STEP 2

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Blueprint

Website Architecture and Structure

By now you have learned what matters regarding the character of your site. You have come up with your site's content tone as well as look-and-feel.

What you are probably wondering though is that you have a pile of information you eventually want to present to your visitors but you don't yet know how. This is what this step will try and elaborate. What you essentially need to do is to create the "blueprints" for your site, in other words its structure, navigation and organizing its information. The "blueprint" for your site is exactly like the blueprint an architect designs for a building before its construction. The site's blueprint is called a sitemap. The more information you have, the more difficult architecting your site might be.

There is not really a right way or a wrong way about architecting your site. For instance, you can present all of your stuff in one page. If you have very little stuff, then yes, that might be the simplest solution, but usually you want to break it up into pieces. What is going to essentially direct you to your site's structure and navigation is the work you have done while setting the goals and mission for your visitors, the actions associated with your visitors in combination with the amount of information you have. The building blocks which you have come up with during the goal setting process will certainly come in handy now!

Try and think of how you want to arrange your information (remember to always have in mind the work you have done so far in the goals and mission step). Think of your site's high level thematic areas (first level for your site's navigation tree). Then think of whether you have sufficient information and you want to break up each first level area into a second level, then do the same exercise with the second level, etc. Don't overdue it though. Usually up to three to four (at most) levels is how much deep you should go. Remember that your visitor should achieve his goal with as fewer clicks as possible! At the end, you will have your sitemap. The second reason why you would want to break up your site into different thematic areas is the emphasis you possibly want to give to a particular segment of your site. Say you are building a website regarding a construction company. In such case, a tree structure for your site could be the following:

Level 0Level 1Level 2
Home Page
Our Company
Company Facts
Methodology and Techniques
Services
Construction
Consulting
Innovative Solutions
Experience
Private Sector
Public Sector
Customer testimonials
Case Studies
Real Estate
Buildings
Land
Contact Us

An important thing you must also do regarding the structure of your site, which is also related to its usability as you will see in the next section, is to think of what information will be presented on your home page. Usually, since your home page is the "gateway to your site", you should place information you think is important and internal pages (links to them) which you want to promote. You should definitely give an idea, though a dedicated paragraph, to your visitor of what your site is about on your home page.

I will be presenting you with some models that you can choose from, regarding the structure of your site.

Single page

This is the case I mentioned before where your entire site content is presented on your home page.

This is applicable only if your site does not have a lot of information to present. An advantage of this model is that it is very simple, requires minimum maintenance (there is only one page you need to maintain) and your visitor gets the entire information on the spot without having to further navigate in your site. It is especially applicable for a marketing site for a specific product or service. If you have a lot of information though, this is definitely not the approach to follow.

Index like model

In this model, all pages of your website hang below your home page (your tree structure goes one level deep) and all navigation happens through the home page.

This model is good for a site which has decent amount of information to present and its thematic categories are independent with each other as well as self explanatory so that they don't need to be broken down further.

Strict hierarchy

This model corresponds to an ideal situation where you can partition your information following a "proper" hierarchical structure. In this structure you can have as many levels as you want and each page can be accessed only through its parent.

This model can be used for a site where information can be broken down into independent thematic areas, something that in real life is very difficult to find.

Multi-dimensional hierarchy

This model is similar to the one of the strict hierarchy, can be as deep as you want, only that any page can be accessed by any page, thus making it to partition your information easier and more flexible.

This is the most commonly used model and the model I would recommend for a mid- to large- (in terms of information) sized site.

Search

There comes a point where some sites just have tooooo much content and information to present. Too much, that partitioning becomes a very hard task. In these cases, such sites must rely on search where the visitor can extract and find the information he needs (thus achieving his goal) quickly.

In general, I would definitely recommend using search for mid- to large- sized sites in combination with the multi-dimensional hierarchy. Search improves the whole user experience for your site. And if some of you think that building a search engine for your site is a very difficult task, I have some good news for you. Google gives you the opportunity to embed search functionality in your site for free, provided that you keep the Google logo showing on your search. You can also use the same color scheme that you have chosen for your site so that the search engine's look-and-feel is the same. You simply copy paste a code portion ("code snippet") that Google provides you with after you setup your account. For more information check out Google's custom search engine page.

Now let's move on to a dear subject to mine which is usability.

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