It’s easy to lose yourself in the excitement of designing your nonprofit’s new website. What’s it going to look like? What cool features should I include? Thinking about the more mundane things like the site’s structure and overall usability are easy to glaze over in favor of focusing on the more “fun” parts.
Design plays a huge role in your site’s success, don’t get me wrong. But, your sitemap is one of the first things you should think about when you’re designing (or redesigning) your nonprofit’s website. Not giving the bones of your site the attention and thought they deserve could come back to haunt you. A beautiful site is great. But, a really slick looking site that users can’t easily navigate is not going to benefit your nonprofit.
You might be thinking you don’t need to bother with a sitemap. You know the pages you want on your site, and you have a solid idea as to how they should be organized. While you probably do have a firm grasp on what content needs to be on your site, I think you’ll be surprised by the number of questions and ideas that pop up when you take the time to plot it all out.
“Would a visitor think to look for this here?” “Do I really need this many subpages under my About section?” “I have a ton of top-level pages. Should I add a secondary navigation?”
A sitemap helps you visualize the structure of your new site. Ideas that made perfect sense in your head may not look so good once you’ve written everything out. Or, all drawn out it might make perfect sense to you, but be a total maze to your average visitor. Better to find that out now instead of after your new site is live.
If visitors get frustrated looking for information on your site, they’re not going to stick around for long. And, they probably won’t be back any time soon. To keep them happy, there are 3 big things you need to consider when building out your sitemap.
Page hierarchy – Your main navigation is made up of the big buckets content is organized into. Your most important pages are not necessarily going to be your top level pages. You’ll probably have an About page in your main navigation, with pages like Our Team, Our Story and What Makes Us Unique nestled neatly underneath.
Do you currently have 12 different pages you’re convinced have to be top level pages in your main navigation? That’s a pretty overwhelming list. You might consider sticking a few of those in a secondary navigation. This will clean up your main navigation a bit, and allow you to organize your pages a bit more strategically.
Site depth – How many levels of pages did you jot down? Subpages are an awesome way to organize content, but when your subpages’ subpages have subpages (…did you follow that?) you might want to reconsider your structure. Reorganizing and potentially condensing some pages could prove beneficial in this scenario.
Logic – Does it make sense? This is probably the most important piece. Will your visitors think to look for information in the places you’ve put it? If you’re not sure, that’s completely normal—you’re not a mind reader after all. There are ways to get inside your target audience’s head and find out. You can draw everything out, and ask a wide variety of people where they’d expect to find particular pieces of content. You don’t have to do it all yourself!
Download the Website Structure Spreadsheet
Get a spreadsheet you can use to plan your nonprofit’s website structure. We recommend using the spreadsheet in conjunction with our Common Website Structures guide, which will send you along with your free download.
Figuring out your website structure is an often tedious, but extremely important, piece of any web design project. Hopefully, this post gave you a few more ideas on how to thoughtfully approach your own nonprofit site’s organization. Have any thoughts or tips you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.