Most websites have a lifespan of 3-5 years. Appropriate preplanning and maintenance help keep the site up-to-date and helpful for your users during that entire period.
Simplicity can be anything but simple. It is incumbent upon a website’s maintainer(s) to create a site that is helpful and easy to navigate for their users. This requires more planning and strategy than many people expect.
The basic steps to creating a successful website are below. Larger sites with more specific marketing and communication needs will require more nuanced steps and planning. It is these types of sites where University Communications and Marketing can be particularly helpful in planning and production.
Planning and Goal Setting
Spending ample time crafting a plan for how your site will be organized and meet your unit’s goals is important to ensure its long-term success. This is independent of the design and technical aspects of a site.
During this phase of work you will want to identify and document the primary audiences for your site. Specifying the goal and purpose for your overall site and each section of the site will also help keep your site’s content focused and purposeful.
Having this information defined will assist in deciding how to structure the menu and pages on your site. Once the pages have be structured into a sitemap you will then be ready to begin creating the content on each of those pages.
Content on a page is much more than just paragraphs of text. Web users are unlikely to read every word on the page. Rather, they skim to find the information they are seeking. Using headings and other block types can help direct users’ eyes and allow them to more efficiently navigate the page. Strategic use of photos and colored blocks are helpful in creating a rhythm to your page so that users understand how pieces of content relate to other pieces.
When creating content for your pages, you will want to think about how to balance the needs of users who are skimming your site with also having relevant and helpful information.
Our content strategy workshop can help you think about how to organize your site’s information.
Preparing to Launch
Once you’ve populated your site with all of its content, it’s time to prepare for launch. This involves doing quality assurance checks to make sure that all of the links are working as expected and that there isn’t any missing content.
This is also a good time to figure out if and how you want to announce your new site. Will you send an email to an existing email list or share it on social media? Those are the two most common inbound strategies for when a site launches, but some groups decide to quietly launch their new site without special announcements. Both approaches are equally valid.
You will also want to make sure that you have Google Analytics and any other metrics tools configured so that you can see how users navigate your site. This is valuable information for the continued maintenance of your site.
Having a governance plan is vitally important to make sure that your site remains relevant for your users. A governance plan helps you be an effective steward of your site by knowing how (and where) to add pages as needs change. It also helps identify who is responsible for keeping specific pages up-to-date and how frequently they should be updated.
Analytics can be helpful in determining which pages should receive the most update attention. The pages that receive the most traffic should be reviewed more often to make sure that users are consuming accurate information. Scheduling time each quarter (or at least annually) to conduct a site audit and make sure information is up-to-date and meeting your users’ needs is a key part of post-launch site maintenance.
Have questions? Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns at go.ncsu.edu/ucomm-dev-request.