Portal Planning with a Sitemap

Overview

A sitemap is the overall plan of a website, organizing information on a website according to main categories. This is essentially what a Veracross Portal is. When planning for the Portals 2017 launch, creating a sitemap around your primary portal audiences is a helpful way to visualize the information that is most relevant to them. More than simply address the question “What links do we need?,” it is important to consider everything that a particular audience will need access to, whether through menus, direct links, or even un-linked pages.

This article give suggestions for considering the overall design of Portals 2017 by creating a sitemap. It is, of course, completely optional, and designed to aid in the design process.

Audience

The audience of a portal is paramount in considering content. For “simple” portals, e.g., parents, students, and teachers, this is a relatively straightforward endeavor. Consider the perspective of a particular portal’s end users and ask yourself “To what content do these constituents need access?”

Public or password-protected? It is important to distinguish between information that needs to be behind a password (e.g., a “student accomplishments blog”) and information that can or should be on the public website (e.g., a public calendar or general information blog). Portals are best for the former.

We recommend first laying out all the various types of content, e.g., resources pages, school-level information, news, calendars, department-level information (arts, athletics, etc.). This can be done electronically, e.g., in a Word doc or other text editing or note-taking program, or with pencil and paper.

The end result of audience analysis is a simple unordered list of all the types of content and data that a particular audience would need to access.

Example Audience: Parents

An initial brainstorming session might produce the following list of items that a Parent Portal should include:

  • Today’s schedule
  • Recent news
  • Parent resource page
  • Giving page
  • Lunch menu
  • Class website
  • School Photos
  • Links to Social Media
  • Online giving
  • After school programs
  • Student handbook
  • Health forms
  • Summer school programs
  • Band news
  • Art news
  • Athletic calendar
  • Lower school news
  • Children’s schedules
  • Children’s report cards
  • Headmaster’s Blog
  • School newsletter
  • Upper school news

Note that the above content is in no particular order. Some items are of chief importance and would likely be featured on their own, and others could probably be grouped together on secondary pages. The next step will be to organize the content.

Organizing Content

Take the content list generated above and consider different groupings of information. Do not necessarily connect it to the actual navigation of the portal just yet. Think more about the relationship of the types of information, and worry about how it will be accessed later. It will vary quite a bit from school to school.

Example Organization: Parent Portal

Taking the brainstorming above, here are different ways the information might be organized:

By Importance

Organize content according to “importance,” however you define the term, e.g.:

  • Top importance: today’s schedule, parent resource page, lunch menu, children’s schedules, children’s report cards, class website, online giving
  • Middle importance: recent news, giving page, band news, art news, athletic calendar
  • Lower importance: school photos, social media links, after school programs, health forms, school newsletter, upper school news, lower school news

By Type of Information

  • Academic and logistical: schedule, report cards, class websites, today’s schedule
  • Reference info: handbook, lunch menus, parent resource page, school photos, health forms
  • News: recent news, band news, art news, lower school news, upper school news, Headmaster’s blog, school newsletter
  • Programs: summer school programs, after school programs
  • Giving: giving page

There are myriad ways to group content and each school’s choices will likely be different.

Generating the Sitemap

After the kinds of information are organized, the next decision is how they should be accessed. The two basic ways are via menus and via links on pages. Some schools may prefer a very simple menu structure with lots of links on the page to direct parent, students, and others to the appropriate information. Other schools might prefer a more extensive menu structure where the menus are the main access gateway for information.

Flat Sitemap

A “flat” (or “wide”) sitemap has a number of links available at the top-most level of hierarchy, via either many top-level menu options or many links directly on the homepage. An advantage of a flat sitemap is that users do not have to drill down through pages or menus to find the information they need. A downside is that it presents users with a lot of information in one place and can potentially be confusing.

Deep Sitemap

A “deep” sitemap has a a significant amount of content on one or more levels of navigation below the top-most hierarchy and is generally characterized by menus with lots of options within them. An advantage of a deep sitemap is that the portal can provide a more “tailored” experience. By presenting fewer options immediately available to users, users may be more likely to find the information they need. A downside is that some content may seem more “hidden” and require more clicks to get to. In addition, what seems like a logical piece of information to you may not seem as logical to a parent.