How to Plan a New Website Without Your Head Exploding

Jennifer Doron

If your website is stuck in the past, it may be time for an upgrade. Sounds daunting? Jennifer Doron of the Ohio Environmental Council shares how she approached the process of creating their new site to writing a novel. ~Kivi

Guest Post by Jennifer Doron of the Ohio Environmental Council

During the day, I serve as the Director of Marketing & Communications for the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC). By night, I am a fiction writer. In both realms, I tackle big projects that take months or years to come to fruition.

The only way I know to be successful in both areas is to break the projects into manageable chunks.

Planning a brand new website for the OEC overwhelms me when I think about it as a whole. And though I’ve been through this process before – for a previous nonprofit I worked for – it is no less daunting.

For that website, and this one, my role is project manager, responsible for moving the website from idea to launch. My colleague, Jodi Segal, is responsible for the website contracts, budgeting, and reporting.

As we began the project, I forbade myself to think about the website as a whole at all. This is how I approach writing a novel and it’s the only way I know how to work on something so large and unwieldy without my head exploding.

Foggy RoadEarly in my writing career, I read this quote by E.L. Doctorow:

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

In other words, only worry about the part you are working on at that moment. Eventually you’ll get where you need to go.

Writing a 400-page novel seems impossible. But as I work on one currently, I approach it as if I am just writing a bunch of short stories, something I know I can do. I just write chapter at a time as if it were a short story.

By the time I finish writing 30 stories, I will have a novel. Eventually, I will work on the manuscript as a whole, but I can’t think about that while in the midst of the main writing.

The same is true for the website.

We aren’t just taking our current website and pasting the old content onto the new one. We are reimagining a new site from the navigation up.

First, our internal team created a plan for each stage of creating the website – research, outlining, writing, testing, launching. Then we hired the external team of graphic designer, developer, etc. who will actually create the site.

We did most of the research internally to save money, including focus groups, SEO/keyword research, etc.

After the research was completed, the team drafted the overall site navigation and presented it to our staff and board of directors for approval. When this was agreed upon, we embarked on the next stage – outlining.

During the ‘outlining’ stage, I am meeting with staff in ‘rounds’ to determine the needs for each section.

  • The first round of meetings determined the internal navigation and pages for each section such as “About Us,” “Our Work,” “Newsroom,” etc.
  • The second round covered best practices for writing for the web in general (but not what content goes on each page.), including SEO, writing for the audience, OEC style guidelines, etc.
  • The third round, which we are in right now, is deciding what specific content will go on each page of each section, how it relates navigationally to other sections, and who is in charge of writing it.
  • The next stage will be putting the new content into the website (which is being created in Drupal), section by section.
  • Once that is done, we’ll be able to see the site as a whole, make adjustments from there, test internally and with focus groups, and when ready, move on to launch.

This isn’t to say that we aren’t thinking as a whole about the purpose, goals, navigation of the site as we go along. But breaking it up into stages accomplishes two things:

1) When someone in Round 1 (navigation discussion) started to talk about content, I could hold them off until the Round 3 discussion. This kept us focused and on track.
2) It helped me from being overwhelmed by just how huge this project is.

Though it may feel like we are just inching along, it should all add up (knock on wood) to a successful launch by the end of the year!

Jennifer Doron (Jennifer@theOEC.org) is Director of Marketing & Communications for the Ohio Environmental Council. She also writes fiction under the pen name Jen McConnell. Keep up with the OEC: twitter @OhioEnviro, and Facebook at Ohio Environmental Council

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