Over the years, Jimdo has helped a lot of people create their own websites, And we’ve found that one of the most helpful steps to prepare is creating a site plan.
A lot of people working on their own tend to skip this step to “save time,” but a site plan will actually make the process go faster. In this post, we’ll go over what a site plan is and how beginners can create their own quickly.
What is a site plan?
A site plan is essentially a simple map or outline of what you plan to put on your website. It helps you draw out what you want before you start building the website—the pages you will create, what website content will go on each page, etc.
The most basic site plan can be nothing more than a simple outline of your website navigation menu. It can be a document, or even just a drawing. You can also add notes, text, images, and more to make it more robust. We recommend adding as much information you can, so that your site plan ending up as an offline version of what will become your website.
The final document will be invaluable whether you are creating the website yourself or having someone do it for you. It will help you focus and make important decisions before you start building. This will dramatically speed up the project.
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Step 1: Brainstorm ideas
Since you have already identified your audience and message, you should have a decent idea about the high-level scope of your site. During this section, you will begin to consider the details—exactly what kind of content your website needs to contain.
Start by looking at the websites of your top competitors and noting what specific pages and types of content they are using. Can you figure out the purpose of each site you visit? Can you see how a visitor is expected to move from one page to another? Do you feel compelled to follow through on the site’s call-to-action?
Now it’s time to brainstorm.
This is best done with a small group of people who are all involved with your website. Start by sharing your notes about your audience, message, and anything you learned when analyzing the other websites. Then begin discussing different ideas about what everyone wants on the website. These can be large or small ideas—throw everything into the pile whether it is easy or difficult to accomplish.
Write out each idea on an index card or post-it note and spread them out on the floor or wall so you can see them all at once. We’ll arrange the ideas in the next step.
Step 2: Cluster into themes
With all your notes spread out in front of you, start to group the concepts and ideas into different clusters. Once you see a pattern begin to emerge, the clusters can become the pages of your site.
For example, product descriptions, product photos, customer testimonials, and a video of the product in action can be grouped together to form a product page. Your primary call to action, your latest news, and a simple contact form might be grouped together into the home page of your site.
You may even see that some pages should be grouped together and you can make them subpages of a broader topic. This could be the case if you have several products or services that you offer, or if there are variations of a particular topic, like a photo gallery and map.
Some ideas might not fit with any others. Are these actually necessary? Do they deserve a standalone page on your website? Set them aside and revisit them during the next step when we make an outline of your website navigation.
Step 3: Create an outline of pages
As your clustered content ideas become pages of your site, it is time to find a method to display this information in an easily-readable format. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards outlines or bulleted lists as I find these formats quick and easy to reference.
When organizing your pages, limit yourself to five to seven primary ones for your site. This is the optimal number that people can easily digest at one time. If you need more pages than that, group some pages together into subpages of your primary ones.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your visitors can find anything they might be seeking without having to click more than three links. Each additional click can risk that user abandoning their search and moving on. It is also possible that a visitor will arrive at your website other than your homepage so you will want to make sure that they can still easily find their way around no matter where they begin.
Step 4: Fill out the plan with more detail
With an outline now in place, continue to add to this site plan by making notes under each page to remind yourself of particular assets or information that you would like to place there. This can be in the form of text, images, links, or even videos.
I recommend jotting down three different versions of the title for each page. The first is the shortest possible label for the page which you can use in the site’s navigational menu that visitors will use to move from one page of your site to another.
Headings are very important to demonstrate hierarchy within a website and every page of your site should start with large header tag to let visitors know exactly where they are within your website. This is where you will use the second title that you create.
The third version of the title will be a longer one that should be a bit more descriptive and will be used for improving where your website appears within search engines like Google. The actual title will not appear within the visible area of your website, but will instead be used in the title tag of each page. The title tag is one of the most basic HTML tags and is what also appears in the tab of your browser when you are on a particular page of a website. It may sound a bit complicated, but most website building systems provide an easy way to enter this text without having to use any code.
At the end of this step, each page of your site outline should look something like this:
IV. The About page:
- About (navigation label)
- About ACME Products (title appearing on page)
- About ACME Products – the leader in gadgets and widgets in the greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin area (descriptive title)
- Company history
- Photos of the ownership
- Company logo
- Form to contact the owners
The final site plan that emerges from this step will be your roadmap and blueprint for your entire website. Refer to it often as it will make the website creation process much quicker and easier.
With your site plan complete along with your research on your target audience and a clarified purpose and message for your website, you will have nearly everything necessary to hand your project to someone else to build or to start building the site yourself. All the important questions will already be answered which will ultimately result in a project that is completed much more quickly and at potentially much lower cost. Ready to get started?