Learn how to organize content and create the structure of your site.
In order to provide relevant, interesting content for your audience, some thought must be put into the organization and structure of your site. This can include:
What links should exist on your top menu
What content should be logically grouped together in sections of your site
When to consolidate content onto a single page versus splitting it into multiple pages
These questions, and many more, are part of the field of Information Architecture (IA for short). Planning your site’s IA will help you understand how to best balance the needs of your site’s users with the goals of your organization.
The first component of understanding your site’s IA is to create a content inventory.
For existing sites looking to reorganize their site, this means putting together a list of all of the content that exists on your site. This may seem time-consuming at first, but getting a large-scale overview of what content exists on your site allows you to see both where certain subjects overlap or are duplicated and where there are gaps in the content of your site.
If you’re planning a new site, a content inventory is less straightforward. It should ideally include every piece of content that you want to use on your site. This will help you see how much existing content you can already leverage when building your site. It can also help determine how much content you will need to create prior to the site launching.
Get Started: Content Inventory Template
We’ve provided a sample spreadsheet you can use to create a content inventory. One of the columns in the spreadsheet we’ve provided is called “Suggested Navigation” — this will be the next step in the planning process.
After you have inventoried your content, the next step is to determine a content hierarchy.
Navigation is developed considering:
- Best practices
- Website goals
- Content requirements
- Technology standards
You can start by categorizing your content into one of a few high-level “buckets”. Ideally, you want to limit these categories to as few as possible (we recommend no more than seven). For example, on the Faculty of Medicine web site, each top level menu item represents a category or “bucket”: “About”, “News”, “Education”, “Research”, and so on.
Break Up Your Content
There are many ways to pick these categories, such as:
Type of information
People (audience group)
Sequence or time
Questions people ask
For example, you can choose to organize your content by the target audience, such as students or media personnel. Conversely, your content might naturally fall into categories based on different operational areas of your unit (Education vs. Research). It can be helpful to look at sites by other similar units to get inspiration; however, it’s important to pick consistent categories that will make sense for the users of your site.
Once you've grouped your content in this way, you should repeat the process for all of the content within each individual category. For example, if you have an “Education” category, you can further group your content into “Undergraduate”, “Graduate”, and “Postgraduate” sub-categories. If these sub-categories still have a large amount of content, you can repeat the process yet again and further break your content into groups.
The end goal of organizing your content in this way is to transform it from a flat list of content—your inventory—into a hierarchical structure, which will form the basis of your site navigation. This part of the process is not an exact science; there's no hard rule about how your content should be organized. We recommend that categories should be specific enough that there are clear "pathways" of information on your site, but not specific enough that you end up with more than four levels of sub-categories.
Quick Reference Guide
Complete a content inventory and review your analytics
Organize content into a maximum of 7 buckets (top level navigation/menu)
Menu titles should be short (1-2 words)
The highest traffic area should be listed first
Use no more than 4 sub-levels
How People Navigate - What to Remember
They are task oriented
They use a process of elimination
They scan and do not read
Decide to use navigation or content to go further in the site
Once they choose they typically stick with that method
Can scan a list of seven
First 3 and then the last item
From here, the next step will be to either create the content on your site or begin moving the content into its new organization structure. The categories that you've planned in the above step can be created on your site using WordPress’ menu system and parent/child page relationship.
After this is complete, what's next?
Tools like Google Analytics are great for tracking how users interact with your site; as you track the stats of your users over time, you may notice trends in your site traffic that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. If there are pages that receive high amounts of traffic despite being a lower page in one of your top-level categories, it might be worth creating a shortcut to that page from the homepage of your site. Similarly, a homepage link can direct people to relevant content that isn't receiving the traffic you think they should.
Much like the content of your site, the structure of your site should never be thought of as immovable. It should be observed and, if needed, changed to best match the needs of your users and your organization.