How to plan and develop your new website

It is vital that your new website is well organised, meets the needs of your users, delivers the objectives and goals of your department and contains only accurate, up-to-date information as it reflects your department's reputation to the outside world. If you carefully consider and plan the stages involved in creating your new site, you're more likely to deliver an effective website.

Please read the following guidance notes, which address the main areas involved in website content design. 

1. Planning the new site

You will need to consider the following:

Your audience

You may want to gather information about your users' requirements (ie, their needs, tasks, and goals) by conducting some user research.

If you do not have the resources to gather information about your users or talk to them directly, try to put yourself in your audience's shoes. Don't just replicate the structure of your department as the basis for your website. Who is your website aimed at?

  • People within the University?
  • People outside the University?
  • Prospective students?
  • Undergraduates?
  • Postgraduates?
  • International students?
  • Members of staff?
  • Alumni?
  • Potential business partners, etc?

And what are the key tasks they need to carry out on your site?

Content

  • If you have existing content, which parts are still relevant? Can some sections be edited to bring them up to date?
  • Identify the 'gaps' in your content; make a list of new material that is needed.
  • Remember to consider the use of images on your site. These add interest and will greatly improve the look and feel of your site (CEU Flickr).
  • Make full use of content that already exists on the 'top-level' University webpages. This will save you duplicating information.

Navigation

What are the most important aspects of the information/services you are offering? Ensure these areas are easy for users to find and navigate to.

2. Organising the workload and devising a work plan

Depending on the size of your website:

  • Identify a Unit's Webteam (Unit's staff members, faculty) who can drive forward the site development and help share the workload. This team should include a senior member of staff (see departmental approval below) and staff who have a responsibility for and are able to support the site and keep it up to date when it is live. Updating web pages is much simpler using the templates as there is word-processor-like editor; web publishers no longer need to learn XHTML coding.
  • Assign pages and sections to members of the team as appropriate. This should include editing existing and writing new material. Identify areas where more more help is needed and share tasks around the team.
  • Set a realistic work timetable and monitor progress.
  • After your site has gone live, you should still meet regularly to discuss and plan new pages and to review the accuracy of existing content.

3. Drafting new content

When you are writing new content, remember that users tend to scan webpages rather than read every word on the page. Use the following list as guidance.

  • Ideally, begin pages with a summary of what can be found on that page so that users can easily identify whether it contains the information they are looking for. This might include links to sections that appear lower down in the main content of the page.
  • Use informative headings.
  • Avoid jargon where possible.
  • Avoid irrelevant content.
  • Be concise: keep pages as short as possible.
  • Write acronyms in full where they are first used (on each page).
  • Make pages 'scannable', for speed reading.
  • Highlight important words or phrases.
  • Proofread your pages to ensure there aren't any typos. (remember: publishing a web page can be the same as emailing a Word document to thousands and thousands of readers!).
  • Use ordered (numbered) lists where appropriate. These are easier for people with learning difficulties to follow than unordered (bulleted) lists.
  • Keep a consistent presentation style.
  • Ensure the content is compliant with current Data Protection and Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.

We have produced a summary of current web best practice guidelines. We strongly recommend that all members of your unit  read through these guidelines before creating new pages and content (this can save a lot of time when your site is audited pre-launch).

You can find more tips on writing for the web from the following sources:

4. Departmental approval

Obtaining approval for your new website before going live can be one of the hardest and most time-consuming stages. Everyone will have a slightly different opinion and it's impossible to please everyone! Talk to your Head of Department (Unit) to decide whose approval is necessary before you request that the site can go live.

5. Launching your site

If the majority of your site is ready to launch but some sections are incomplete, you can always remove links to unfinished pages so that you can launch your site.

6. After launch - keeping your website up-to-date, accurate and interesting

If your department (unit) has a Webteam (group of people who are responsible for Unit's website), try to set up regular meetings to maintain a forum for new ideas and content (this can be every other month or termly depending on the size of your site and how often the content changes). Develop an updating timetable so that each member of staff knows what areas they are responsible for and run through this at each meeting. Ultimately, the content on your site is the most important thing to your users, therefore it is in your interest to keep it up-to-date, accurate and interesting.