So you’re ready to build a new website or freshen up your brand’s existing site.
Maybe you’ve already thought about some of the details — which CMS you’ll use, what you want the design to look like, or the deadlines you’re hoping to meet.
But wait! Don’t gloss over one of the most important (and sometimes the most time consuming) steps in the process: planning the content for your site.
Ultimately it’s the content on your website that drives conversions. That means it’s a high priority to create content that reflects your brand well and speaks to your ideal audience.
Content work can be intensive, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Whether you’re creating the content yourself or enlisting the help of someone else, here’s your how-to for planning content for a website.
Before you get started
Get the right foundation in place by following these initial steps.
1. Identify your ideal audience
Make sure you’re clear on the specific customer persona(s) you want your brand to target. You’ll only spin your wheels trying to be everything to everyone, so make better use of your time by focusing on a smaller group (or multiple small groups) of people who are most likely to be interested in what you offer.
2. Nail down your brand messaging
Document the main message you want your brand’s content to communicate, including the tone of voice. While you’re at it, write a strong value proposition that emphasizes the main benefit(s) you deliver for your customers. This brand messaging should serve as a baseline for all other content you create to ensure consistency.
3. Establish content goals
Figure out what your target audience wants from your website. Why do they visit it? Are they trying to answer a question, solve a problem, make a purchase, or something else? Identify what action(s) they should take on your site to help them reach their goal. (Hint: the goal and action may be different for each of your customer personas.)
With these three things in hand, you’re ready to start planning your website’s content.
Audit your existing stuff
If you already have a website, take inventory of it to start. Make note of what is or isn’t working about the functionality or overall flow of the site. Look at your site’s analytics if you can — this can help you better understand where users may be falling off or getting stuck.
Also consider the existing content on your site. Determine if there are any pages or sections of content you can scrap, or if there’s new content you need to add. Delving into your existing site like this is helpful before you jump into the next step.
Build a comprehensive sitemap
Before creating a new sitemap for your website, it can be beneficial to build one that reflects your site as it currently is. Knowing how the content is already organized helps you keep a record of all existing pages and identify areas that need work.
If you’re starting with a brand new site, setting up its architecture correctly from the start can save you a headache down the road as your site grows. And it can help your users navigate your site easier.
Here’s a template you can use to build your sitemap – make a copy of it by clicking on File, then Make a Copy so you can edit it. I like including a few extra pieces of info in the site map for easier organization. Beyond the page name and URL, you’ll notice there are also columns for an H1 tag, meta description, core keyword, and more.
As you build a new site map, keep these guidelines in mind:
Group related pages together with subfolders when needed
It’s a good idea to keep pages as close to the root domain as possible. If there’s a strong correlation between certain pages, then introduce additional subfolders in the URL – but only when it really makes sense.
For example, there’s probably not a strong enough relation between your About page and Contact page to group those pages together using another subfolder. So it’s a good idea to keep those pages close to the root domain.
In other cases, additional subfolders in the URL can be helpful. An ecommerce store or a blog might be a good place to use further subfolders to keep things organized and make navigation easier for your users.
Try to keep the number of subfolders to a minimum (we’ll talk more on page depth below). And, as a general rule of thumb, avoid dates in your URLs when you can.
A word of caution:
It’s important to note that there are situations where you should ignore this advice. If your pages are already generating traffic, don’t change the URLs! You could be introducing a bunch of issues by modifying URLs later on. These guidelines are best followed if you’re building a brand new website or launching a new section on your existing site (like a new blog).
Pay attention to page depth
Page depth refers to the number of clicks it takes to reach a page from the homepage. Generally the “3-click rule” – meaning a user should be able to find what they’re looking for on your site within 3 clicks – is a good depth to aim for.
Ultimately though, your site’s ideal page depth depends on the context. The most important thing to remember is the fewer clicks, the better. If a user has to jump through a bunch of hoops to reach what they’re looking for, they’re probably going to leave your site. So make it easy for them to navigate around.
Base decisions on your content goals and site audit
Good news: you don’t have to guess when it comes to structuring your site map. You’ve already done the work that will help guide your decisions towards what best suits your audience’s needs.
Look back at the content goals you identified during the preliminary planning above. Check out the site audit mentioned earlier too. These will help steer you in the right direction for your site’s structure.
Do plenty of keyword research
Keywords are the ticket to creating content that satisfies both your audience and search engines. Using an SEO tool, you’ll want to identify keywords that . . .
- Are relevant to your content
- Have a low difficulty level (i.e. they’re easier to rank for)
- Have a high volume (i.e. people are actually searching for them)
We wrote more on how to find and use keywords in this article.
Create content priority guides
Content priority guides are a helpful tool for organizing content hierarchy without getting in the weeds with layout design. These guides reflect the priority of content on a page from top to bottom, with the most important topic at the top, the second most important below it, and so forth.
Start with a high-level guide (shown below) and then add in only as many details as necessary for content planning. If you’re working with a designer, these guides are a useful resource to pass along.
Write for humans first, search engines second
At this point, you’ve done plenty of prepwork. Now it’s time to actually write.
Whether you’re writing the content yourself or enlisting the help of someone else, remember you want the content to be written for humans first and search engines second. It’s great to have a bunch of users visit your site, but you also want them to actually read what’s on it.
Use these tips to keep the content focused on your audience:
- Be clear and concise
- Use simple, straightforward language
- Break up long paragraphs and sentences
- Use headings for easier scanning
- Include photos or videos where it makes sense
- Make sure the content is helpful
- Include clear calls to action
Google is smart enough to understand the content you create and determine how to rank it without you needing to completely tailor it for the algorithm. If you write for search engines first, you risk creating content that’s shallow and unhelpful to your audience.
But when you write for your audience first, you’re in a much better position to help them find what they’re looking for. Writing for humans helps your brand build trust with your audience.
Format it for web components
When I started writing for the web, I had to toss aside much of what I’d learned about writing from my high school English classes. Gone were the days of massive paragraphs, run-on sentences (gotta meet that word count!), and overambitious language.
Now I try to keep things short and to the point. Web content is meant to be scannable, so never-ending paragraphs won’t get the job done.
If you’re still a fan of long paragraphs, it’s fine to write your first draft of web content that way. But once you reach the editing phase, then it’s time to think about how things will be formatted on a webpage.
For example, say you’ve got a paragraph that lists a few statistics. Rather than keeping it as a paragraph, consider pulling out the statistics as a separate component.
Below is a visual example of this from Hubspot’s homepage. They could’ve written a long paragraph that lists all of these statistics. But instead, they chose to break it up into this format that makes it way easier to read at a glance.
As you write and edit your content, give some thought to how it will look on your site and how you want your audience to interact with it. Plan out where to include elements like images, videos, calls to action, bulleted or numbered lists, blog article or product listing callouts, etc.
Formatting your content for web components will make it easier to build a site that your audience can easily navigate.
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Marketing & Product Manager
Emily can often be found reading, enjoying the outdoors with her dog, and trying to keep her houseplants alive.