete everything and start with a clean slate. Stop; before you do that, you may want to check and see if any pieces of content are worth saving.
Analyzing your existing content doesn’t have to be as challenging as it sounds, especially since there are free tools to help you do it. You merely need to know how to use them. Believe it or not, one of the best tools for planning a website refresh is Google Analytics. Yes, the same Google Analytics that internet marketers swear by.
Google Analytics can help website designers and architects plan large websites by understanding which content is worth keeping, based on how well it aligns with the website’s goals. Since most sites have conversions as a goal, keeping content that does a good job of converting users is probably a good idea. Read this article for more information on how to read Google Analytics conversion reports.
Organize Existing Content
Sometimes it’s not the content that needs updating, it’s the website organization. Once you’ve identified which content you plan to keep, take some time to consider how it is organized. Information architecture applies to all content, both existing and new, and sometimes the simple practice of card sorting can breathe new life into an underperforming website.
Card sorting helps you organize content through the process of feedback from multiple users. This interactive method includes others in the development process, adding valuable insight to that nagging “where should this content go” question. Unfortunately, card sorting is not exactly a science, so you’ll need to combine it with other techniques, such as analyzing your content and clearly defining the target audience, but it is helpful.
For more on card sorting, visit Usability.gov.
Clean up the Junk
Once you’ve identified what you are keeping and where it will go, it’s time to clean out the junk. But first, let’s clearly define what is meant by the word junk, because sometimes, even useless content just needs a better home.
- Repetitive content
A page that says the same as another does not need to be on your website. Not only will it upset the Google gods, but it will also confuse readers. Repetition for the sake of persuasiveness is one thing, but, “wait, didn’t I just read that” is another. Combine pages and delete unnecessary ones.
- Dead links
You can create as many “oops, nothing to see here” pages as your heart desires, but keep in mind, the goal is that these pages are never seen. A user that lands on too many dead links will wonder whether they even landed on the right website in the first place. When recycling an existing site, always check every link before you keep its content.
Slickplan can help!
Whether you are building a large website from scratch or have an existing site to work from, Slickplan can make the process go a lot smoother. Our website planning software streamlines information architecture by providing multiple tools in one, supports content management systems, and makes sharing with your website development team a breeze. Below are just a few ways that Slickplan can help you plan large websites:
Content Planner: What if you could gather all of your content in one place and store it with your wireframes and sitemaps for easy website planning? You can.
Sitemap Tool: Redesigns just got a whole lot easier! Run this tool to quickly see what content your current site has so that you can identify how you can use it.
Site Crawler: Want a quick overview of your site, perhaps to send to business decision makers? Use our site crawler to quickly scan a website and create a visual sitemap.
Collaboration: This isn’t actually a tool; it’s more of a philosophy. Slickplan has built-in tools that make it easy to create and work from templates, delegate and assign tasks, and overall keep track of any website project.
We’re here to help you plan websites of all sizes, even those with enough pages to fill a library!
Written By Jenn Marie
Jenn Marie is a freelance copy writer and internet marketing strategist based out of the Seattle area. A true tech evangelist, Jenn previously helped individuals utilize the full potential of Dell, Microsoft and Amazon products. She now focuses on building authentic online presences for small businesses and entrepreneurs through her company, Jenn Marie Writing & Marketing.