Patrick Samphire (psamphire) wrote,
Patrick Samphire
psamphire

Websites for Writers: Organising your website - part 3

It occurs to me that I've been very slow in my on-going series of blog entries about how to build your website. If you've been trying to follow, apologies for that. If you haven't, well, apologies for dropping it on you now. :)

The previous installments of this little series are here:
Or, you can simply follow all of these journal entries at this web address: http://psamphire.livejournal.com/tag/websites+for+writers. When I'm done with the series, I'll collect all of these entries together, but for now, let's just press on.

Organising your Website - Part 3: From structure to pages

At the end of the last section, you should have been left with a rough structure for your website, in terms of how information was grouped. This didn't represent the pages of the website, nor did it necessarily represent the way you would place the pages on your site.

What we're going to do now--turning the grouped information into pages--is more of an art than a science, but let's give it a go anyway.

There are three things that you need to keep in mind as you do this:
  1. The relative importance of the 'information'. You will have rated the individual bits of content on some scale. 1 to 5, 1 to 10, whatever you chose. In general, pages which have more important information will be more prominent on the site than those with less important information. However, most pages will have some important bits of info and some less important info. This is okay; it will help define the hierarchy within a page.
  2. 'Paths' through the site. When visitors come to your site, you want to present information to them in small bites rather than enormous chunks. Visitors are impatient and like to move fast on a site. So, at the start, you will provide small bits of info, then, as they progress through the site, you will expand on it. To do this in a way that makes sense, however, you have to think about what paths your visitors are likely to take as they move from page to page on your site. To complicate it further, you can't rely on all your visitors starting off on your homepage and moving through the site from there. Now that many, possibly most, of your visitors come via search engines, they could start off anywhere in your website. Think how you would allow your visitors to make sense of what they come across if they started anywhere.
  3. The amount of information on a page. It is very tempting to think that they more you put on a page, the more a visitor will read. This simply isn't the case. The reverse is in fact true. The more you put on a page, the less of it a visitor will read. How much you can get on each page in a useful way will very much be a feature of the design of your website (more on that in another entry), but as a rough guide for now, most pages can accommodate about 300 to 500 words. If you have lots of images, it'll be less. Pages high in the hierarchy (e.g, the homepage or the main page of a section of the website) will also have fewer words. On the other hand, some pages deeper in the site--pages that are the final destination of a visitor--can have many more. An example might be a page that contains the text of a short story or a sample chapter. There would be nothing wrong in having 5,000 or 6,000 words there. The key thing to remember here, as everywhere in creating your site, is that visitors are generally task-orientated. They are looking for something. On the way to it, they don't want to be distracted by unnecessary filler, but once they are there, they are happy and willing to absorb what they are looking for.
So, here you are with your organisational structure that you put together, and you want to turn it into pages. To do this, you're going to have to sketch out the content in more detail than before. That doesn't mean you have to write it all now. We'll talk about writing for websites later. But you need to have some ideas. What are you intending to say? Look at the information you've grouped. Make some notes for each bit of content. How much content is there?

Let's suppose that I'm a short story writer and I grouped all of my stories into four main categories: humour, hard science fiction, mythical fantasy and contemporary fantasy. I did this because I thought that readers who liked one of my hard science fiction stories would be more interested in my other hard science fiction stories than in my contemporary fantasy. I might be wrong, and I'm going to link between the categories just in case, but I don't think I am. For each story, the information I thought should be included is as follows (with the importance rating in parentheses):
  • Title (2)
  • Text of story (3) - I may not include the text of all stories, but if I do, this is the rating I'd give
  • Age rating (3) - I'm assuming here that I write both adult and children's stories, and I don't want children reading inappropriate stories
  • Link to story (3) - if it's published online elsewhere
  • Story 'meta' (5) - stuff like where and when it was published, credits and so on
  • Illustrations (4) - I'd like to show illustrations if there are any, to break up the text
  • Reviews (5) - not so important in this context (although I might use an extract from a review with higher importance elsewhere)
  • If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy... (3) - links to similar stories of mine on my site
You might have others. I'm just making this up, because it doesn't represent what I'm aiming for with my own site.
Here's what I could have in terms of pages:

A page for each story that contains all the above. Within each page, the title, age rating and text (or link) would be in the most important position on the page, along with links to the other similar stories. Less important info would be less visible. These are my 'final destination' pages, so I'm not too worried about the amount of info I have here, but I am concerned that the visitor knows they are in the right place and is hooked straight away.

Above this, I would have a page for each grouping of stories, mythical fantasy, for example. In my previous structure, I didn't have any specific content for this mythical fantasy page, but that's okay. I'm thinking of the info I've already got and the paths through the site. I want people who go to this page to know what is on offer and maybe have a little taster.

I would include title and age rating for each story here. I would probably also say whether the story was available online, so that those who are actually looking for a story rather than the information about the story wouldn't waste their time. I've given 'text of story' and 'link to story' an importance of 3, the same as the age rating, but I'm not actually going to include the text of the story here. I'm covering that with 'available online'. I might have a link to the story elsewhere or I might not. Depending on how many stories I've got, I might also put an extract or first paragraph with each, but I'm aware that I don't want too many words here.

If there is space, I might include an extract from a review for each or some of the stories here. Although I gave reviews a relatively low importance, I'm giving a brief review extract more importance.

Above this in the site heirarchy, I'm going to have a page simply for 'short stories'. This page is going to refer to each of the categories of stories, with a little summation and possibly a tease or a review. Again, depending on how many stories I've got, I might list each one here, or I might keep it more general. If you've got loads of stories, you don't want them all here. If you've only got half a dozen, you can probably miss out the previous set of category pages and put them all on this page. 

What  you're trying to do is to get the visitor easily to what they want to find. You're taking them on an increasingly specific route, but you're also catering for the fact that they might arrive anywhere on your website.

Short stories are important to this theoretical writer. Very important. Even though I may not have rated any of the individual stories with an importance of 1, they are nonetheless one of the main points of the site. They are what this writer publishes and is trying to promote. They are what his/her audience are looking for.

For that reason, I'm also going to refer to the short stories on the site homepage. Here, because of lack of space and the need to include more, I'm just going to include a couple of sentences. Maybe just stating the genres I write in, saying that some are online here and giving the example of my Nebula award-winning hard sf story (hah!). The absolute key information, in other words. There's no room for any more, and anyway, the visitors who want to find out more will go to the relevant section quite happily. I certainly wouldn't tell you about all of my stories here, because I would be overloading the page and losing people who didn't want to know that. If I also write novels, I don't want to say so much about my short stories that the visitor gives up before finding out about the novels.

Repeat the same process for every group of information. By the end, you should have a structured website. You will probably find on your first attempt that you need to rearrange info to make it work. You might have to include extra pages or take out ones that have almost nothing on. But don't lose sight of the fact that you're attempting to meet the needs of your visitors, to lead them to what they've come to find as quickly and as easily as possible, and helping them to end the process having met the objectives you set out for your site, whatever they may be.

There is a lot more we can talk about in terms of arranging information, but I've gone on long enough. Next time, I'm going to start talking about design, which is what most people are interested in. Hope to see you there.

As always, if you've got any questions or comments, leave a comment or send me an email.
Tags: organising your website, websites for writers
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