Planning Your Site

The Importance of Planning

You may be tempted to dive into your new site and start entering content.

However, if you do that, you may find later that you have to reorganize and possibly re-write your content.

A little planning at the beginning goes a long way.

NOTE: if you are working on setting up a department site, please talk with CALS Web Services consultants.  The content and navigation needs of a department site are far more complex than those of a simple lab or topical site.  Our consultants can show you how to design the site in a way that will ease content maintenance in the future.  For example, the people pages can be built several different ways; we can explain the pros and cons of each method.

Start Small, and Gradually Add Content

Many people begin a website project bursting with ideas for content.  They create a bunch of empty pages in anticipation of this content.

Then life happens.  The weather warms up and they head out into the field for summer research.

The website either never ships, or sits with a lot of empty or partially empty pages.

Please don’t bite off more ideas than you can implement.  Start small and get the site up, then make a plan to come back to with additional ideas.  Don’t add the pages to the site (or the menu) until they are complete.  Aim for five to ten pages of content (excludes academic department sites).

Who Will Visit Your Site?

Consider who you want to visit your site.  The most effective websites are tailored to specific audiences, to make it easy for them to quickly locate the information they want.

Audiences could include:

For a research site:

  • potential grad students
  • professional peers

For an outreach site:

  • members of the public
  • professional peers

What Standard Pages Do You Want on Your Site?

Consider what standard pages you want for your website.

Example – Faculty Lab Site

  • Home
  • People
  • Research
  • Opportunities
  • Publications
  • Teaching
  • Prospective Students
  • Contact

For the People pages, do you want to:

  • list the person by name, without photo
  • list the person by name, with photo
  • list the person by name, with photo, and link to a detail page

Tip: including photos adds to your site’s maintenance.

How will you group the categories of people?

Will You Pull in Outside Content?

To keep the site fresh and encourage visitors to return, many sites pull in content from another website.  The content appears inside a block, as though it was part of your site.  The technology is called an RSS feed.  Examples include:

  • Feeds from a parent organization, e.g. news from the national chapter of The Wildlife Society student group.
  • Feeds from a scientific journal, e.g. information from the CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.
  • Feeds from a blog you write at another site, e.g. Blogger or Blogspot.

Not all RSS feeds are compatible with your site at CALS.  Contact CALS Web Services for more information.

How Will You Organize Your Content?

Ways to Organize Content

  • Main Menu (main menu)
  • Sidebar Menu (shows “child” pages)

Main Menu

The main menu goes down two levels – the top-level menu entries plus one submenu entry.

Consider the available horizontal width.  If the top-level menu entries are too long, or there are too many of them, the main menu will “disappear” – collapse down to the “hamburger” icon:

Menu Icon

A great way to plan navigation for your site is to use sticky notes.  Lay out the sticky notes in a hierarchical layout, with Home at the top.

Sidebar Menu

The CALS theme can create a sidebar menu to create a “third” level to your page hierarchy.


The Entomology site ( ) has three levels for their academic pages.  The top two levels are on the menu:

  • Academics (top level menu entry)
    • Graduate Study Overview (child menu entry)
    • Undergraduate Study Overview (child menu entry)

If you click on Graduate Study Overview, it takes you to the Graduate Study Overview page ( )

In the right column of that page is a child menu with entries including Application Process and Funding Information.

Keep in mind:

  • You will need to edit each individual child page to “link” the parent page.
  • Adding more than 3-5 entries will be cumbersome to maintain.  Each time you add or remove a child page, you will need to edit every single child page to reorder the pages.

Will You Write a Blog?  Do You Have the Time?

Blogs can require a lot of effort.   If you start a blog and then pause in posting, or stop altogether, visitors may look at the date of your last blog entry and decide the site has been abandoned.

A blog is similar to a bird feeder.  You have to keep the blog filled with new, fresh content, or the birds (readers) will abandon the site and find a new one with a constant flow of fresh content.

Unless you have a team of students you can assign to keep the blog current, it’s probably not a good idea to start one.

The Concept of “Evergreen” Content

Websites are like gardens; they need to be weeded periodically to keep things clean.

Instead of planting annuals, which require maintenance, look towards planting “evergreens” – lower-maintenance items.  Consider:

  • If you don’t own content, link to the content owner’s site instead of uploading copies of the content to your site.
    • However…be careful of “deep linking” linking to a page or photo other than the homepage. Periodically people redesign their sites, and the links will break.
  • Links to external sites break over time, and annoy users.
  • Be careful of “deep linking” linking to a page or photo other than the homepage. Periodically people redesign their sites, and the links will break.
  • Photos that include students (particularly groups of students) will go obsolete when the student leaves or graduates.

Tip: Use your calendar software to set bi-annual reminders to review your content.

Will You Include Photos on Your Website?

If you want to include photos on your website, consider:

  • where you will acquire the photos (suggestion: ask CALS Web Services about the plugin which adds a library of free photos)
  • where you will use the photo – on a particular page, or in the homepage image slider
  • if the photo will be used in the banner, is it the right size? (check our handout Tips for Choosing Photos for the Hero Image Slider in the CALS Theme for more info)
  • does the photo need to be prepped – cropped, adjusted for contrast, focus, color

How Will Visitors Contact You?

Consider where you want your contact information to appear.  A few ideas:

  • a Contact Us page (highly recommended – it’s the first place visitors look)
  • in the footer (not the greatest idea as people generally don’t scroll down that far on a page)