Website Planning and Content StrategyWebsite Planning and Content Strategy
Building and maintaining an effective website requires a significant investment of time and resources.
Websites that are built without planning or evaluation of user needs can become confusing, cluttered, and outdated – a source of frustration for both website owners and visitors.
Before you begin building your website, take a step back to answer some fundamental questions, and develop a strategy to guide the process. To help you answer these questions and develop a strategic approach, we encourage you to use this website discovery brief.
The brief includes a series of prompts to help you think through the website planning process. Completing the Web discovery brief will result in a strategic framework you can use as a guide while working on your website.
Planning and Content Strategy Sub-Topics
Website Discovery BriefWebsite Discovery Brief
What are the reasons for considering a website or redesign of your website?
What are your top five objectives for the new website?
State the results you want to achieve through your new website. What are your measures of success (awareness, better access, increased donations or enrollment, other)? Please specify.
What are your immediate and long-term goals for the website?
How does the website fit in with your communication goals? How do you think you can leverage the website to achieve these goals? (For example, how will the site help enroll new students, encourage donors, etc).
What do you feel is the biggest challenge in getting your message across via the Web?
Who are your current primary and secondary Web audiences? Can you rank them in size and importance to you?
Are there any external Web audiences that should be part of this communication channel? (For example, parents, alumni). If so, what information do you want to provide to them on the Web?
Do you want your Web audience to change? In what way(s)?
What are the top three things you want each key audience to do or find on the website? For instance, get informed, find a list services or offerings, process transactions, support operational activities, enable/support community activities, add or view events, sign up for email newsletters.
Branding and Design
Do you have defined branding guidelines for your organization as defined by your college or department? If yes, please provide the details/documents.
How does your audience currently perceive you? What would be the defining attributes from a new student or other audience perspective?
How do you wish your audiences to perceive you in future? Please state the defining attributes (professional, successful, etc.)
What is the single most important message you want to get across to your audience?
List any five peer institution websites you like in terms of visual design and that you would like to use as a benchmark.
Is there any aspect of branding and design we have left out and you would like to state?
Content and Functionality
List any five sites that you like in terms of content and functionality. Which functionality or content do you like, and why?
What content/functionality has been successful in your current website? Why is it considered successful?
What content/functionality has NOT been successful in your current website? Why?
What content do you know you would you like on the website? How frequently do you plan to or want to update your website's content?
What features and functionality would you like to have on the site?
Nice to Have
Social Media Buttons or Feeds (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
"Latest News" Section
GT Account Login Section
Are there any other features or functionality you need or would like on the site?
Where are you in the process of gathering content you will feature on the website? In what format is this content stored currently?
What is the current content management process for the website?
Is there any aspect of content or content management that we’ve missed that you would like to state?
Where is your site currently hosted? What type of hosting do you have? Is this the hosting you would like to use in the future?
Does your site connect to a database? Please describe the type of database, stored information, and requirements.
Do you have a Web developer or technical guru who will be involved in maintaining the new site?
Is there any technology (software, content management, site analytics/metrics tools, other) on your current site that must be retained? Please describe in detail.
Does your site require any external sites, systems, or software to operate? For instance, does it connect to a database, interact with an external e-commerce system, pull in content from an external RSS feed? Please describe.
Please state any other requirements for the website. If you are unsure, we can make the optimal recommendations. For instance,
- Load time requirements
- Monitor resolution
- Accessibility requirements
Is there any other aspect of technology that needs to be addressed? Please provide details.
Who is responsible for the site’s strategic direction, producing its content, and updating it after launch?
Who is responsible for applying updates to your website's security and modules on an ongoing basis?
Website Marketing and Analytics
Do you currently have site metrics or analytics detailing how many visitors come to the site, what pages they visit, etc? Please include any available metrics details or documents.
How do you currently market the website? What are your plans to market the site in the future?
What are the 15 keywords for which the website should appear in the top 20 Search Results (Google/Bing)?
How do you currently conduct outreach to your audiences that would drive them to the website?
Do you participate (as an organization) in any social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.? Do you upload or share content on sites such as FlickR, PicasaWeb, or YouTube? Please list everything you are currently doing. If there are things you aren't doing yet, but would like to explore, please list those separately.
Do you maintain or participate in any other external sites that will drive traffic to or interact with this website?
Is there any aspect of Web marketing and analytics that we’ve missed and you would like to state?
Out-of-Scope Project Requirements
If your marketing dictates a need, do you wish to have Institute Communications recommend a SEO [Search Engine Optimization] specialist?
Do you have any other questions or needs we can help to answer?
Plan Your Site StructurePlan Your Site Structure
A well thought-out site structure is the foundation of your website's success. Before you start creating pages on your website, plan out its structure.
Plan your hierarchy before you develop your website
Your website’s “hierarchy” is simply the way your information is organized. It should be something that is simple and makes sense.
Think about a filing cabinet. Paperwork is much easier to find when it is assigned a clearly labeled folder. The same rule applies to organizing the Web pages within a website. Humans prefer simple, logical organization, and so do search engines.
Your website’s hierarchy is the basis for your navigation and URL structure, so everything important begins here.
Here are some tips to help you plan your hierarchy:
- Keep it simple and logical.
Each main category should be unique and distinct. Each subcategory should somehow relate to the main category under which it is located.
- Limit the number of main categories to seven.
Too many categories equals clutter and confusion.
- It doesn’t have to be fancy.
It’s perfectly acceptable to sketch out your website hierarchy by hand on a piece of paper—or even a napkin, for that matter.
Here is an example of a website hierarchy:
Create a Menu structure that follows your navigation hierarchy
Sample Menu Templates
Create a URL structure that follows your navigation hierarchy
The second main element in developing strong site structure is your URL structure. If you’ve logically thought through your hierarchy, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
Your URL structure will be organized according to your site hierarchy.
If we use the website hierarchy above, the URL structure would be:
- Mywebsite.gatech.edu/add-edit-content/pages/horizontal, etc.
Additionally, your URLs should be human-readable, which will make your site visitors and search-engines happy.
College Website Information Architecture TemplateCollege Website Information Architecture Template
The College IA is designed to put your college’s work – academic offerings and research – at the forefront of the website.
Adopting this structure will help ensure a cohesive, unified experience across Georgia Tech academic sites. Users who visit multiple sites, such as students comparing degree programs, will have an easier time finding information.
A streamlined, easy-to-navigate site will also make a positive impression upon prospective students, faculty, and the larger community.
Below is a guideline for a college website’s main menu
You are not required to use menu categories that do not apply to your college, and you may have categories that are unique to your college. For consistency-sake, however, it is recommended that you, at minimum, begin the main menu with “About,” and end with “News and Events.” Limit your menu to seven categories or fewer.
Purpose: To provide background about your college and logistical information
Examples of what to include: Letter/welcome from a dean/chair, general department contact information, buildings & facilities, directions, job opportunities, history.
Purpose: To highlight your academic programs.
Examples of what to include: Information about undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc programs, secondary concentrations, program requirements, classes, admission.
Purpose: To highlight the schools within your college.
Examples of what to include: A high level overview of your schools and links to their websites.
Purpose: To highlight the latest research taking place in your college.
Examples of what to include: Highlights of faculty research, overviews of your department’s main research areas, publications, news related to research, cross-university collaborations, and research initiatives or partnerships.
What not to include: Items that are intended only for an internal audience, such as paperwork for research administration or safety procedures; this information should be included in resources.
News and Events
Purpose: To showcase what’s happening now in your department, announcements, and upcoming events.
School Website Information Architecture TemplateSchool Website Information Architecture Template
The School IA is designed to showcase your academic programs, research, and student life.
By using this navigation, you are helping to provide a cohesive, unified experience across Georgia Tech academic sites. Users who visit multiple sites, such as students comparing degree programs, will have an easier time finding information.
Below is a guideline for a school website’s main menu
You are not required to use menu categories that do not apply to your school, and you may have categories that are unique to your school. For consistency’s sake, however, it is recommended that you, at minimum, begin the main menu with “About,” and end with “News and Events.” Limit your menu to seven categories or fewer.
Purpose: To provide background about your school and logistical information.
Examples of what to include: Welcome from a dean/chair, general department contact information, buildings and facilities, directions, job opportunities, and history.
Purpose: To highlight your academic programs.
Examples of what to include: Information about undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral programs, concentrations, program requirements, and admission.
Purpose: To focus on academic and co-curricular elements of student life that are unique to your school or to Georgia Tech.
Examples of what to include: Student profiles, organizations, career development, community outreach, and life in Atlanta.
Purpose: To highlight the latest research taking place in your school.
Examples of what to include: Highlights of faculty research, overviews of your school’s main research areas, publications, news related to research, collaborations, and research initiatives or partnerships.
What not to include: Items that are intended only for an internal audience, such as paperwork for research administration or safety procedures; this information should be included in the bottom footer menu under Resources.
Purpose: To highlight the faculty, researchers, and staff associated with the school.
News and Events
Purpose: To showcase what’s happening now in your school, announcements, and upcoming events.
Take Stock of Your Current ContentTake Stock of Your Current Content
Before moving your content into a new site, we encourage you to take stock of what content exists on your current site and develop a plan for migrating it.
Performing a content inventory and analysis is an excellent way to determine what content you have on your site, what needs to be updated, what can be removed, and what new content you need to create.
Although any site can benefit from this exercise, this process is especially important for large and complex websites, and for sites that have existed for several years. These sites will commonly have pages that are out-of-date or no longer needed.
To help you through this process, Institute Communications provides a step-by-step guide to auditing and analyzing your content and a content audit template.
Learn more about the purpose of a content inventory at usability.gov.
Content Audit and Analysis: A Step-by-Step GuideContent Audit and Analysis: A Step-by-Step Guide
A content inventory and analysis is an excellent way to determine what content exists on your current website, what needs to be updated, what can be removed, and what new content you need to create to meet your communications goals.
After completing an inventory and analysis, it will be easier to build your new site, knowing what is needed and what is not.
Below are some tools and methods you may find helpful.
Step 1: Build the inventory
Make a list of all of your current Web pages and input them into the Content Audit and Analysis Template.
A tool to help speed up this process is xml-sitemaps.
- Go to www.xml-sitemaps.com.
- Input your website URL into the "Starting URL" field, and click Start.
- Once the process is done, select “Download sitemap in text format.”
- Save the text document to your computer.
- Next, Open the text document, Select All of the text, and Copy it.
- Open GT Content Audit and Analysis Template in Exel, and paste all of the URLs into the "URL (Web Address)" column.
Please note that xml-sitemaps will only generate a list of your first 500 URLs. Any URLs beyond this will need to be input by hand into your content audit spreadsheet.
Step 2: Evaluate existing content
Look at each Web page and assess its purpose and condition.
First, set a goal for your content audit.
Think about your website's audiences and what information they need to find on your site. Keeping these audiences in mind while conducting your audit will help you properly assess whether or not your content is meeting their needs.
Next, grade each page.
O: Out-of-date. Content that is still useful and will move to the new site, but should be updated.
U: Unnecessary. Content that is not needed at all. It should not be moved to the new site.
C: Current. Content that is fine as is, up-to-date, and just needs to be moved to the new site.
H: Have to write. H will not be used on your first pass of the content audit, so nothing on the "AUDIT" tab should be marked H.
Assign an owner to each page.
This is the person who is responsible for reviewing or updating the page content.
Step 3: Identify gaps in content
Next, think about what content you would like to add to the new site.
- Sort your content by grade.
Copy the O and C content over to the tab titled “New Site Content Plan.”
The U content should be left behind since it is not needed for the new site.
In the “New Site Content Plan” tab, add lines for content you would like to add to the site.
Think about what kind of content you will need to add to serve your audiences and achieve your communications goals.
Assign all of the new content an H status, as well as a Page Owner and an Update Schedule.
In order to keep your content as up-to-date as possible, make note of any pages that contain timely content. You should set up a schedule for having the Page Owner review these pages on a regular basis.
- Decide which photographs need to be updated or added.
Step 4: Gather and manage content
Connect with the Page Owners
Start collecting the content you need to have updated or written. Be sure to provide deadlines with lots of padding.
Track the status of each page
The "NEW WEBSITE CONTENT PLAN" spreadsheet can then become a helpful way of tracking content as you add it to the new site, whether you are simply moving over content, or writing something new. You can use the “Status” column in the content plan to keep track of the process in a way that works best for your organization.
Need help formatting your content?
Web Content Guide.
Find Images for Your Website.
Contact Your Institute Communications Client Manager.
Need a logo for your website?
Request a logo through your Institute Communications Client Manager.
Find Images for Your WebsiteFind Images for Your Website
One of the most common questions that comes up when editing a website is, “Where can I find photos?” Here are some resources for finding quality images for your website.
Before you begin collecting high-resolution photos, take a few moments to visit the Institute Communications site and review the best practices for choosing and formatting images for the Web.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to choose only photos that visually clarify the words on the page. In fact, website user testing has proven that visitors will completely ignore non-information-carrying photos.
Institute Communications Photographers
Our photography team provides professional services for campus events and marketing communications projects, on location or in our studio.
Image Portal Photography Database
Institute Communications maintains a searchable database that houses thousands of high-resolution digital Georgia Tech photographs.
These photos may be downloaded free of charge, but may not be sent or sold to any third party for commercial purposes. Georgia Tech owns the copyright to all images.
Access to the database is available to faculty and staff with a valid Georgia Tech account username and password.
Georgia Tech Social Media Collections
Georgia Tech Digital Swag
This site houses high-resolution versions of iconic Georgia Tech images. Because they are designed for different digital devices, the images are available in several different formats.
The images are free to download and use but remain the property of Georgia Tech. The images may not be reproduced for resale or retail promotion without written permission from the Georgia Tech Licensing Department.
Public Domain Images
Public domain images have no copyright restrictions and may be used freely. The U.S. Government Photos and Images website contains an extensive collection of images ranging in topic from science and technology to energy and defense, among many others.
Creative Commons Images
Images that use Creative Commons licensing have less restrictive copyrights. Creators often clear their images for use by others, provided that the image is correctly attributed.
There is a variety of Creative Commons licenses, some with more restrictions than others. Be sure to adhere to the guidelines for the particular image you choose.
A good search tool for finding these images is search.creativecommons.
Paid Stock Photo Websites
Institute Communications subscribes to iStockphoto, which is owned by Getty Images, but there are several other affordable websites to choose from.
Here are some of the most popular:
- Getty Images
- Corbis Images
- Science Source
- A-Z List of Stock Photo Websites
Free Stock Photo Websites
Many of these photographs are free from copyright restrictions or use Creative Commons licensing. Be aware that on these websites, every photo may not be free. In addition, you may still be asked to register before downloading images.
Your Own Photos
If you consider yourself to be a good photographer but lack the right equipment, you can rent digital and DSLR cameras from the Georgia Tech Library.
Select and Optimize Images for the WebSelect and Optimize Images for the Web
Use the following best practices below to ensure that your images are appropriate for your website, and optimized for the Web.
- Used properly, images are powerful tools
- Choose images that visually clarify the words on the page
- Web users pay close attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information. They completely ignore non-information-carrying photos and graphics
- Compress the file size of your photos as much as you can to make them download as quickly as possible. Remember, web users are impatient
- Before you upload a picture to your website, name it clearly and accurately
- Use keywords in your filename to help search engine rankings
- If you upload an image, always type a description of the picture in the "Alternative Text" field. Alt text is simply a description of the picture that can be read by web visitors using screen readers. Having descriptions of your image will also help with search engine rankings, and is required by Georgia Tech's accessibility policy.
Writing for the Web GuideWriting for the Web Guide
Visitors come to your website to find information. They want it find it easily, and they want to find it fast. But if it doesn't answer their questions, it will be of little value, no matter how easy your website is to navigate.
Refer to this guide to learn how to create web content that makes your online audience happy.
Additional guidelines are available on the Institute Communications website.
Writing for the Web Sub-Topics
How Reading on the Web is Different from PrintHow Reading on the Web is Different from Print
How Users Read on the Web:
- Web users read about 20 percent of the words on a web page.
- The more words on your web page, the less they’ll read.
- Searching for very specific information.
- Scanning for headings, specific words, links…anything that catches their attention or matches the reason they are visiting your website in the first place.
About Those “Users”…
- They are impatient: You have less than 12 seconds before they click off your page (and perhaps even your website).
- Providing clear and concise messages is not about user intelligence. It is about the writer making it easy for the reader.
- Formatting content in scannable chunks is not about users’ inability to read dense copy. It is about presenting information in the way that people expect to see it on the web.
How to Write Copy for the WebHow to Write Copy for the Web
The majority of Web visitors do not read all of the text on a Web page. Instead, they skim the page, scanning for headings, specific words, links…anything that catches their attention or matches the reason they are visiting your website in the first place.
4 Techniques To Use
1. Craft clear, concise messages
Get to the point immediately
- Use action verbs
- Omit unnecessary words
Stick to the point
- Keep the subject matter of each web page focused
- Sticking to one topic per web page increases its visibility to search engines
- Don’t give users a lot of unnecessary or extra information
2. Be straightforward
Use common words
- Plain language helps you communicate more effectively on the web
- It helps readers find what they need and understand what they find
- Use action verbs
3. Use personal pronouns
- Personal pronouns like “You,” “me,” and “I” pull readers in and make your material more relevant to them
4. Provide basic information
- In your “About Us” section, state who you are, what you do, and where you are located. Don't assume that everyone already knows
- Include a tagline on your homepage that summarizes what you do in one sentence or phrase
- List contact information and a map or directions in a prominent place on your website
4 THINGS TO AVOID:
1. Jargon, industry terms, or academic-speak
- Avoid using words that typical readers may not understand
- Many terms that are familiar to Georgia Tech faculty and staff, but not to outside audiences
2. Abbreviations and acronyms
- Online users who are new to a topic are likely to be unfamiliar with related acronyms
- Overusing acronyms slows your audience down and increases confusion
- The first time you use an acronym, spell out each word then place the acronym in parentheses immediately after
- Don’t use more than two and, at most, three abbreviations in each document
3. “Click Here”
Tell your audience where they are going when they click a link
- Within a sentence, hyperlink a keyword or phrase that matches the content to where the link leads
- Don’t use the actual URL in your copy unless it is short (e.g., www.gatech.edu)
Most stories should contain at least one link to additional information
- No web page should be a dead end. Push readers toward other relevant content
Too many links in the web page copy can look cluttered and hard to read
- A better idea: Provide a list of links at the bottom of the article, or in a sidebar where they will be available but not distracting
2014 InVenture Prize winners
Avoid: www.standardandpoors.com/servlet/BlobServer?blobheadername3=MD-Type&blobcol=urldocumentfile&blobtable=SPC omSecureDocument&blo bheadervalue2=inline;+file name%3Ddownload.pdf& blobheadername2=Conte nt-Disposition&blobheade rvalue1=application/pdf&b lobkey=id&blobheaderna me1=contentype&blobwh ere=1245286034462&blo headervalue3=abinary;+c harset%3DUTF-8&blobn ocache=true Better: U.S. Home Prices Keep Weakening
- Not all web users have the software needed to open a PDF file
- PDFs are hard to read online. They should be reserved for documents intended to be printed
- Whenever possible, transfer the information from a PDF to a web page. This makes the content readable to search engines, too
- When linking to a PDF, indicate this fact and list the file size in the hyperlink next to the title, e.g., Download the Graduate Student Handbook (317kb PDF)
How to Format Copy for the WebHow to Format Copy for the Web
The vast majority of web users don't read Web pages word-for-word. Instead, they scan them, looking for the information they came to your website to find.
Use these formatting techniques to create scannable, easy-to-read pages.
1. Use Headings and Subheadings on content-heavy pages
- Headings that identify sections of your page should be marked with actual heading tags (H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6) so that screen readers and other accessibility tools can identify your headings and then allow the user to easily skip ahead to a specific heading.
- All words are capitalized except articles, prepositions (and, a, the, of) and coordinating conjunctions, unless they are the first or last word.
2. Write meaningful titles and subheads
A strong title is vital for a web story. If it doesn’t grab your readers’ attention, they’ll leave.
- Use a max of eight words.
- Include important keywords.
- Use strong verbs.
- Avoid using adjectives and prepositions.
Subheads break up the page into easily digestible chunks.
- Aim for informative, not clever.
- Questions are often the most helpful subheadings.
3. Break up content with bulleted lists
- Lists make it easy for readers to quickly identify all the items or steps in a process.
- Seven list items max.
4. Split up long sentences
- Average length is 20 words or less.
- No single sentence should be longer than 28 words (and that’s a stretch).
5. Keep paragraphs short
- One idea per paragraph.
- Only one or two sentences.
- Fifty words max.
- Very often, paragraphs on a web page are only one sentence long. This is OK.
- Break up long paragraphs with subheads.
6. Limit the number of words on each web page
- Use half of the words (or less) than writing for print.
Rather than placing all of the information on a single web page:
- Break your information into chunks.
- Put each chunk on its own page.
- Connect the pages using links.
7. Use lots of white space
- Faced with large chunks of text, most web users will leave the page immediately.
External Web Content ResourcesExternal Web Content Resources
These websites and experts are well regarded in the world of web content. Feel free to browse these external sites for more information about creating content for the web.
Reading on the Web
How Users Read on the Web
Writing Web Copy
Hemingway is a simple-to-use tool that helps streamline and simplify your writing.
A List Apart
Nielsen Norman Group
Writing for the Web Research Reports
University of North Carolina
Writing News Copy for the Web (2MB PDF)
Plain Language Action and Information Network
Formatting Copy on the Web
Introducing Your Content: Page Titles and Headings
The Onion (Satire)
Nation Shudders at Large Block of Uninterrupted Text