Laying the foundation…Creating the sitemap for your website

Every house (or church) needs a layout and a floor plan.  Before your house was built, someone hired an architect to design the basic layout of the house.  How does someone get into the house? (doors)  What is the flow of the floor plan?  (foyer -> living room -> kitchen or dining room and so on.)  How is each room used and by whom?

Ask anyone who has worked with an architect to build a house.  It can be an invigorating experience or a nightmare.  You can imagine how the house will be used.  It gives you the opportunity to dream about the life your family can live.  It can also be a nightmare when the experience is not thought through.  Strange layouts or poor design can affect a family for years.  Customized features (while useful) can also significantly drive up the initial building cost and longer-term maintenance expense.

The same is true for a church website.

Great care needs to be made when designing a new website.  We need to think through who will be “visiting” and who will be “living” on the site.  How can we design the site to appeal to them and provide the information they need to form a deeper relationship with the church?

Start by defining the blocks of content for your website

Brainstorm content “blocks.”  Use the personas you have developed and start to think through your website’s content strategy.  Brainstorm a list of all of the information a particular persona may be interested in and write a short description for each.  So, if my key church persona was about a thirty something couple that just had their first child, what would they be looking for?  Service times, location map, why go to church, etc.  Create a many ideas as you can and write them down on 3” x 5” index cards, along with a short description.

Write each “content chunk” on a 3” x 5” index card with the title on the top, an outline of the desired content and a list of the relevant personas.

“Chunking” the content.  Now, take the 3” x 5” index cards and separate them into “like” or affinity groups.  There will be several rounds of grouping.

  • Silent Grouping:  If you are working as a group, do this silently the first time and allow people to switch the grouping (even if other people placed it in a different pile.)  Let them “fight it out” without speaking a word.  After about 5 minutes, have the different people in the group talk about why they separated the cards into specific groups.
  • Grouping via Discussion:  If you are working as a team, work together to make any changes based on the discussion.  Ask the team, “Does the grouping make sense to our key persona(s)?”  Is all the information in one place or do they need to jump around to different groups?  Also look to combine like cards where needed.   Don’t be in too much of a hurry to make them agree.  The discussion is worth it.

Title the Groups and Lay Out the Site Map:  Now, write a title for each group.  Make sure it is clear and concise.  Put the cards underneath the title and place them in an order that makes sense.  If you have more than 5 to 7 groups, turn the groups into an “organization hierarchy.”

Test it using Personas:  Using the personas, test the site layout by creating several visit scenarios.  Imagine one of your personas is a young family, “Sara and John Newparents.”  With the birth of their first child, they have decided to get back into church after a period of non-attendance through college and early marriage.  Based on their needs and goals, they are interested in general information, worship times, if nursery is available, and what activities are available for young families.  What would be their experience using the site map?  Is it intuitive them?  How would it make them feel?

Finalize the site map:  Refine the site map and then capture it in a table that will create a visual representation of the sitemap.  Transfer the information from the cards into the table.  Click here to see an example of a site map for Reynoldsburg UMC’s website.

You do not need to write out the whole piece of content yet.  It should be enough to give your team an idea of what needs to be covered.  If you are working through multiple personas, make sure to identify which piece of content is connected to which persona.

Clarity reigns supreme.  You have 12 seconds to help people decide where to go next.

You have under 12 seconds to help someone where to click next.  People will not spend their precious time trying to figure out your website.  It will either be obvious on where they need to go next or they will leave and look for another church.

Think of it like signage inside a church.  We spend a lot of time creating cute names for our Youth Group or Children’s Education program, but would a visitor know what “God Zone” is?  Nope.  They would get confused and leave if they cannot figure out where to drop off their kids.  We don’t think about it since there are usually people around when a new family shows up for worship and can direct them where to go.

A website can be visited at any time.  We very rarely have someone standing by to greet them via chat.  A video walkthrough may be a good idea, but only if they click on it.  Make your sitemap simple and direct and save the branding for the interior pages where you can explain it to them.

Your sitemap is the foundation of your website.  Make it a good one or all your efforts will be wasted.

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