How to Create a Website Outline Step by Step

George Rossoshansky
SEO Expert, Team Leader, Rush Academy Speaker George Rossoshansky

A website outline is a detailed plan that maps out the structure and content of a website before it is actually built. It serves as a blueprint for the website creation process by helping organize topics, layout, design, and more. Having a comprehensive website outline is crucial for launching an effective website that aligns with business goals and provides an optimal user experience.

When creating a website, it is very easy to get overwhelmed by all the details involved – from website architecture and navigation to content topics and page design. However, a website outline allows you to thoughtfully plan the site structure and content before you start building, saving time and effort down the road. It also helps ensure consistency across the site and encourage optimization for search engines. Simply put, investing time in creating a detailed website outline lays the groundwork for website creation success.

Outlining a website

Image by vectorjuice on Freepik

Step 1: Define the Website’s Purpose and Target Audience

Defining the core purpose of a website and identifying the target audience are foundational steps when developing a website outline. This allows you to make informed decisions when structuring site content and designing website pages layouts.

Determining the website’s goals involves clearly articulating what you want to achieve. For an e-commerce site, the purpose may be driving online sales of products. For a blog, it may be building a loyal audience around specific topics. Conduct market research, analyze competitors, and brainstorm exactly what you want users to think, feel and do after visiting your website.

Understanding the target audience is equally important. Gather demographic and psychographic data on current or desired website visitors. Figure out their needs, challenges, interests and motivations. Then tailor website content and structure to best resonate with that defined audience. For example, categories and page topics should directly relate to what they care about and want to engage with.

Taking the time upfront to determine the website’s purpose and carefully profile the target audience provides direction for making decisions in all aspects of website outline planning.

Step 2: Set Requirements and Limitations

When developing a website outline, it is essential to identify any concrete requirements and potential limitations for the website project. These may relate to various factors including:

  • Business goals – Consider specifics like budget constraints, projected timelines, marketing objectives and required integrations that impact decisions. For instance, you may need to regularly feature certain products for promotions or maintain existing branding elements like colors and fonts that guide the website structure.
  • Technical capabilities – Factor in any technical limitations around elements such as:
  • Site performance – Page load speeds, server capacity, caching needs, etc.
  • Security needs – SSL certificates, user authentication, access restrictions, etc.
  • Mobile responsiveness – Ensuring proper display on all devices and screen sizes.
  • Accessibility compliance – Incorporating features for disabled users.
  • Resource availability – Development, design and content production bandwidth.

Identifying these parameters early prevents having to retrofit a site design later down the road. It also ensures that all involved teams can align on scope and capabilities as the website outline takes shape.

Openly discussing requirements and limitations upfront in the planning process enables making the best structural and design choices within those guardrails when crafting the website outline.

Remember to balance time and money according your business goals and website requirements

Step 3: Categorize Information Topics

Once goals and audience needs are clear, an important next step is categorizing website information into intuitive topics and subtopics. This content organization directly feeds into site architecture and page structure.

Conduct an extensive content audit to inventory existing assets and identify new content needed. Then assess how to group related information into main categories and subcategories based on the website’s purpose. For example, an apparel e-commerce site may have broad categories like “Women’s”, “Men’s”, “Kids”, “Accessories” etc.

Drill down to define logical subcategories within each high-level group as well. For instance, “Accessories” could have subcategories like “Jewelry”, “Handbags”, “Shoes” and so on. Keep the information architecture and website sitemap simple and limit page depth for seamless navigation.

Carefully consider user perspectives as you assess how to categorize topics – what makes the most sense based on their interests and search behaviors? Proper content grouping in the website outline improves findability. It also provides an intuitive flow when users click from category to subcategory as they use the website.

Step 4: Create a Site Structure and Sitemap

Once information is organized into logical topics and subtopics, it’s time to map out the site structure and sitemap. This creates a visual representation of how website pages and categories will be interconnected.

The site structure and sitemap should outline elements such as:

  • Main pages like “Home”, “About”, “Contact”
  • Any key content categories needed based on information architecture
  • How pages connect in a hierarchical fashion (e.g. the “Accessories” page linking to Handbag, Jewelry and Shoe subcategory pages)

When planning site architecture, focus on:

  • Simplicity and ease of use
  • Limiting page depth to help users quickly find information
  • Using clear, descriptive page names
  • Ensuring powerful pages like “Home” are easily accessible

An effective site structure and sitemap makes content discoverable for users while also optimizing website navigation for search engines. They serve as invaluable references as you later develop detailed web content outlines for each individual page.

Step 5: Plan Website Design and Layout

While site structure focuses on content topics and organization, design and layout involve visual presentation. As part of the website outline, it is important to start mapping out how the website will look and feel.

Consider aspects like branding, fonts, colors, imagery, spacing, page grids and more. These elements impact user experience and engagement on the website. Planning a cohesive design system upfront provides consistency as pages are later designed.

It is also essential to optimize website layout and design for all users and devices. Use responsive frameworks to ensure proper display on desktop, tablets and mobile screens. Incorporate accessibility best practices around color contrast, alt text and other factors. Approach design with both aesthetics and function in mind.

While the website outline won’t include fully detailed specifications, it offers the opportunity to define the foundational look, feel and functionality of the website. This clears the path for bringing the wireframes and designs to life.

Step 6: Create Website Navigation

As part of planning information architecture, you also need to map out how users will navigate from page to page. Website navigation links must be intuitive and consistent across the site so both users and search engines could reach out any page easily.

Determine primary navigation menu contents based on key pages and content categories. Ensure users can easily access these sections from any website page. Also, showcase important elements like search bars prominently in the header or menu.

Additionally, use breadcrumb trails below menus to orient users on where they are within the website. Include buttons like “Sign Up” or “Contact Us” to enable clear calls-to-action.

Clean, well-organized navigation is crucial for user experience. It also helps search engines effectively crawl all areas of the website. Dedicating time to map out navigation upfront is key for outlining a website that is easy to use and optimize.

creating website navigation
Implement clear navigation for users and search engines

Step 7: Develop Content Outlines for Each Page

Here is one way to rewrite the text to include a list:

While the website outline defines high-level structure and design, content outlines detail what goes on individual pages.

For each page mapped in the sitemap, develop an accompanying content outline. Content outlines should include elements such as:

  • Main headings
  • Body text
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Graphics
  • Calls-to-action

Align messaging in content outlines to page purpose and audience needs. For example:

  • Home and landing pages should focus on powerful value propositions and conversion goals.
  • Blog post outlines detail main points, supporting information and visual assets.
  • Inner content pages outline topic education and product/service information.

Drafting content outlines helps surface any gaps for key pages to reach business goals. It also provides guidance for eventually writing optimized page copy and sourcing relevant visuals during the production process.

Detailed web content outline is where the website structure and user experience start coming to life. They expand beyond topic organization into tangible page-by-page plans.

Examples of Content Outline

Blog Website Content Outline:

  • Home Page
  • About the Author
  • Blog Categories (e.g., Travel, Food, Lifestyle)
  • Individual Blog Posts
  • Resources or Guides
  • Contact Information
  • Subscriber Sign-Up

Each of these outlines represents a structured approach to organizing website content, ensuring that the website is user-friendly, informative, and aligned with the site’s primary goals.

E-Commerce Website Content Outline:

  • Home Page (with featured products)
  • Product Categories (e.g., Electronics, Apparel, Home Goods)
  • Individual Product Pages
  • About Us
  • Customer Testimonials
  • Shopping Cart and Checkout Process
  • FAQ
  • Contact Information

Corporate Website Content Outline:

  • Home Page
  • About Us (Company History, Team, Values)
  • Services or Product Overview
  • Case Studies or Client Testimonials
  • Blog or News Section
  • Career Opportunities
  • Contact Information

Educational Website Content Outline:

  • Home Page
  • About the Institution
  • Academic Programs
  • Faculty and Staff Profiles
  • Admissions Information
  • Student Resources
  • Alumni Stories
  • Contact Details

Tips for Creating a Website Outline

Here are some additional tips for creating an effective website outline:

  • Maintain consistency across the site through cohesive navigation, designs, tone and messaging.
  • Incorporate website analytics to identify high-traffic areas as well as “warm” and “cold” spots.
  • Conduct usability testing on wireframes to capture user feedback before site development.
  • Analyze competitors to inspire ideas while ensuring a unique value proposition.
  • Use tools like spreadsheets or sitemap software to visualize information architecture.
  • Collaborate across teams like IT, designers and content creators for insights.
  • Focus on optimizing for SEO through keyword research, metadata, alt text and more.
  • Keep outlines flexible to allow for evolution as business needs change.

To Sum Up

Creating a properly structured website outline takes time upfront but pays dividends throughout the entire website creation and management process. It empowers you to strategically organize site content, website architecture, design and navigation based on business goals and target audience needs before any production begins. whether launching a new website or revamping an existing one, developing a comprehensive outline guides smart decision-making for site creation success. It also enables smoother collaboration across teams. By following the steps and tips covered, you will be well equipped to plan an effective website outline that converts visitors and delights users.