The Importance of Structure in a Website Redesign

When you think about a brand getting a new website, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most people, I think the answer would be a site with a new appearance. While that’s obviously an important component of any website development or redesign project, I think there’s something else that should be thought about before considering how a site looks.

That is how the site is structured.

structure2.jpgPhoto by Sérgio Rola

Sure, how content is organized may not be the sexiest aspect of building or redesigning a website, but it may just be the most important. Why? Because if you are in need of a new website, you’re admitting that something is fundamentally wrong or ineffective with your current site. Sure, an outdated or clunky look could contribute to that, but often times it also has to do with how content is organized on the front- and back-end of a site.

Let’s use a university as an example. At any university, there is a primary website, but there also are dozens — if not hundreds — of department/school sites that fall under that umbrella site. These “sub-sites” can be thought of as microsites: They may have a different look than the overall university site, and the content is definitely different, but at the end of the day, they both are a part of the same brand. What that means is that there should be some essence of consistency between the university’s main website, the site of its communications school and the site of an individual biology department.

Now think about all the content that exists within a university’s online ecosystem. That main university website could have up to about 100 pages, but when you get down to the sub-site level, you could find thousands of pages on news and resources specific to each school or department. That’s a lot of content!

In most instances, these sites are managed by different teams and have little to no similarities in appearance or content structuring. The question, then, is how can the sites keep a relatively similar look and feel, despite the variance in content and site administrators.

The answer can be found with Drupal.

Drupal makes it possible to build scalable microsites so that websites across an organization — or university, in this example — can maintain a similar back-end organization and front-end appearance. In order to make this happen, you need to follow through on these three steps:

  1. What differences are there between the microsites?

    Let’s stick with our university example. In general, most universities have two different types of microsites: those for schools/departments and those for more functional offices like the Office of Public Affairs or the Registrar. These latter groups aren’t connected to a specific school and offer a completely different type of resources. This separation is necessary in order to create a universal navigation structure.
  2. Who is creating the content?

    For each department, school or office, examine who it is that creates the content for the different microsites. Because of the variance in schools and departments, one microsite may be managed by a content strategist who maintains a content calendar and has full-time writers working for her, while another may be overseen by one person with little website experience who has freelancers uploading large percentages of content to the website. This step is needed to understand the workflow and approval process for content. Both structures need to be reflected on the back-end of the site. Drupal offers a lot of different ways to account for these multiple user levels.
  3. What are the overlapping areas of need?

    If you do a content inventory of the different websites under a university’s umbrella, you generally will be able to map it back to one of four different categories:
  • Curriculum
  • Department staff
  • Academic research
  • Student resources

By knowing what your content is and who creates it, you then will be able to develop a site structure and organization that works for all schools and departments within the university. Once that is done, you can use that structure to dictate the appearance of site templates. That way, no matter the school, its size or its content creators, it can look and feel like a rightful part of the larger university brand.

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