Last place isn’t always the worst place to be. When building or reviewing your website, we recommend you begin at the bottom and work your way up. This means you will finish (not start) by choosing the right homepage template for your department’s needs.
You’ll find that by working on your content before worrying about the visual effect of a homepage, you’ll be more likely to have a better website. Get the content right first, and you’ll be able to build a better structure around it.
If you have an existing website, start with a content audit, listing every page and document (including forms).
Then go through the content and decide what information can be removed and what needs rewriting. Every page should have a distinct purpose or a goal that helps your users. Use the University’s editorial style guide and tone of voice tips, as a sounding board. Your website statistics can also guide your audit. They will show how many people are looking at your content (which also tells you if it’s easy to find).
These questions can help you to assess your content:
- Is this information interesting to read?
- Is it accurate and up-to-date?
- Is it useful for your users?
- Could it be said in fewer words?
If your answers are no, no, no and yes, you have some work to do.
Decide what you want to keep, and start grouping information under shared headings. You might find card-sorting a useful way to do this. Don’t do it alone. Get help and input from the people who will use your website.
The way you decide to group your topics will shape the information architecture (IA) of your website. For example, on our Marketing and Communications website, we decided to group topics by the services we offer: design, communications, editorial, media, print and web. Our audience is mainly other marketing and communications staff at the University, so we felt this structure would help them to complete tasks.
You might choose to arrange your content by audience or type of tasks. Whatever you do, always think of your website users. Don’t just reproduce the organisational structure of your department. While that may be easier for your staff, your website users are unlikely to know or navigate by your internal structure.
Also, remember that your users will not have the same knowledge and experience you do. If possible, you should conduct some user testing, to make sure that your website really is achieving your goals.
Write or rewrite your content and make sure it is engaging, active and gets to the point quickly.
Enlist our help – we have two fantastic editors.
The home run
Once you have sorted out your information architecture, you have the structure of your website ready. Then you can decide which style of homepage works best for you.
If you have a deep website, meaning there are several layers of navigation (tabs, menus, and sub-menus) and lots of content, you may find a homepage like the Marketing & Communications one useful. You can group useful links by type of task or topic area, and change links around to promote different items at different times.
If most of your website’s information is spread over one level, then you’re better off with a site like the one for the Policy Management Unit. It’s simple, uncluttered and everything you need is listed on the left.
You can also add widgets to promote recent news, or upcoming events, as long as these change regularly so your site doesn’t look dated. The University’s Social Inclusion website makes good use of the ‘top news’ widget. The Sydney Southeast Asia Centre website has eye-catching images in its transitioning splashpod at the top of the page.
Browse through some examples of splashpages on the Marketing and Communications Division website.
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Two useful things to remember when creating your website:
- Most people will use a search engine to get to your site and bypass your homepage completely. Keep this in mind whenever you design and populate your homepage.
- Your website (homepage included) isn’t a static thing. Your business needs and those of your users will change over time. Review your site regularly, even if it’s just two or three pages a week, or a set of pages each month. Taking the time to do this will pay off!