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Tips For Building a New Website

Whether this is your first site, or one of many, when starting to build a new website there are a few questions you should ask. Thinking about these questions and answering them honestly will help make your website a success!


It is important to have a clear focus to your site— having clear objectives that you refer back to often throughout the development process can help keep you on track.

What is the purpose of this site?

Some examples are:

  • To provide information about you or your group
  • To promote an event or project
  • To collect and share resources  
  • To solicit feedback
  • To facilitate communication
  • To entertain

Who is your target audience?

How do you reach the people you want visiting your site?

Are they students, faculty members, staff, community members or potential donors? What specific information are they looking for? What tasks are they trying to accomplish? Is there any other demographic information that should be taken into consideration?

You can’t be everything to everyone. Decide who you are speaking to, and deliver information that specifically meets their needs.

Have you asked your audience what they want?

Surveying people is the best way to find out what they want. It is also a great way to gain insights about your organization that you may not otherwise see.

If you are re-designing an existing site, ask yourself and your users what is liked about your current site? What is working? What is not? Which user needs are currently being satisfied? Which are not?


The term ‘content’ is used to describe the words, images, and other information elements on a website.

What type(s) of content do you want on your site?

  • Text – includes all words on your website
  • Photos & graphics – any images you include
  • Documents – PDFs, Word documents and spreadsheets that visitors can download to their own computers
  • Forms – fields that visitors fill in and submit
  • Video – any videos and moving images


Who will create the initial content?

Who will write the text for the site? It is important that your content is written specifically for the web and isn’t simply words from a brochure or press release placed on a website.


Do you have the rights to use the images you wish to use?

If you want to use an image not owned by York you must secure permission first. Marketing & Communications has images that may be provided at little or no cost. Stock photography can also be obtained from sites like iStockphoto.

Do you require showing another organization’s logo?

This might include a funder, research partner or government agency.

If a logo is required,

  • Do you have the logo in digital format?
  • Do you have permission to use it on the web?
  • Do you know the usage rules for the brand?


What downloadable documents do you plan on having on your site and in what formats?

Is there a reason why they need to be in a certain format? Which ones can be converted into web pages or web forms?


Will the forms be submitted online? If so, how?

Who will administer the feedback? Will they retrieve the content from a database or have the information emailed to them?


Will video content be self hosted or placed on a site like YouTube or Vimeo?

Advantages to hosting on an external service are that you can tap in to the social network and drive traffic to your site. Also, little technical knowledge is needed to upload and post videos.

Considerations for hosting videos on YouTube or Vimeo include rights related to the content, as well as having the hosting service’s logo imposed onto the video.

Other Features and Functionality

Are there any additional features that you want to include on your website?

Examples include image slideshows, event listings, news feeds, question boxes, and profiles. Detailed specifications will need to be provided before development so that feasibility and development time can be properly assessed.

Site Structure

What are the sections and pages for your site?

If you have an existing site, what pages do you want to keep and what pages can be removed? Can the pages be better organized so that users can find the information they need more easily?

A starting point for developing the structure for your site is to create a page inventory list and/or site structure diagram that shows the sections and pages you are thinking for your site.

If you need to deliver content to more than one audience, consider how you might split your content based on your different user groups.

Design and Development

What visual design elements are needed for your site?

Websites on the domain should use the York template. Within the template, there is opportunity to include visual design elements. Are there any branding elements that need to be considered?

Who will be creating the website’s look and feel? Will someone at York do it or will an outside agency? This will depend on several factors such as branding or promotional considerations, budget, and resources available.

How will your site be developed?

How much development is required for your site will depend on how you will be implementing the site as well as how much functionality needs to be implemented.

In most cases, sites can be implemented in one of two ways:

  • WordPress (a content management system) or  
  • HTML 

The York web template is available in both formats with complementary documentation available.

If your existing site is currently using some other content management system, consult with us in terms of adapting the York template appropriately, or whether other implementation options should be considered.

Who will be building your site will depend on several factors such as whether you have web designers/ developers, how your site will be implemented, what functionality needs to be implemented, how your site will be maintained, budget, and resources available.

It is important that you are aware of the requirements and practices for web site accessibility, which concerns how to make web sites usable for users with disabilities.  As of January 1, 2014, there are legal requirements for York web sites concerning accessibility.  Please consult for details.


When visiting a site, a visitor expects to find content that is up-to-date and on-topic. Maintenance involves making sure the content stays current. This includes making sure dates and deadlines are accurate and relevant. Implementing a maintenance schedule can help to make sure recurring updates are done in a timely manner.

How often will the site need maintenance?
Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Every semester?

What will need updating?

Knowing what is on your site is just as important for your maintenance as the actual act of maintaining it. Some parts can remain static, while other parts can be changed regularly.

For example, the photos might stay relevant for years, but the text might need to change weekly.  Dates need to stay current, whereas descriptions are often static. Photos with people should depict relatively current fashion, but do not need to be updated each season!

Who will maintain your site?

It doesn’t sound like something that’s important to plan before you even have a site, but knowing who is responsible for keeping the site up-to-date helps your team anticipate workload and keep the site relevant for your visitors.

Will the people maintaining the site be from York, or from elsewhere?

Most sites are set up to use Passport York access. Site editors will need to be given a Passport York account.

What would you want to use to maintain the content on your site?

The web publishing software or content management system you use to maintain your site’s content will depend on several factors:

  • Are you already using an existing software or CMS?
  • Does the site need to have a certain implementation based on the functionality required?
  • Who will be maintaining the content – content editors who don’t have much technical expertise or web designers/developers?

Training for the software or system used may also need to be provided for those who will be maintaining content.

If your site includes non-text elements such as images, videos, and forms, consideration will also need to be given to how those will be updated or created.

Site visibility

How will your audience find your site? How will you drive traffic to your site?

When developing the content for your web pages, there are ways in which you can improve your site’s visibility to search engines and increase your page rank, such as the use of keywords, meta descriptions, unique page titles and quality content.

Online within York, you can determine where on the main York website and other York websites you would like to see links to your site. You may also use other delivery channels such as YFile to bring attention to your site.

If the launch of the site is tied to a larger promo or campaign, you should contact Account Direction in Marketing & Communication if you haven’t already to discuss ways in which to promote your website through your other media channels.


Do you intend on measuring traffic statistics for your site? Do you know how to interpret this information?

How will you measure the success of the site?

Site statistics can provide a lot of information. What information will determine the success of your site? Some things you can measure:

  • Number of downloads
  • Number of visits
  • Length of visits
  • Queries / comments received from the site

Other things to consider

What is the proposed project timeline?

What you have in mind may or may not be realistic depending on the scope of the project, the time commitment required, and the resources available. It is important to be honest about expectations from the start so that conflicts due to deadlines are avoided.

Will you be able to meet the deadlines that are set?

Who will be a part of the sign-off process?

It is suggested that each person who is a part of the sign-off process see a wireframe layout, text, images and at least one draft of the built site before it goes live.

Once something is ‘signed off’ and approved, the build team will continue to the next step in the process. Going back to correct something after it has been approved can slow down the project radically and the projected end date may not be met.