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Site Architecture

Information architecture is the keystone for developing any new site. Planning is the most overlooked aspect of Web site development. However, most clients just want to jump right in and start designing their site. That approach is a waste of time as well as money. Very often, what happens is the client is so familiar with the subject matter that the viewers' point of view isn't taken under consideration. The most effective sites are organized to meet the viewers' needs. What they want from your may be quite different than what you want to communicate to them. To understand their viewpoint, itís important to answer the questions below. Be forewarned, in our experience, what you think are the obvious answers to the questions below are not.

What Are the Site's Goals?

"We're going to develop a site based on our current catalog." is a beginning point, but it's not a goal. Goals are what you want the site to accomplish. Therefore, the goal statement for the sentence above is "To provide a vehicle for customers to buy our products online." Another might be "To create a site that is easy for our staff to update.", or "To motivate customers to inquire about our services."

Begin with your assumptions

The easiest method to accomplish this task is to begin with your assumptions and turn them into goals. For example, "Our audience is our existing customers, potential customers, vendors, and shareholders" can be divided into several goals: "Present information about our products that will attract potential customers." and "To offer incentives to existing customers to maintain their loyalty." You get the idea.

Unless you have an unlimited budget, you need to prioritized these goals.

Who is Your Audience?

So how do you find out? Ask.

It can be as simple as explaining the premise of your site on a questionnaire and then asking questions about it. Make sure your questions are objective.

  • Whom do you need to reach?
  • What do they consider most important or least important about your premise?
  • What topics are they looking for?
  • What do they want to get from your site?
  • In what environment will your site be used?
  • How frequently will a member of your audience use it?
  • What similar products have they used that they liked or disliked?

What Are You Communicating?

This step seems to be the hardest step for most clients or what appeals to them the least, but it is another critical factor in making your site successful. Actually, creating the content can be the most time consuming and, therefore, most expensive part of Web site development.

List your site's topics

Make a master list of all the site's topics then organize them into categories. Now, give this list to potential viewers of your site and ask them to organize the topics. You may be surprised to find that what you thought were obvious categories do not coincide with theirs. They are your customers so their conclusions matter most. These categories determine the site's user interface and navigation.

Inventory your content

Create an inventory of your content. Make a column for the content you already have and a column for what needs to be revised or created. Next, determine the best way to communicate each item. Do you need graphs, pictures, videos, spreadsheets, databases, lists, forms, shopping cart, etc.

Why bother?

All this information accomplishes two things:

  • Gives you a way to estimate the time and costs of creating your content.
  • It leads you the next step: What is the best technology for your site.

What is the Best Technology?

How to Reach Your Audience

Answers to the questions above determine what technology is best for your site. For example, if your site is intended to train your viewer, it will be organized differently that if you are selling products to a customer.

Related Links

Times are tough. If your budget can't afford a consultant or you just have a simple site you want to create, here are a few resources that can explain the process in more depth than this Web site will:

Featured Books:

Sites:
Web Design from Scratch The best "how to" site we have found in a long time.

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