Website Project Guidelines - Site Definition and Planning

A website is a collection of webpages that are organized into sections of related content, similar to pages and chapters in books. As books are revised and new editions published, so too must web content be reviewed and updated regularly. A website and its content must be actively managed to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of your audience. Without effective management, websites soon become unwieldy masses of webpages that are out of date and provide little value to anyone. Technology, such as our web content management system, can help you review, revise and manage your content more easily.

Websites are critical information assets and need to be driven by business needs. Success for your website will be difficult to achieve without a solid web strategy and dedicated resources. These guidelines will help you with your web project:

Site Definition and Planning

Your college/department/unit website exists for your audience, not for your college/department/unit, and it needs to help your audience complete a task. Tasks are what drive people to websites, whether the task is to research the college/department/unit, select their courses, apply to the U of S, apply for a teaching position, or find out about what services the college/department/unit offers. Therefore it is critical to understand who the audience for the college’s/department's/unit’s website is and what the top tasks they want to complete are.

These guidelines will help you understand your audience(s), define goals and objectives for your website, define the scope of the site content and functionality based on audience needs, and technology support required, and the depth and breadth of information resources needed to populate the site and meet the audience’s expectations.

Research Phase

During the research phase, your college/department/unit will need to do audience research and consult with representatives from your various stakeholder groups to determine their specific website functional needs and objectives. Your project team should begin to collect and analyze customer needs and research competitors. It can also be quite useful to review your current site and web content development processes .

Identify your Audience

  • Review existing audience research about who is using the current website (survey data, etc.).
    • If there isn't enough data to proceed it may be necessary to do more audience research (e.g. a survey of site visitors, focus groups with segments of students (first, second, upper), etc.).
  • Define the primary audience for the college/department/unit site (e.g. prospective students, current students, employees, etc.). If necessary, identify secondary and/or tertiary audiences.

Identify the Needs of your Audience(s)

  • Consult with representatives from the external stakeholder groups that represent the websites audience(s) to determine their needs.
  • Identify the top tasks of the primary audience. Tasks are what drive people to a website—what do people come to do on you college/department/unit website?
    • What tasks do they want to complete (e.g. find a phone number for the general office, apply to a program, download a form, apply for a scholarship, etc.)?
    • If it is unclear what the top tasks are, website statistics, if available, might help identify what people search for or visit most frequently on the existing site (e.g. top pages, search queries, etc.)?

Review Websites of other similar colleges/departments/units

  • Identify a few peer institutions/key competitors and review the websites for their college/department/unit.
  • Identify trends in the top tasks they’ve identified and their key audiences.
  • Identify trends in key information provided by the college/department/unit.

Identify the Information your college/department/unit needs your audience to know (e.g. important deadlines, etc.)

  • Consult with representatives from your internal stakeholder groups to determine their specific website functional needs and objectives.
  • Are there any unit-specific functions required by the website (data collection, data presentation, etc.)?
  • Do the needs identified require additional resources to be deployed (i.e. links to databases, development of new databases, etc.)?

Define the Scope for the Website Project

In order for your website project to succeed, it is important to be clear on what is in scope of the project and what is out of scope, both in terms of content and functionality.

Using the WCMS U of S templates is an effective use of resources. The basic framework is available for all colleges/departments/units to use and will minimize the development time required by your college/department/unit.

See the template features for descriptions

Deliverables for Site Definition and Planning:

  • Clear articulation of audience and top tasks
  • Assessment of peer institutions college/unit
  • List of information college/unit needs to provide
  • List of what is in scope (and out of scope) for the project
  • Define functional features/content modules for the website (e.g. news, rotating images, events calendar, etc.)

Develop a Website Management Strategy

To help ensure your college/department/unit website is well managed and remains current, your college/department/unit will need to develop a strategy for managing web content (a.k.a. a web publishing strategy). The strategy provides context and cohesiveness for the operation of your site. The strategy needs to:

  • Articulate principles for the management of the site. Some best-practice principles include:
    • Include in the site only content that belongs to the unit (i.e. college/department/unit); link out to content that belongs to other units (e.g. SESD) rather than duplicating it in the site.
    • Use central IT systems and services when available rather than investing effort to operate and maintain duplicate systems.
    • Ensure that consistency, usability and accessibility are the foundation for the website.
  • Define goals for the site so that success can be measured.
    • E.g. Help readers complete their tasks as easily as possible. Provide information about deadlines in a timely way.
  • Define policies for managing the information on the site.
    • E.g. News will be inclusive of all units and be kept current. Items will be archived after six months.
    • E.g. All website content will be reviewed annually by each manger. Out-of-date content will be removed within one week of it no longer being relevant.
  • Document procedures for the site.
    • E.g. PDFs will be used only for very large documents and printable forms. All other content will be posted in HTML. (Supports goal of completing task as easily as possible.)
    • E.g. Images will be used sparingly and only for faculty/staff profiles, home page features, and news items to ensure usability of site is not compromised. (Supports goal of completing task as easily as possible.)
  • Define responsibilities and resources.
    • Who writes the content? Who approves the content?
    • Who posts the content online? Is this person given the information in its final format to post, do they edit it, or are they the actual creators and owners of the content?
    • How many people are involved in the process? For which sections are they responsible?
    • Who is accountable for the accuracy of the information in each section of the site? Identify them by name and document it.
    • Who “owns” the business process reflected by the information? Identify them by name and document it.

Deliverables for Develop a Website Management Strategy:

  • Website strategy document, complete with principles etc.

Information Architecture

In order to help people visiting your college's/department's/unit's site to achieve their goals, or accomplish their task, you must organize information in ways that make sense for the visitors. A few colleges/departments/units that have recently redone their sites have taken slightly different approaches to organizing their content so that it meets the needs of their audiences (see and ). Looking at how they’ve organized their information, in conjunction with the information gathered in the site definition and planning stage, can help you get started on developing your information architecture/organizing your content. (This can also be thought of as developing your menu structure.)

Your college's/department's/unit’s website management strategy will be the driver for developing your information architecture/organizing your content. The strategy identifies the principles and goals for your site, and helps ensure your site focuses on your key audience(s) and the top tasks they want to complete. These top tasks need to be the cornerstones for your site’s information architecture.

As part of designing the information architecture, it will be necessary to identify where information may need to be shared among the various sections of your site. For example, in a role-based structure (faculty and students), some information may be relevant to both roles and will need to be included in both sections. Additionally, there may be some items that need to appear in all department sections (e.g. events or deadlines). These relationships need to be mapped out while your information architecture is being designed.

Questions that should be answered during the development of the information architecture include:

  • Should the site be role-based or service/function based? How will departments be presented?
  • What are the top level classifications/menu options for the site? Will the site need new sections in the future? Is the classification system scalable?
  • Will the top tasks be clearly accessible from the home page?
  • Is the navigation/menu structure clear to visitors?
  • Does any information appear in multiple sections of the site?
  • Is the information better suited as smaller, audience-specific sites, rather than one large all-encompassing site?
  • Is there existing content for all sections identified in the information architecture, or does new content need to be written?

Deliverables for Information Architecture:

  • Define the organizational structure (a.k.a. site map) of the site.
  • Map existing content that can be reused in new site.
  • Identify a list of new content required.
  • Develop standardized content layout for departments and programs to use to ensure consistency across the college/department/unit website, regardless of which section someone visits.
  • Develop a college/department/unit-specific writing style guide, including how headings and page titles will be written. The U of S editorial style guide provides a good base, but it may need to be supplemented with college/department/unit-specific terminology (
  • Develop standard content types, including how the different types (e.g. news items) will be formatted.

Site Design

In order to maintain alignment with the U of S, developing a site that is consistent with U of S branding is important. The WCMS U of S templates use the official branding and using the institutional web content management system provides additional benefits as the development and maintenance required by your college/department/unit will be reduced significantly. There is also an added benefit of a mobile website framework that could be used until/unless your college/department/unit chooses to invest in a mobile-specific website.

Deliverables for Site Design:

  • Decisions on visual presentation (layout, colour, etc.).
  • Develop a standardized look for departments and programs to use to ensure consistency across the college/department/unit website, regardless of which section someone visits.
  • Website Development Project Plan - An itemized plan for moving from conceptualization to implementation including: key individuals involved and their responsibilities, budget, timing, success criteria
  • Develop a web style guide that outlines the rules for the appearance of content on the college's/department's/unit’s website.
  • Conduct some initial usability testing to identify any issues with content organization and design

Site Construction and Testing

Once the site has been designed, it will need to be built in the web content management system unless you are using the WCMS U of S templates. Using the WCMS U of S templates will help speed the construction phase of the site, as the focus can be on the content and organization, rather than on building the site framework.

The best development option for your college/department/unit will need to be determined after decisions about what is in/out of scope, design, etc. have been made.

Once the site framework is built in the web content management system, the content can be entered into the site. Following the completion of the development and content entry, the quality assurance phase will need to be completed.

Before publishing your new site to the production server, it is important to review all the pages of your site on a test site to ensure there aren't any issues.

  • Visit every page and check to make sure all links work correctly. The WCMS can help check for broken links.
  • Check the spelling on every page. The WCMS can help check for spelling mistakes, but it uses American spelling so it needs to used carefully.  
  • Ensure that each page has a unique title tags (metadata) to help content be found by search engines.
  • Make sure all content behaves as it is expected to behave.
  • After a month or so, check that the college's/department's/unit’s content is showing up correctly in search results.

Developers will also perform quality assurance testing for the technical components of the site. This includes:

  • Testing site behaviour across multiple browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc.) and different operating systems (e.g. Windows, iOS)
  • Testing site behaviour on mobile devices (e.g. tables, image)
  • Testing the site for usability and accessibility

Sites that use the WCMS U of S templates have already had the browsing and operating system components of the framework tested.

Deliverables for Site Construction and Testing:

  • Create the website structure and developing the required modules (news, rotating images, events calendar/feed).
  • Populate the website with information and publish it. (This may be done in stages depending upon information/function priority.)
  • Develop and complete a test plan for quality assurance (QA) of the site, including additional usability testing, and ensuring site is accessible.
  • Provide a revised college/department/unit website that reflects the college's/department's/unit's identity and which contains reliable information and meets the needs of its audiences.
  • Develop the operations plan, which will document operating procedures—outlining the website-related accountabilities, responsibilities, timelines, resources, budget and metrics.

Communications Plan 

It is very important to have a communications plan for your web project. You will need to communicate to your internal stakeholders about changes to your website so that they are not caught unaware by the change. Internal stakeholders to consider in your communication plan include:

  • college/department/unit executive
  • college/department/unit faculty, staff and students
  • IT staff in college/department/unit
  • Front-line college/department/unit staff

You will also want to consider which external stakeholders need to be communicated with. Contact communications if you need assistance developing a communications plan.

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