So, you’ve defined your target audience; identified major competitors; defined your success metrics; and now, you’re ready to move forward with the construction of your new web site, as quickly as possible. But suddenly, you’re faced with a few mission-critical questions:
- How much will the new web site cost?
- Who should build it?
- How long will it take to build?
- Who will maintain it?
When planning for a new web site, a preliminary Site Map is an indispensable tool, that can be used to:
- Define, label, and organize information in ways that are easy for your visitors to navigate to;
- Quickly communicate the proposed size and complexity of the site to everyone involved;
- Determine what kind of human resources and technologies will be required to successfully complete (and maintain) the site;
- Accurately estimate costs, and create a realistic production time line; and
- Develop a phased approach, if necessary, for launching the web site
There are many ways to create a Site Map, but first, to give you a better idea of what I’m referring to, here’s an example:
Once the Site Map has been created, it’s just a matter of imagining what it will take (talent and technology) to create each page within the site. For example, someone will have to write the text for each page; some pages will require illustrations and/or photography; some pages will require additional functionality (e.g.: an information request form; a Flash demo; a shopping cart; etc.). But don’t worry too much about the details at first— your primary objective is to create a preliminary site map that your design shop can use to estimate costs, complexity, and timing¹.
Your Site Map does not have to be as elaborate as the example used above. In fact, I’ve had clients hand over a stack of 3”x5” index cards (with notes scribbled on the back of each one). I’ve seen others use Post-It notes, PowerPoint slides, Excel spreadsheets, and content outlines in Word. However, programs such as Microsoft’s Visio for Windows, and The Omni Group’s OmniGraffle for the Mac, may be ideal for you.
- The first draft of your Site Map is likely to change during the early stages of design— particularly after: a) a competitive analysis is performed; b) user personas are created and reviewed (to better understand the needs and desires of your target audience); and c) a list of additional features and content is considered.