By Diana Merkel, Owner, Pinkshag Design
The difference between a website that is frustrating to visitors, and one that keeps visitors coming back for more often boils down to site navigation. The appeal of a well-structured website is its ability to help visitors find important information quickly, and its clear organizational structure that is simple to follow.
So what do I mean by website structure? Whether a website is 6 pages or 600 pages, it should be easy to navigate. It should be easy to read. It should have clear, well thought out content on the home page and a consistent hierarchy of information throughout interior pages.
During this phase of design, called Information Architecture (IA), any special functionality should be considered and planned for. Client login areas, special forms, financial information, photo galleries and blogs all need to be considered and placed in a logical way that makes them easy to access. Sometimes, a call-out from the home page is helpful in highlighting key information and steering a visitor through the site.
Your design team/IA will walk you through a process to build a site map, which is an overall plan for the site and its navigation. That will be followed by a wireframe, which is an outline of content and page structure. This wireframe could be based on an existing theme (ex. WordPress, Joomla or Drupal) or built totally custom, depending on your needs and budget. This part of the process is important, because the design team can move quickly to make big changes to the structure. Once design details are added, it becomes increasingly more difficult (translation = costly) to backtrack and re-think. Your best bet in this phase, is to plan ahead and have a clear idea of the site structure before beginning design work.