Are you starting a website redesign project or creating a new webpage from scratch? The way forward can seem daunting, but formulating a thorough content plan beforehand will help simplify the process by laying the framework for the entire project.
Creating a content plan for your website is the step between brainstorming a website’s basic layout and designing or developing each page on the site. Your website may have many different pages that users can access to learn about your brand and what you have to offer. Planning each page before building your website will ensure that each page is well-designed and contains the appropriate content. In this article, we’ll outline what a content plan is and how you can create one for your website.
A content plan is a page-by-page rough draft of what your website will include and look like in document form. It is usually typed up on a standard document, such as a Google doc or Word doc, mainly relying on short phrases to describe the website’s layout and elements. Think of content plans like blueprints for a structure — they outline the skeleton of your website and serve as instructions for the website designer and / or developer to follow when it’s time to build.
A content plan can be made for one web page at a time or for an entire new website. It includes specific elements for the web page as well as the written text for the page. If you are creating a new website, each web page should correspond to a specific page (or two, or three) in the document, giving ample room to write out any details that would be necessary to know when creating the website.
What should be included in a content plan? While there is no right or wrong answer, commonly a content plan includes the page(s) of your website as well as the sections, images or graphics, and the written content for each page. It is also a good idea to mention any links you want to appear on your web page.
Content plans help site designers and builders know exactly how you want your finished website to function and how it will appear to users. By creating a content plan yourself, you save time and provide specific vision for the person(s) responsible for building your site. Even if you are creating the website yourself, referring to a specific plan can help you visualize what the site will be like in its entirety before you start to build. This makes the development process more efficient.
If you are creating a new website, it’s helpful to have a thorough understanding of your entire site and its navigation before building it. That way, changes can be made quickly in the early stages before the actual web design and development work begins. The content plan can also serve as a place for designers, developers, and content writers to all collaborate on the project before it is officially underway, making it especially useful when a large team is working on a project.
Sometimes clients come to us with an existing content plan, asking us to design and build their site based on the blueprint they created. Other times we compose content plans, writing the pages’ text before sending it over for the client’s review.
Once the written content has been approved, the next step is to add the page distinctions, navigation details, sections, image options, and all other elements. These are often simply mentioned in words rather than added to the document itself (with the exception of images and screenshots of reference material, which are usually “pasted” in). After the structure is put in place, the content plan is then passed to the rest of the team for design and development.
Ready to start building? Here are the steps for creating your own content plan:
Starting with a blank document, list out each page you want to include in your website along with each one’s general features and functionality. Make sure to include any hidden “child” pages that are accessed through larger “parent” pages. Assess the hierarchy of the pages you want to include and detail the general navigation of the site in a table of contents. Which would make great top navigation pages? Which are subpages of another page?
Once you have the overarching structure of how the pages are related to each other on your site, it’s time to get more specific about each page’s content. This can be done more easily if you collect quality reference material to inspire your layout and design per page. It may be that a particular website inspired you to redesign your own, or that you wish to combine pages from a few sites or take sections from various pages to create your own.
Gathering specific reference material first is always beneficial because it can save lots of time when creating a content plan. Aim to get as much direction as possible through research during the content plan phase. Creating your website in the style or layout of an existing site allows your content plan to be easier to follow, especially if custom design or development are involved. This can be conveyed in simple terms, such as: “[This page] on our site is going to be modeled after [this page] on the reference site.” See the image below for an example.
Sometimes the correlation is less direct, such as if you need extra pages the reference site doesn’t have or if there are additional pages on the reference site that you don’t need. For example, if our team is asked to design and develop two new pages for an existing website, the client would often pass us reference material for those two pages that would inspire us to get started in the look they are hoping for. This may leave out many other pages on the site or combine sections of various pages.
Now you’re ready to type out the written form of your new web page(s). These will be short sentences, phrases, and instructions for each element on the specific web page. Here are a couple examples:
— Section One: Hero image [URL to exact image], with text: “Discover the New You” in bold
— Section Two: Sub-hero image [URL to exact image], with text: “Bestsellers of the Year” in bold
Be sure to type out a detailed description of all the text and images if your images are not pasted into the document directly. Again, you will want to make sure you are considering all the elements the designer or developer will need. Start with one page, and then progress to each of the other pages, if doing multiple.
Tip: Use page breaks or separate documents to clarify when you are referring to a new web page if creating content plans for multiple pages. Alternatively, create a new Google doc (or Word doc) for each web page to keep things extra clear.
As you create your content plan, remember to be specific in your instructions to help set up your site’s designer or developer for success. Here are some important things to keep in mind.
— When mentioning images in the content plan, include the full URL (web address) so the original files can be accessed. If a section of a webpage calls for a horizontal or vertical image, be sure the image you’ve mentioned matches that orientation. It can be challenging — and sometimes impossible — to crop a vertical image to fit a horizontal space or vice versa.
— As best as you can, try to imagine what you are writing on paper as it will appear in the website’s final layout. Let’s say one page has six “cards” or “call-outs,” each with a corresponding blurb of text below it. Make sure each image fits in nicely alongside the others. If five are in black and white, the sixth would appear out of place if in color, for example.
— Keep corresponding blocks of text to similar lengths so that sections of your pages appear balanced. In our example of six call-outs, this would mean keeping each blurb of text for each image to the roughly same number of characters so that none stands out in comparison to the others.
— If you are closely following the layout of another site for reference, be sure that your content plan includes a match for each element you see. If you are inspired by only a section of a site or specific page, explain this in the content plan so that the designer or developer is not left looking for instructions that aren’t present.
Now that you’ve learned the basics, it’s time to start drafting! We hope this overview has been helpful to you in understanding what a content plan is and how you can create one for your website. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us. We are happy to take a look, and would love to lend a hand with any phase of the website building process. Happy creating!