Site Planning, Structure and Launch

Reporting & Research

By Chris Harvey, multimedia lecturer,
University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Before you build a Web site, think about what you want it to accomplish: To deliver the news? To inform? To entertain? 

You also need to think about who your audience will be. It will affect the mood and tone of the site and even the types of art and graphics you'll use.

Next think about what main categories of information/news you'll want to highlight, to begin planning how you will lay out and navigate your site. Major sections of your site should only be a click away from the home page.

Good site design often starts with a flow chart, or storyboard. The sketches show what sections and subsections will flow from the home page, what individual pages will flow from each section, and how they will relate to each other.

Typically, main navigation for major sections will show up consistently throughout the siteóalong the top of a page.

Often, designers will plan out their home page and section fronts in minute detail before building the site, then create style sheets to support their plan. The storyboard shows where the navigation bars will go, where pictures and text and external links will go, and what color schemes and font styles will be used to ensure consistency of colors, navigation and fonts.

When laying out your home page, be sure to put your strongest pictures, graphics and text on the opening screen. 

Make sure your combination of colors and text are easy to read.

Visualizing a large Web site's structure, exercise 1:

When planning a site structure, remember that main sections are often physically separated from one another by folders you'll create on your computer. Stories within a section go in that folder. These folder names show up in the Web addresses when you click on the stories. (For instance, national stories might go in the national folder, and thus have the world "national" in their Web addresses.) Photos may be put in a folder called photos; graphics in another called images or graphics; audio in a folder called audio. The home page is typically not in a folder; it stands alone in a story template, for ease of navigation and Web address naming. The home page is often named "default.html," "index.html" or "front.html," for clarity.  

To see how a folder affects the Web address, or URL, of a section or a page within that section, let's look at a big and well-respected U.S. site,

  • Click onto the home page for CNN. Write down its URL.
  • Write the URLs for CNNís World and Health and Travel section fronts. What pattern do you see? Why?
  • Now write the URL for the top story in the World section, and the top story in the Health section. What similarities do you notice between the two, in the way the addresses are structured? What do those addresses tell you about where the Health and World stories physically sit on the site?

Planning your Web site structure, exercise 2:

Draw a skeletal sketch or storyboard of the proposed home page for your personal Web site or news Web site, along with sketches of other key pages. Show where the main navigation links will go on each page and what they will say; where headlines and photos will go on the pages and where text will go. Then, in a Word document, type a few paragraphs summarizing what content and art you will include on each of those key pages, and what color schemes and font styles you will use for fonts and links. 

Beyond the Plan: Launching on the Net:

Some blogging tools provide free server space for personal sites. Wordpress and Blogger are popular and easy to use.

For a more ambitious news site, you'll most likely need to register a Web address name (URL) and buy server space from a host company. is a popular option.

Top of Page

Created February 2001. Last updated: Nov. 6, 2011

Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 Chris Harvey. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. Feel free to link to this resource page, but do not cut and paste it onto your own site.

Reporting & Research