Site Architecture: Why it matters
Developing the site architecture is the first thing that you should do when building a new website. It’s one of the most crucial elements of the process and if you get it wrong you’ll end up with more problems to resolve. The good news is that it’s not difficult to get right. In fact, bad site architecture is usually because designers skip the process rather than doing it poorly. Always remember: site architecture always matters.
Think of website architecture like starting new construction for a building. An architect has several issues to consider when designing a building including ensuring that it’s safe and is designed according to the proper regulations. She will also need to make sure it is built to the right size and delivers what the client wants – there is no point designing a hotel if the client wants a mall. These are some of the obvious things that an architect will plan before the project gets anywhere near a hardhat and high-visibility vest. But there’s more to it than that. The architect also has to consider the user.
For example it would be ridiculous if a person had to go to the 10th floor in the elevator and then walk the final two flights of stairs to get to the 12th floor because the access was badly planned. And it would not make sense to have the ladies’ bathroom on the ground floor and the men’s bathroom up on the 10th – that would just confuse everyone.
Similar things can happen with websites without proper planning. So here is how to get your site architecture off the ground:
Understand the Goals
The first step in the process is to look closely at what you are trying to build. Write down what you want the website to achieve on launch, in six months, in a year, in two years. Include sales figures, leads, website visitors, email list registrations and anything else that is important to you.
Also think about your target audience. What social demographic do they come from, are they mostly female or male, what are they interested in, and how will your website benefit them.
Finally look at your competitors highlighting the things they do well and also the things they do badly so that you will know what to build upon and what to avoid.
The next stage is to create a site map. This is visual representation – or hierarchy – of your website. At the top of the map put your homepage and then each page that will link off it. Work your way down until you get to the bottom and don’t forget to include pages like post-form-submission pages.
This will show you two things – firstly how easy it is for users to find information on your website and secondly how easy it is for the search engines. It will also highlight issues like duplicate URLs and other structural problems.
Try to keep your site map as flat as possible. A good rule is to keep every page on your website within three to four clicks of the homepage. This is where you should check keywords and do some research on the best to use. And make sure to include cross-links and breadcrumbs to help users navigate while deep in your site.
Once you have your site map you then need to take each page and create a wire frame. This is a rough and often hand drawn representation of what the page will look like. That does not mean the content but rather where you are placing the content – menus, ads, images, text blocks, links etc. This will give you a feel for what your users will experience when they visit the real page.
Once you have these three elements – the website goals, the site map, and your wire frames – you can start building. But remember that if there is a change in direction with the website, which often happens, go back to the site architecture and amend it before building the new idea into your website. This will help you tackle any issues that might occur.