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The Strategy Behind Web Page Creation: Strawman Page Structure

The website development process has several stages, all of which are meant to work towards the most effective and results-driven website.  After the information architecture is complete, the next step is populating pages using a “strawman” approach.  In this stage, each page is populated with only enough information to make an intended point and to test the coherency and consistency of the entire site based on a collection of pages.  It does not include details like calls to action, forms, or images, but placeholders for whatever details you anticipate for the pages.  Just as the information architecture defines the entire website’s focus, strawman structures provide meaning to each individual page.

Who is Your Website Targeting?

Before creating your strawman structure, get into the character of your audience and think of scenarios that explain why a visitor may land on your site. How they arrive affects the way each page should be designed and populated.

  • What would s/he be looking for?  
  • What question is s/he trying to get answered?
  • Were they driven there based on a PPC ad, a result of a keyword search, an internal link from another website or page, or some other reason?  

While you may never know the exact answer, nor would it be the case for all visitors, it is important to have the right mindset so you develop each page from a potential customer’s perspective.

Focus on Critical Page Elements and Keep it Simple

The goal of every web page is to convert its visitors. That said, focusing on strawman structure as part of the website development process ensures each page contains essential elements to serve its individual purpose.  Like billboards on a highway that are simple enough to be seen and understood at a glance, a website page should be constructed with minimal content.  Each element is so essential that if missed, it would prevent the intent of the page from being achieved. This barebone structure helps identify a page’s indispensables.

Keeping content to a minimum at this stage also allows copywriters to maintain an uninterrupted train of thought and keep a high-level perspective without getting caught up in the minutiae of each page’s details.  While developing each page’s skeletal structure, your mindset should be generative, void of judgment or edits. Some copywriters seek perfection from their first sentence losing flow, momentum, and productivity by getting stuck and missing the big picture.  The goal is to tell the essence of an entire story with the least text and visuals possible so that you could get everything out of your head and into a medium for review in totality.  

Leaving each page sparse helps you test if anything more is needed to clarify a point or provide an overall impression.  Sparse pages also help you concentrate on strategy often shadowed by powerful visuals or technical effects. Your aim is to complete the website in one sweep as a complete thought with a single mindset, then iterate to improve and fill in the details in layers from one version to the next.

Tip: Use bullets to align main page thoughts at their highest level, and placeholders for images or calls to action.

Content Meant to Convert

Strawman structures also help with the content design by knowing what the page needs to support by way of text (long or short paragraphs, full sentences or bullet points, etc.), images, call-to-action buttons, video, white space, etc.  In order to remain on the page, each element needs to contribute to the whole and should not be used if its role can’t be explained in terms of benefiting a user’s experience.  Strawman structures allow for rapid and agile web development that prevents lags in production and ensures consistency, clarity, and cohesiveness.   

When all pages are completed and looked at collectively, they should provide the impression of an engaging table of content that tells a completely coherent story. It should also expose red flags when seen in totality that might have been missed after each page was “dressed to the 9’s.”

Your aim is to try to complete the website in one sweep as a complete thought with a single mindset, then iterate to improve and fill in the details in layers from one version to the next. By focussing on only the bare essentials during the strawman phase, you are able to complete pages with great impact and an entire website in less time.  Focussed on this intent, your website development process remains on strategy, within deadlines, saving time and increasing conversion effectiveness.

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