Steps to Building a Strawman Website Page Structure
A strawman page structure is as much a tool as it is an approach to identify and assemble indispensable elements to website pages. It’s similar to the discipline required to convey a clear, concise, and compelling message on a billboard or business card, but only applying the concept to a website page. It is the skeletal structure needed to build on which allows for rapid, agile website development and a successful launch.
Starting On Your Strawman Web Pages
As you create content for your site, only include what will tell the story in an “eyeful” or passing glance. Your goal is to focus on the essentials first and hold off on-page details so that you could go through the entire site, end-to-end, in one sweep. Concentrate on getting everything you have in mind to a medium you could share with others. Expect what you ultimately share to be imperfect and incomplete, but be sure to put down enough to establish a trail of triggers that will help you finish your thought on the next go around. The strawman approach builds pages in layers and multiple iterations of refinements. The objective is to get into the zone and let your thoughts flow freely so that you could create a uniform impression. What you are trying to avoid are multiple voices and disjointed constructs.
Editing Your Strawman Web Pages
While it is important to gather feedback, wait until after your first version because it will require at least one more iteration of edits and refinement to make the initial pass intelligible. When making edits, revisions, or refinements on your initial pass, look for red flags that need fixing as opposed to wordsmithing for perfection. Doing deep editing during your initial pass-throughs will throw off the process because you want to lay the foundation to all pages before spending time on any one of them. This way when you do begin editing, it is from the perspective of how each page fits with the rest in relation to the entire website. The initial steps in the editing process take horizontal sweeps across all pages before taking a vertical dive on a page-by-page basis.
Before asking for feedback, provide your test audience with background about who you are targeting, the reasons why they would land on your site, what they would be trying to achieve, and anything else you think would put your work into context. This point is extremely important if the person you ask for feedback does not match your persona profile. To provide viable feedback, your test audience needs to understand this behavioral path and you should start with the end in mind by asking questions such as:
- What’s your point? Why did you include this page in your website and what purpose does it serve? Don’t make visitors dig to find out.
- Is the content to your point designed to be bold and stand out?
- What overall impression do you want to give? This should be consistent and in terms of your brand. What do you want them to feel? (e.g. uncomfortable with their current situation, curious, motivated, etc.)
- What are the bare minimum points visitors need to know? (Using visual- sound-bites chunked in eyefuls).
- What visual would support or reinforce these points?
- What behavior do you want to elicit / what action do you want visitors to take as a next step?
- Call to action button?
- Fill out an embedded form?
- Click in-text links to interior web pages?
Making The Most Of The Strawman Process
At this phase, your focus should be as much about the WHY behind your message as it is communicating it in an easily understood design. The visual, headline, sub-headlines, and call-out points (such as bullet points) need to stand out so that all critical elements are seen in one “eyeful.” Every webpage should be treated as a print ad and structured accordingly. The creative copy and visuals should arrest a visitor’s attention just as it would stop a reader from flipping past your print ad in a magazine. Engage your potential customers immediately by making your point so simple and obvious that they don’t have to think about it to get it. Make it “light switch” easy and intuitive. Everything else on the page should support your BIG IDEA and your Call-To-Action next step. Anything extraneous should be removed.
As you go thru the process of creating your strawman web page structure,
- Keep your persona and situation in mind.
- Talk it through with a small group for a dynamic exchange of ideas and perspectives before writing them down.
- Create pages in sweeps from beginning to end, in one uninterrupted state of mind, then iteratively revise in layers.
- Avoid self-editing or deleting anything until you are completely done. Simply move content to a “parking lot” page or some other holding area for future reconsideration. Keep the original thought flow apparent on each page.
- DO NOT dwell on any one point at the beginning that may freeze your momentum. If you are uncertain or not 100% positive about a fact, put down what you think for the moment with an asterisk to verify after your first draft. Creative copy written in confidence is demonstrably different than copy written with diffidence. The overall goal is to let your mind flow without friction or trepidation.
The objectives of a strawman web page structure are to streamline the web development process and avoid lags while ensuring that each of your website pages is designed around the critical elements needed to tell your story, make a positive impression and convert visitors.