You’ve got a contract for a new website project signed, sealed and delivered. Yahoo! What comes next, however, is often one of the trickiest tasks in the website biz: turning a site full of content that has been added here and there and everywhere by a handful of people (who probably all had a different idea about what should be on the site and where) into something clear, concise and compelling that accounts for everything that needs to be communicated in a way that is easy to find for multiple users. A tall order indeed. My process for meeting the challenge starts with laying it all out on the table (figuratively speaking, of course).
Thankfully, there are tricks to this trade that can make content organization a whole lot more manageable –the first of which, is using a tool like SlickPlan or Xenu to take stock of what you have to work with.
Of these two, my first choice is always SlickPlan not only because it’s a little more user-friendly but also because it spits out results in the form of pretty flowcharts. I typically use this as a starting point and then nip and tuck my way to the version of the sitemap I submit to clients as my recommendation. It’s worth noting that SlickPlan makes this process really easy with features that allow you to easily make edits, export/share and apply branding elements. Ultimately though, either of these tools is going to provide you with the starting point you need to begin making sense of the content.
Once you’ve got a current sitemap in front of you that accounts for everything (including pages that may have been orphaned, but still exist on the site), it’s time to start thinking about user personas. Who is coming to this site? What are they looking for? What is important to them? This is how you get to the next step, which is creating the silos that will become your new site nav.
When you’ve established who the various “buckets” of information are for, start filling them with the existing content. More often than not, you’ll probably still end up with something that has WAY too much info, but at least it’s organized in a way that makes sense! On that note…
Here’s where things start getting real. Not to discount the expertise of clients (which is a bad idea for a number of reasons), but this is often the part of the process that is most difficult for them. If you’re the one who wrote the existing content, it can be particularly hard to hear someone tell you it needs to go. It’s also pretty typical that clients are just entirely too close to the information to know what their users really want and need. You’ve got to be that objective third party who can bridge the gap.
Prepare yourself for the job by taking a deep dive into the analytics of the current site to find out how users are getting around and what is and isn’t working. Use that, the user personas you’ve created and your own content judgement to guide your recommendations for moving, editing and cutting information on the new site. Look for opportunities to consolidate content and recommend the use of collapsible menus for pages that will now be home to info that used to live on multiple pages (Tip: SlickPlan lets you make these kind of “notes” directly on the sitemap/flowchart).
At this point, you should be left with a sitemap plan that achieves everything you set out to do at the start of the process, with one exception. The last step is to create short, clear and meaningful names for each of your “buckets.” If you’ve done your job well so far, this should be an obvious and easy step. Keep in mind here that it’s nice to keep things consistent, using action words and not phrases, whenever possible (the way I did with the headings in this post, for example).