When designing a website, there’s more—lots more—than meets the eye. Long before you reach the point of debating colors and fonts, you need to determine how to organize all your information.
As avid website users—and perhaps writers—of websites, ASJA members can appreciate how important it is to present a website’s information logically. Well-organized websites unambiguously direct visitors to the most important information first. They also make it easy for visitors to go beyond top-line headings to find in-depth information about the topics that matter most to them.
A site map provides a way to organize website content by presenting it in a hierarchy. The most important information is at the top of that hierarchy and is featured in the site’s navigation bar. In turn, each item in the nav bar funnels into increasingly detailed web pages.
The site map also adds context for the user. It connects pages with other relevant pages so that users experience a coherent flow of information tailored to their needs and interests.
As such, a website’s site map is an essential building block. Best practices call for the site map to be finalized as early in the web development process as possible.
Following several months of intensive discovery and planning by our website developer, Toronto-based Think33, the website committee presented the proposed site map to the ASJA board last fall. After some lively discussion about our recommendations, the board ultimately voted and approved the site map as presented.
ASJA’s Buckets o’ Info
A website’s top navigation bar portions information into “buckets” where site visitors can begin finding the information they seek. Here are the big buckets you’ll see when ASJA’s new website debuts:
- Who We Are
- What We Do
- Our Members
- Resources for Writers
- Join ASJA
- Community (Logged-in view for members only)
These headings represent current best practices. They’re straightforward and do not exceed developers’ recommended maximum of seven items in the nav bar. The headings even include a built-in call to action—Join ASJA!
How to Build a Better Site Map
Here are some organizing principles we kept in mind while developing the site map:
- Communicate the value proposition: ASJA’s value proposition is to deliver high-quality professional development to independent, entrepreneurial writers. As such, we view the entire ASJA site as professional development for writers and chose headings that work together to deliver that unified message.
- Strive for clarity in menu names: From a user experience perspective, the most important aspect of menu names is clarity. A user should never click through to a section and be surprised by what they find there. Our top-line navigation items are all clear and straightforward.
- Divide material equally among headings: Headings should strike the right balance between specificity and being overly broad. When possible, headings should contain comparable numbers of subpages. An equal division of material helps ensures that the most valuable web assets receive the attention they deserve.
How the Site Map Helps with Development
From a web development perspective, a site map is much more than just a list of seven items. It can be tempting to suppose that, once you create the site map, you’re almost done with your website. Figure out what you want to say about each of the seven nav bar items and then your site is complete, right? The truth, of course, is more complicated.
In presenting the site map to both the board and the publications chairs at different times, there seemed to be an “a-ha moment” with the realization that the site map is much larger than what a public site visitor (or a logged-in member) actually sees. That realization helped explain why the website project is so complicated, time-consuming and more involved than just tying together seven landing pages and seven discrete sections.
Instead, there’s a whole other layer of development needed for Kellen and ASJA committee chairs to be able to manage administrative tasks. That’s the role of the Association Management System (AMS). I’ll write more about the AMS migration process in the months to come. For now, just know that all the vital backend functions—including creating and renewing memberships, event registrations, awards and more—all must work well with everything on the site map.
A Good Site Map Provides Flexibility
Having the site map settled early in the process provides focus and direction to both the website committee and Think33. The site map also helps us refine our thinking regarding the relative importance of items that could be placed in multiple locations on the site.
For example, Client Connections is most logically a subset of the conference, which appears as a top-level item under Events. Given the enormous drawing power of Client Connections, we’ve made the strategic decision to make it an additional top-level item on the Events list.
We hope that this prominent placement will entice both members and nonmembers to attend the conference. Even more important, as a members-only benefit, Client Connections might be the deciding factor that draws writers to join our membership ranks. We want to make it as easy as possible for site visitors to discover the true value of ASJA.
With a strong site map in place, we are now moving full steam ahead on designing the layout for each page of the website, starting with the most important, the homepage. Knowing when and how to highlight an organization’s most valuable assets is where website development becomes as much an art as a science.
Watch this space for monthly updates on the new website’s progress. Read along and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what goes into an undertaking like this—which could be helpful for your own writing business.