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Site structure and content planning

Who will be managing your site?

At the planning stage it’s crucial to consider who will be managing your site. Think about what staff/time resources you’ll have to keeping it updated in the longer term. Ask yourself:

  • Who will update the content?
  • Are they volunteers or paid staff?
  • Is their position secure or is the funding for their role under threat?
  • Do they have the writing skills for the web that are needed?
  • How many hours a week/month will be available for this work?

This will affect the kind of content you have on your site and should be one of the factors you take into account when planning content.

Do what you do well

Rather than biting off more than you can chew consider some options. Don’t commit to something that will be hard to maintain until you’re sure your staff or volunteers have the time. Here are some examples of ways you can dip your toe in the water, or find easier work-arounds.

Example: blog v static content

It may be ‘ideal’ to have a blog that is frequently updated, but if you don’t have the staff time to devote to this it will look patchy and lacklustre. Having a blog that hasn’t been updated in months or years makes it look as though your organisation is failing.

It’s better to consider alternatives. Instead of creating a section of your site that someone has to commit to manage permanently there are other things you can do.

Ask that person to write a series of ‘factsheets’ that would be useful to your staff / volunteers / clients. These won’t date so fast. Or you could write in depth case studies. This populates your site with interesting and useful content that it is less likely to feel stale.

If this goes well and your author has time to spare THEN consider a blog or email newsletter.

Example: in-house shop v using another platform

If you have items or services to sell but no full-time staff to process orders you will want to think twice before going to the expense of having a bespoke shop section on your site.

You may find selling items or tickets via another platform (ebay, Amazon, etsy, eventbrite) is a cost-effective solution.

What pages do you need?

Return to the lists you made for the things you want to communicate, and the things your clients are looking for. Note all the items that meet both your own and your stakeholders’ goals. These could include:

  • welcome/home page
  • general information about the organisation (history, organisational structure, governance, reports, etc)
  • information about the people involved (personal profiles/’our team’ page or section)
  • services offered and how to access them (could include events)
  • case studies
  • online shop – products, downloads, events, services?
  • legal information – eg charity reg number, registered address
  • information that reassures – trade body logos and links, insurance information and similar, grant-makers’ links and logos
  • privacy and cookie etc policies
  • testimonies from clients and other stakeholders
  • blog
  • email newsletter
  • contact information – including social media

Be strict with yourself and your organisation. Consider the time involved in keeping each updated. Eliminate (or postpone) any that you’re not able to commit to at this time. Producing appropriate content to a deadline is, by a country mile, the most common problem that delays websites going live.

There’s no shame in starting small with a simple site. See how it goes and then build on it. You will be testing the water, learning about your audience, learning about your in-house skills (and improving them). That will give you the knowledge to return and review your site in the future – adding features or content confidently.

Organising the order of your pages

You’ll find a big piece of paper or a whiteboard helps for this job. Create a framework of the pages you need.

Don’t be too original

Don’t try and reinvent the wheel – people expect the ‘home’ or ‘welcome’ page to be the first one they come to (unless they come to a specific page via an online ad or link related to the content on that specific page).

People expect to find ‘contact information’ either at the foot or sidebar of each page and at the ‘bottom’ of the menu. Don’t hide it somewhere else for the sake of being clever… Your visitors may leave your site in frustration rather than keep hunting.

Consult others

If you are intending to work with a web designer or developer use your list of pages as a conversation starter: don’t see it as fixed in stone. Let the designer help you to finalise your list and advise you on placing pages or sections of the site in a particular order. You’re paying them for their insights and experience: let them suggest things and advise you.

If you’re going to create the site yourself take this stage more seriously – ask others in your organisation about the order, ask clients to comment as well. The Web Style Guide has fantastic exercises you can do for this stage to help you organise your site structure.

Once you (and your designer if you have one) are ready you need to create a final list of pages and this becomes your guide as you track down and write content for your site.

Content

Content for your site can include many things – your logo (and others), pictures, text, video, resources such as PDF documents. Depending on the site design you choose you may need content for different areas on each page. The footer, sidebar and other areas of your site often have content on that is the same on all pages of your site – like a letterhead on printed stationery.

Within each category of content you’ll need to outline the specific details.

types of images you may need

  • professional photos of staff / volunteers / clients
  • pictures that show your organisation at work
  • how-to images for instructions
  • artwork (eg if you have an exhibition of art work by clients or similar)
  • product images
  • generic images – for example from unsplash.com
  • logos – your own, those of sponsors, trade bodies, etc

Start gathering them now, using a shared folder to collect and collate them with colleagues. I like to have one folder for the website in general with sub-folders for each page or section of the site.

Some photos work well ONLY if they are professional shots. These are worth investing in. Others can be more generic, home made or free – created on an ad-hoc basis within your organisation. See my blog post on choosing images.

types of text for your site

Text will often require considerable coordination amongst team members. You’ll want to consider including the following:

  • welcome / overview text
  • staff / volunteer / client profiles
  • newsletter/blog post
  • how-to guides
  • text about the organisation – history, governance
  • testimonials – they will need to be asked for, chased up and collated with any related information such as name, star rating, location
  • product text

People skim when they read on websites. Big walls of paragraph text need to be broken up with images, headings and lists. This helps people to find what they want as they skim your pages.

At this stage you can do a ‘dry run’ of planning content for a possible blog (see great tips on blog planning from PR expert, Rachel Extance). Do you have enough to say? Who, in your organisation, can say it well? Have they got the time and skills to write or record it?

Check out the tips and links on my blog post about writing for the web for guidance on approaches you can take.

Gathering the text for your site will be the hardest part – at least it has been for all websites I’ve worked on. Get started on this early, read up on how to write for the web, and set (and stick to!) deadlines.

Other content you may require

  • useful links – to signpost people to related organisations
  • video material – how-to guides, staff/volunteer profiles, case studies
  • maps for any directions, bus and train info, parking info
  • accounts set up with eventbrite, ebay, amazon etc to send people to so they can buy your products
  • a way of managing newsletter sign ups (mailchimp for example)
  • resources such as pdf documents on particular topics
  • audio – podcasts and similar recordings
  • an idea of any contact forms you may need – eg to help people contact you or to ask questions to screen people.

other considerations

How accessible are all these materials to a variety of users? (subtitles, ability to resize text, colour contrast, ability to access the site on mobile/small screens?)

Learn more about charities and the law on websites in this article on how charities can comply with new accessibility standards by Carlos Eriksson for Charities Digital News.

Legal obligations – ability to securely hold data, to give people the option to opt out of giving certain kinds of data, to be publicly thanking donors in a way required in your contracts with them, etc. You potentially also face issues regarding fundraising online, collecting giftaid where appropriate etc. Again, this can sometimes be outsourced to an organisation such as justigiving.com and the Fundraising Regulator also has lots of resources.

Collecting your content

Have a clear person whose role it is to oversee collection and collation of the content for the site. Bring in experts from outside (photographers, writers, etc) where necessary.

Allocate time to this project so that it receives a clear amount of attention on a regular basis.

Store your content in an organised way, arrange for it to be proof read, and have it signed off by the responsible staff member or volunteer.


Further blog posts on this topic

This is one of several blog posts aimed at charities on how to approach website design on a budget and with limited time. Altogether they are:


Photo by Gabriel Crismariu on Unsplash