Planning Your Website-Templates and CMS - Carnegie Mellon University

Planning Your Website

When requesting a new site, you will be required to submit a content outline. A content outline is a list of the items you plan to place in the Primary, Secondary, and Header navigation areas as shown in the example below.

Navigation Areas

However, producing a content outline can be a complicated task as it will require you to step back and envision the big picture. You'll need to evaluate the purpose of the website and determine the best way to organize your content to meet your audiences' needs.

Create Goals for Your Website

To help you create goals, ask yourself, "what is the purpose of the website?" Without investing too much thought in your initial answer, take note of what comes to mind first. Answers that are concise and straightforward are usually key; for example, "provide information about our program," or "attract more students to events," or "provide an easy way to communicate with the public." For further assessment, consider the following questions:

  • Why is the website needed?
  • Who will view the web pages?
  • What do I want my visitors to take away?
  • What are the concrete objectives that I would like to accomplish? For example:
    • Broaden your audience
    • Register for events
    • Attract students
    • Post time-sensitive announcements
    • Offer easily accessible instructional material

Identify goals for your website! It'll help you to get started in the right direction and better prepare you for organizing your content.

Take Inventory of Your Content

Using either index cards, Post-It notes, or a whiteboard, write down everything you want to include on the website. If you are using index cards or Post-It notes, write down one topic per card. Sort the individual topics into groups or piles that "go together," and begin to think of category labels for each pile. This exercise will prompt you to evaluate why certain topics go together, and it will allow you to move items easily between piles and possibly lead you to discover the need for new or different categories. This creative process should demonstrate the different possibilities of organizing the same information.

Below is an example of a "card sorting" exercise using Post-It notes on a whiteboard.

Card Sorting Exercise

Organize Your Content

The most common mistake people make is that they organize their content according to their internal administration rather than according to how their users will be looking for it. Always put yourself in the shoes of your users.

Once you've compiled a full inventory, determine the best way to organize everything into the three areas of navigation, (Primary, Secondary, and Header). The items within the same navigation area should be logically bound together by a common organizing principle, such as topic, task, or audience.

Once the purpose of the website is understood, the audience is defined, and the content is inventoried and organized into navigation areas, it is very important to label the navigation items in a way that your audience is able to find the information quickly. The following guidelines may be used to help you identify the best labels for your navigation:

  • Use key words and terms that your audience would most likely search on, such as "Calendar" or "Contact Information" or "Fees".
  • Use words that are intuitive, descriptive, and easily scannable; for example, instead of a generic label such as "Programs Offered," a more specific label such as "Undergraduate Degree" would better serve your audience.
  • Use phrases that translate into actions (e.g., Apply Now, Schedule a Meeting, Request Help) since most people use websites to perform actions.
  • Use editorial consistency regarding labels and naming; if you choose to use actions as labels (e.g., Apply Now), be consistent and stick with actions for that navigation area.
  • In general, avoid being too wordy as people scan text on web pages. Less is more!

Examples of Content Outlines

Primary by Audience

Prospective Students

Secondary by Task
Apply Now
Speak With an Advisor
Visit Campus
Attend an Event
Contact Us

Header by Topic
About Us

Content Outline Example 1

Primary by Programs


Secondary by Resources
Application Form
Course Catalog
Faculty Directory

Header by Contact
Request Appointment

Content Outline Example 1

Primary by Topic

Research Areas

Secondary by About
History of the Lab
In the News

Header by People

Content Outline Example 1

Use Progressive Disclosure

Progressive disclosure is a technique of displaying information in logical stages, or "chunks" rather than all at once. Information is introduced in broad topics that become more specific or granular the deeper you go.

Progressive Disclosure and Navigation

In terms of navigation, progressive disclosure means "drilling down" by clicking on sequential navigation items to obtain the information needed. For example:

Biology > Undergraduate Degrees > Bachelor of Science > Microbiology
Human Resources > Benefits > Health Insurance > Dental Coverage
Dining Services > Dining Locations > Skibo Cafe > Menu

Progressive Disclosure and Content

In terms of content, progressive disclosure means "chunking" information by breaking it up using headings, subheadings, and relatively short paragraphs of text. This method of presenting content gives your audience the opportunity to scan a page first and then make decisions about what to read before they delve into more detail.