IT Connect
Information technology tools and resources at the UW

Creating an Effective Web Site

Web site design and organization is based on the goals you have for your site and the needs of your audience. Doing some planning beforehand will help you create a Web site that is well-organized and easy to use. You also need to consider what resources are available to build your site, and how the site will be maintained.

Clarify Your Goals

Consider the following questions when thinking about the goals for your Web site.

What is the purpose of your site?
Try to express the purpose of your site in a sentence or short paragraph. If you are clear about the purpose of your Web site, it will also be clear for your visitors. By defining the purpose of your site you also ensure that the Web is the right medium to achieve your goals.

Who are you trying to reach with your site?
A Web site should be designed for the typical user, yet it is often designed for those in charge of creating it. Be sure you have an understanding of the audience for your Web site, and keep the typical user in mind as you create and organize your site.

How will you know if your site is successful?
Defining specific objectives for your Web site will help keep you on target as you organize and create the site, and will allow you to design a Web site that works.

Will your site be updated? How often? By whom?
If your site includes news or information that periodically changes you must be prepared to update it regularly. Consider the cost, in both money and time, involved in keeping the site current.

Will the site grow?
Are you providing a fixed amount of information or will additions be made over time? This is especially important to consider early in the design process so that your site will have room to grow without needing a complete redesign.

How long will this site be posted?
Is your site only for use for a limited period – say for a school term – or will it be posted indefinitely as an information source? How long will your information be interesting and useful?

Determine Your Needs and Resources

Take time to think about what resources, such as staff or software, are available to help you create your Web site, and determine what you need in order to create your site.

What kind of staff will you need to design and maintain the site?
If you plan to build and create the site yourself, you might want to start with easy-to-use software and modest technical goals. If you have technical and design assistance available to you, your goals for the site might be more ambitious.

Where will your site live?
UW Technology provides a suite of Web servers for the use of the UW community. Your department or organization might have its own Web servers or you can use a third-party Web hosting service.

What software do you need to create and maintain your site?
To create and maintain your site you can use CommonView, an easy-to-use tool developed and supported by the Catalyst team and available for free to UW students, faculty and staff. You can also setup a free Google site using UW Google Apps. In alternative, you can purchase one of the many desktop Web editors available. You might also need graphics or other multimedia software.

Organize Your Site

How will you “chunk” the content on your site?
Take an inventory of the content you want to include on your Web site before you begin creating pages. Think about how to best organize the content for reading on the Web. Web users like short “chunks” of content that can be easily read on the screen, and scanned for important information. Try to keep your pages short, and use headings and bulleted list to help your readers find important information. See Yale’s Web Style Guide for more information about chunking content.

How will you structure your site?
The organization of your Web site should be clear and simple. You can choose from several organization schemes, depending on which best suits the type of information you have and tasks your users need to perform. The most common organization schemes are hierarchical, linear, web, and grid. See Yale’s Web Style Guide for more information about site structure.

How will you organize the “backend” of your Web site?
In addition to organizing the information on your site, you need to think about how you will organize the files and folders that comprise the site. Will you keep all photos and graphics in a folder called “Images”? An easy-to-use file structure will facilitate maintaining and updating your Web site. It is also important to think about how you will name the files on your Web site. Choose a naming scheme that makes sense for you and helps you maintain the site.

Design a Consistent Layout for Your Pages

Think about design and layout early.
While design might seem to be a part of creating an individual page, it pays to think through the layout of all of your pages on paper before you actually start building the pages. Sketch several designs, choose one or two, and then refine them. Remember that an effective page layout is both interesting and useful. Users will have an easier time finding information in your site if the pages have a consistent layout.

Your home page is important.
The opening page to your site, or home page, is very important. It is a combination of cover, flap, and table of contents for your site. It explains the purpose of your site, draws the user, explains how the site is organized, and helps her find the information she needs as quickly as possible. It is good to include a list of links to the most requested pages on the site to help your user navigate through your site.

Remember the ‘three click’ rule.
Studies show users start to get lost and lose patience if they fail to find the information they need after three clicks – following three hyperlinks – from the home page. Users that cannot find what they need will be less likely to visit your site again.

Provide internal navigation links on every page.
Be sure to include a link back to the home page in every page, as well as search, index, or site map, if these features are provided. Providing consistent navigation on each page keeps the user from getting lost in your site.

Create a site map or index of your site.
Include a site map as either a graphical representation or as a list of links clustered into topics. It is probably better to organize the information logically rather than the way the pages are organized on the site. It is also good to have a site index, listing all the topics of the site in alphabetical order, with duplicate entries for alternate wordings.

Large sites need a search feature.
If you have a very large site, you might want to provide a search feature. Include a link to this feature in every page.

Date and ‘sign’ each page.
At the bottom of each page put the date when the page was last updated. This helps readers assess the currency of the information. Also include a way to contact the technical support or information provider of the site.