There are several great ways to help outline and preplan a website in advance. Doing so will make your project more efficient and comprehensive. There is nothing more costly and aggravating than having to go back and revise repeatedly due to a confusing layout, missing information, and other preventable errors that result from poor planning.
When designing a website, the first thing I always develop is an outline of the sitemap. A sitemap is a list of everything included on a website organized within the confines of a hierarchical structure. You should start with the main sections (parent) and branch down into subtopics (children). When you view your project as a map first, it helps ensure proper organization.
How to Plan a Sitemap
When designing a website or blog, I use some of the same tools I use when I write, mind maps and free writing. Start off with a brainstorming session where you simply write down ideas without paying any attention to the structure or layout. This should be about exploring and writing down all ideas you want your website to cover. For example, if my website was about how to make soap I would sit and write about everything that I felt people would want to know about this topic. Consider the questions they would ask or the search queries they might use when looking for information. Put all of your ideas onto paper. In this example, I might write down the different methods for preparing soap, recipes, the most common ingredients and supplies and how to sell handmade soaps. I would include detailed summaries of what would later be developed into the full meat of the content. Consider everything you want to include and write it all out. Again, don't worry about structure at this stage, the next step will help you organize these thoughts more cohesively.
The next step is called a Mind-map. You can download free mind mapping software called “FreeMind” which is incredibly useful and user-friendly. This is where you take your ideas from your brainstorming and free writing session and begin to arrange them by topics and subtopics. You can cut out your separate ideas from your papers and arrange them on a table, or retype your ideas into your mind mapping software. Once you have all your information sorted, it should start to become clearer to you how to structure your website in a way that makes the information flow logically.
From here, you develop your websites structure and sitemap. You will be able to see at a glance the flow of an entire site on one page long before development gets under way. Take your initial sketches and maps and get the opinions of others you know. Do they feel your content flows logically? If so, then it's time to plan the final structure of your website and you can then plan an effective design around the sitemap.
For those of us who love design, we often go for the design first, only to realize our content doesn't really fit the design we came up with. It's always more efficient to plan a website around your intended content. Proper planning will save time, expense and frustration down the line.