Planning a Website is like Planning a Home Planning a Website is like Planning a Home Jun. 8th, 2017 Caris Hurd
Illustration of a work space desk.

Planning a Website is like Planning a Home

June 8th, 2017

As Chris Devidal said in “Building Big Things” a few weeks ago, building a website is a lot like building a home, and…

“While it’s always exciting to finally “be in the new space,” moving itself is never fun. … Staring at the pile-o-crap you’ve already got and figuring out what’s worth saving and what should be tossed or replaced is a time consuming process.”

He’s right—when designing your dream home, you’re envisioning the future: your family’s needs, your future processes (cooking, cleaning, etc.), and your future lifestyle. When designing your new content management system, you’re also envisioning the future: your business’s needs, your processes (content creation, management, etc.), and your future work.

So how do you decide what you’ll need in the future, while you’re working in the present? Do a content inventory.

Content Inventory

One of the first steps in a content-heavy website project is to conduct a content inventory. An inventory will help you understand the state of current content so that you can make decisions about the future design and architecture of your new CMS and website.

If you were building a new home, as you began to work with an architect to design the space, you might imagine that it’d be helpful to take an inventory of your stuff, organize your belongings, take some things with you in the move, and discard others. You don’t want to build a shiny new home around your ratty old college furniture, or build shelves to contain the forgotten stuff in your attic. In the same way, you shouldn’t build a new website around outdated, inaccurate, or irrelevant content lurking in your old system.

“…you shouldn’t build a new website around outdated, inaccurate, or irrelevant content lurking in your old system”

So, where do you start?

The Process

Step 1: Deploy a Crawler

To get into the nitty-gritty of creating an inventory of your content, the first step is to employ a content inventory tool to crawl the existing public site. Tools like Dynomapper crawl your pages, scraping some of the data on them and importing some basic Google Analytics information. The output is a spreadsheet that lists every page of your site as well as any metadata that the crawler found.

Step 2: Organize the Data

In inventorying your house, you might go room by room—which items are in the kitchen? Bedroom? Living room? A website’s content needs a similar process: Once you have the raw data from the crawler, the next step is to try to organize the crawled pages by section and subsection of the existing site. Your goal here is to give each webpage a location identifier based on where it can be found in the site navigation.

Step 3: Prioritize your Efforts

Because you have analytics data for each page, you can prioritize which pages get more or less attention during the next steps of content analysis. Pages that get little or no traffic may receive recommendations to cut the page or rewrite the content so that it brings more value to users and the business. Pages with a high amount of traffic should be analyzed more closely to understand what value that page is providing and what about it is important to preserve after migrating to the new system.

If your site has many pages (say, several hundred or more), now is a good time to think about sampling your content for analysis in the next step. If you have 20,000 articles, you may only have time to look at, say, a few dozen of them. Now is a good time to ask which articles would be most important to consider—are they the most recently published articles? The articles that drive the most traffic to your site from search engines or social media?

If you were going through your belongings prior to moving to your dream home, you might come up with similar rules to save time and effort. For instance, if you haven’t worn an item of clothing since college, maybe it’s time to send it to Goodwill.

Step 4: Conduct the Analysis

Once you have a feel for the site structure and have prioritized which pages to review, start clicking! Open each page up individually in your browser and do some analysis on what’s working and what could be improved. Ultimately, you want to make recommendations to either: keep the content as-is, combine it with other content, rewrite it, or remove it entirely. Don’t forget to review your content on other devices – content that works on desktop might not work as well on your phone!

Your analysis might involve reviewing the page from the point of view of your users or personas: does this page suit their needs? Is the page still supporting your brand or business goals? How hard or costly is this content to maintain over time?

In with the New

After you take an inventory of all of your content and decide what to cut and what to keep, you may find that you need to create new content to meet your business goals. In the home design process, this might mean you get to buy a new sofa, or spring for a desk that matches your new home office. When it comes to websites, this might mean that you need to design new pages, revamp your contact forms, or even develop a shiny new editorial calendar.

Moving—websites or homes—can be tedious and somewhat painful, but the better experience afterwards is worth the effort and energy.

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