What are webpages and websites and how do I plan content for successful sites?

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A webpage is a specific type of file that can be viewed in a web browser (IE, Firefox, Safari, etc); usually an HTML file. When you type an address into the address bar of your browser, you've directed your browser to pull up a specific file on the Internet located at that address. This file is a webpage.

A website is a collection of webpages and all other associated files that have a common purpose. 


Building Analogy

Imagine that you have been put in charge of constructing a building. Even if you have never had any experience with construction, there are probably a few questions you would ask the following.

  • What is the building for? Is it a home? A skyscraper? A bowling alley?
  • Who will be using the building? A family? Businesses with clients?
  • Where will the building be located and how will that affect designs? For example, a building in San Francisco may have different structural needs than one built in West Lafayette, IN.

Even a completely inexperienced builder wouldn't jump into production before answering these very basic questions. The same should be true with your website. If you start designing and constructing without planning, you may have to rip the whole thing down and start over from scratch, leading to wasted time and effort.

Planning Questions

Let's take common sense questions about the building and apply them to our website.

  • What is the purpose of your website?
    • Odds are, you are designing a website for some specific reason, whether it is to create a personal site about your hobbies and interests, display your data, provide information to you students, etc. A Harry Potter fan site is probably going have different design needs than a faculty profile page.
  • Who will be accessing your site?
    • Just as content will change the design of your site, so will the audience. A site written for students may contain different information than a site written for colleagues. Also, if your audience has any specific attributes (such as specific reading ability, knowledge of a specific type of jargon, learning styles, etc), that should also inform the design and content of your site.
  • Where will your site probably be accessed from?
    • This question may be harder to answer, but it is still a good one to ask. You need to know if there are any environmental issues that may affect the use of your site. A site that will primarily be accessed in a large-lab setting without speakers or provided headphones may want to avoid content delivered only via audio. Also, keep in mind that there are still groups of people who do not have convenient access to a high-speed Internet connection (extension students, non-traditional students, etc, may have a higher number of these).

Looking over these questions, it may be very tempting to skip or ignore them ... after all, these questions aren't actually design, right? It's true that answering these questions will not make a completed web-design suddenly appear. Even professional web designers ask questions like this, and they will sometimes turn down clients who do not have the answers or think that finding the answers is a waste of time. If nothing else, getting this information down on paper will serve as a reminder of the purpose of your site.

For example, here is an example of how these questions might be answered for a course website for EDCI 270, an introductory technology course for education students.

  • What? The website will be an information site for students. I will contain the course syllabus, schedule, and any additional files needed for assignments.
  • Who? General education students, mostly freshman, with varying technology skills. It is a large course (300+), so many different learning styles and comfort levels with technology.
  • Where? Site will be accessed primarily from home and in the labs. Home use will vary. Lab use will mean that computers do not have speakers or headphones available.

Once you get deep into planning, it can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Once you've determined what the purpose of your site is, who it is for, and where it will be mostly be accessed, it is time to think a little bit more about the content that you want to include. Specifically, you will need to examine your content to determine what needs to be included in order for your site to meet its goals.

Personal Website

  • Purpose of site: Provide background information for prospective employers, colleagues, etc
  • Content needed: Biography, academic history, resume/vita, areas of interest, contact information
  • Other considerations: abuse of provided information,selection of materials to promote specific image
  • Also see, How do I get a personal webspace?

Business or Departmental Website

  • Purpose of site:  provide information about the department or area, the services it offers, and the people who are part of it
  • Content needed:  Department description, helpful links, forms, documentation, about-us, contact-us, etc...
  • Other considerations:  cross-linking with related areas on campus, protecting forms from bots, maintaining on-brand appearance on all pages

Course website

  • Purpose of site: store course materials in a place where students can access them
  • Content needed: syllabus, course calendar, lecture files, assignments
  • Other considerations: FERPA, saving/distribution of provided materials (test questions, homework keys, etc...)
  • BrightSpace may be the ideal place for this information.  Please contact tlt@purdue.edu for help

Instructional website

  • Purpose of the site: provide fully developed and functioning lessons for students
  • Content needed: realized instructional activities (motivation, orientation, information, application, evaluation)
  • Other considerations: Chucking of information, open lines of communication and access to help
  • BrightSpace may be the ideal place for this information.  Please contact tlt@purdue.edu for help

Hosting your website

  • Now that you have a plan, it's time to put it into action, but to do that, you'll need a few additional things.  Namely, a place to host your website and the tools (and experience) to build it.  If you are building a personal website, please see How do I get a personal webspace? for how to get started with Purdue's personal web page hosting service.  If you are building a business/departmental site or an academic/instructional site (that doesn't fit into Brightspace), you may be able to host your site for free at Purdue and use tools provided by ITaP to build and publish your site.  

A word on accessibility

In the planning stage, one of the reasons you are asked to define your audience is so that you can make sure your website is designed with that audience in mind. Web accessibility takes that one step further to ask that your website provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities within your audience. A website may be made accessible in many different ways, from making it more conducive to screen readers to providing media content with alternative text.

NOTE:  Purdue websites can be automatically evaluated for meeting accessibility requirements via the Site Improve service.  Please contact Purdue Marketing and Communications to request access.

For more information about accessibility, please visit the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative or Purdue's accessibility standards.

Putting it all together

Planning and analysis are extremely powerful tools that are often ignored. Hopefully you can see that by pausing to ask a few questions, you are ensuring that your website will be a success. While it may be tempting to skip the planning and analysis stages, time invested in them now can help you ensure that your site goals will be met and save you time in the future when you get to design and development.

Still need help?  Click the 'Purdue IT Request' button to start a ticket.

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Article ID: 56
Mon 3/27/23 10:55 AM
Mon 7/31/23 12:20 PM

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