Planning a Website


New or Existing – Is this a new website or will you be “redesigning” an existing web presence? List the problems you are currently having with an existing site or in your agency and how you feel the website may be able to address them. Also list any significant usage trends. These will help you determine later if your changes have made an improvement.

  1. New or existing site
  2. List problems – how will they be addressed
  3. List current trends

State Your Goals – Take a second to put to words the goals of your site. What needs will it be fulfilling? Stating these now will help you stay focused on what is important and allow you to come back later to test and see if you are meeting or have met your goals.

  1. Stated goal
  2. Fulfilling what need

Define Stakeholders – Define your website’s audience and stakeholders. These may be types of end users such as senior citizens looking for healthcare information, business owners looking for tax information, boaters wanting to renew their vehicle license, lawyers researching land records, or many other distinct user groups with very different skill sets, experience levels, and socioeconomic status all of which impact their expectations of your website.

Your agency is likely another stakeholder with different expectations or goals about how the website may serve itself. Consider also third parties such as banks or insurance companies who may need to transact information with your agency and citizens. Consider their needs as well as agency leadership who may feel a sense of “personal investment” in your web project. List all of these stakeholders now along with a brief statement of their needs or expectations.

  1. List all stakeholders – their needs, intentions and expectations as well


Where Do You Get Your Content? – Where does the bulk of your content come from? Is it in MS Word documents, PDFs, existing web pages, a video, press release, a database, or a printed brochure? Do you have the copyrights to use it? Consider what steps you will need to take to ensure you can turn this content into an accessible usable website. Do you still need to create content?

  1. List content sources by type
  2. Next to each list its copyright status
  3. List your plan to make each accessible
  4. List any new content that will need to be created
  5. List any web application server technologies or databases which will be used for this project

Necessary Content – What content is needed on your site? What is critical and what would be nice to have? Come to an agreement about the content you will provide and what is not necessary.

Define the Nature of the Content You Will Provide – List the types of content you will provide on the website. You have given some thought to what will be there; now define the nature of that content. For example contact information may be a table of names, departments, phone numbers, pictures and emails. So this can be listed as a “table of contact information including X, Y, Z.” Another example would be a “map of directions to training center.” Another is a series of training videos. Another is a set of newsletters in PDF format. And so on…

  1. List all the content that absolutely must be on your site
  2. Roughly define the nature of this content
  3. Make any notes about how you plan to address any accessibility concerns for these content types

Site Structure and Navigation

Decide on Your Information Architecture – Now that you have an idea of the goal of the site, who you are serving, and what you are serving them, begin to group similar content together so that users can more easily find like content with like content.

Take the perspective of each of your stakeholders, and from their perspective, organize the content or information of your planned site in a way that can be related verbally and visually. Begin to speak about the areas of your planned site in terms that describe these areas. What are these main areas? What will a user find in each area? What seems to belong to what? Can you further group similar items? Consider which items belong to the site itself with no affinity to any single area. How many areas do you have? Can these areas be grouped further without creating the feeling that something is out of place or doesn’t belong? Allow areas to be folded into broader categories if they fit there.

For each stakeholder perspective:

  1. List the main areas of your site that all stakeholders would expect
  2. List what a user will find inside each of these areas
  3. If it makes sense to further subdivide these groups this is fine
  4. List the special areas that each stakeholder was looking for that are not common across all stakeholders perspectives
  5. List the content that does not fit into any one area or that does not seem to belong to the site itself
  6. Confirm that none of the areas listed in #4 above are being placed anywhere but where the majority of site visitor stakeholder perspectives would place them

Decide on Your Primary Navigation – Create a set of names for each of the main areas of your site you listed above. Be sure these names are as concise and descriptive as possible. Use terms that are relevant to all users with special exceptions given for nomenclature that will be recognized by one of your website visitor stakeholders (stakeholders that will actually visit the website online). Use no departmental acronyms or nomenclature that is not commonly recognized.

Card sorting is a usability/information architecture technique for organizing content and developing your navigation. This technique is easy and cheap to conduct, so it’s really worth considering. You can do card sorting with your project team or other internal staff, or you can conduct it with public users.

The result of a card sort is the categorization of content and a head start on your navigation labels.

Refer back to the requirements you gathered such as site analysis, task analysis, and card sorting exercises to form your navigation structure and information architecture.

  1. Your primary navigation should reflect those specific tasks users need to accomplish
  2. Your secondary navigation should direct users to more general “catch all” categories with broader labeling conventions to capture a wider audience
  3. Navigation may be duplicated in multiple areas and the labels can be different based on the results of your card sorting exercise.  In other words, provide users with multiple paths or cross reference areas of content and take advantage of different navigation labels to direct users with different skill sets to your content

Look and Feel

Familiarize Yourself With the Brand – Be sure you are aware of the strategy of a unified California web look and feel. Take a look at the rules governing the use of the design. What are you able to change about the design? What configurations will your team be looking for? Are these allowed by the design style guidelines?

  1. What will you be changing about the brand design for your website
  2. Are you confident these changes are in line with the intent of the brand design

Use of the CA Master Template – locate the template on the WebTools site, download it and take a look at the structure. Read about the use of the ca_agency.css to achieve the style variations you are considering.

  1. What styles, if any, will you be changing

Choose Main Content Page Layout – What is the structure of the main content area of your website’s pages? Do you plan to have a persistent secondary navigation? If so will it be aligned right or left? How many columns do you wish your pages to have? Are your pages fixed width or fluid? Discuss the pros and cons of each of these layout strategies.

  1. Describe the layout of your websites pages
  2. If you will be choosing a predefined layout from the downloads section of this site – which one are you planning to use
  3. Are there any drawbacks or limitations to the layout strategy you plan to employ


Prepare Your Environment – Getting many of the following things planned and taken care of in advance will prevent many delays. Do you have a hosting environment? What servers will host it? Where will you build out and test your website before it goes live. Do you have all your accounts set up? Who is your designated system administrator? Do you have all the software you need to begin?

  1. Who is your system administrator
  2. List the software you will be using to build your website
  3. List your web hosting server

Directory Structure – base your directory structure on the information architecture you decided on in the Site Structure and Navigation section above. You will need to create a folder for each information level in your sites information hierarchy and add additional service directories at the root for your images, CSS, javascript, downloads, and any other site assets that are delivered by links embedded on the pages of your site. Centralize everything that you can. Keep in mind these folders are going to be a part of every url in your site. Name them with short descriptive words or easy to understand acronyms. Include no special characters. Imagine having to read a URL or web address on the phone to someone based on the names you choose now.

  1. Make an outline now of your directory structure
  2. Pick one of the lowest directories in your outline and write out what the web URL or path to a file titled myfile.htm in that directory would be

Tools and Software Considerations – What software will you be using to build this site? Is everyone on the project in agreement on what tools will be used? Do the people who will build the site have the necessary skills to use this software? Is any training required? When will this be scheduled? Do you have the proper licensing?

  1. List all software to be used including number of copies needed for each
  2. Do you have all the proper licenses
  3. List the needed training and dates for the individuals who will need it

Testing and Validation

What Tools Will You Use – Using software to check your pages for spelling mistakes, broken links, valid document types and even accessibility conformance is the most efficient way to ensure your site will perform as it was intended. There are many tools available for each of these purposes and the good news is most are free or bundled with other web development tools.

List the tools you plan to use for the following:

  1. HTML web page spell check
  2. Broken links
  3. Document type validation
  4. Accessibility conformance

When Do You Plan to Do it – Establishing a regular schedule for testing ensures it gets done. This can be done for events such as just before each page is published and it can also be done at intervals. Some tools can even be scheduled to automatically check portions or a whole site.

  1. Write your planned testing and validation triggers and schedule


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