Want to organize the content on your website? Let’s look at the how to design the information architecture of your website in less than an hour, using only one piece of paper.

Where do we begin?

Before designing a website, you need to know your WWW (i.e., Your WHO, What and Why), Spending Plan and SMART Goals. If you haven’t done that already, read my previous post where I laid out how to do this.

Once you’ve got those essentials, you’re ready to start designing the information architecture of your website, which is how information is organized behind the scenes.

If you brainstorm and organize your ideas for content on your website into, you’ll have a website that aligns to:

  1. Who you want visiting your website
  2. What you want them to do
  3. Why you want them to do something
  4. And any specific SMART goals you may have.

What happens if you don’t brainstorm and organize?

Ever wanted to live in a house built without using any blueprints or directions? I didn’t think so either. You can have a “pretty” website without any clear content strategy, but if you jump ahead and try to just “get a website”, you could fall into one of these traps:

  • Quitting: This can happen when you buy a domain name, but then feel overwhelmed and decide to not do anything.
  • Templating: This is when you set up a template site, but don’t do anything to customize it to fit your brand and leave a lot of empty pages or latin text everywhere.
  • Cluttering: This happens when you create a site, but instead of aligning your website to your goals, you keep piling more and more information with no clear structure or goals in mind.
  • Paralysis: This happens when you worry too much about getting the “perfect” theme or the “perfect” content strategy and information architecture and keep revising and revising…but never actually publish anything.

BTW, don’t feel bad if you’ve falling into any of these traps because I’ve fallen into all four of them, more than once!

To avoid falling into any of those traps, I invite you to spend no more than an hour to coming up with an information architecture that will serve as a blueprint for your website.

Is this exercise for me?

This exercise might help you if:

  • You’re a small business owner, entrepreneur, church website manager, local non-profit website manager.
  • You don’t have a website yet and you’re starting from scratch.
  • You have a domain and perhaps a website, but you fell into the traps of quitting, templating, cluttering, or paralysis.
  • You think your website’s structure needs a refresher or overhaul.

How to brainstorm and organize

Okay, let’s do this. Just to give you a heads up, there’s going to be some self-imposed limits to keep you focused. We have one hour to get this done.


  • One piece of paper with your Website Summary, which should contain:
    • Your Who, What and Why
    • Spending Plan
    • SMART goals
  • 2 blank pieces of paper (ruled preferred)
  • 1 pencil
  • Phone with timer and camera, or a timer
  • A workspace such as a desk, dining room table, anywhere you can spread out ideas.


Preparation – 5 minutes

  1. Lay your Website Summary down on your workspace so you can see it clearly.
  2. Take one blank piece of paper and fold it four times so if you tore all the creases, it would produce 16 pieces.
  3. Tear apart the paper into 16 pieces. Each piece of paper will represent a piece of content on your site.

Yes, you only get 16 pieces, which is part of that self-imposed limit I was talking about.

Brainstorming – 10 minutes

  1. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  2. Using a piece of paper, write a short phrase representing a piece of content on your site.
    • Examples:
      • For static content that won’t change much, like the Home or About page, just write “Home” or “About” each on it’s own piece.
      • For recurring content like a blog, write a major content category such as “Cooking”, “Fishing”, etc. If you plan to cover more major categories, write them individually on their own pieces of paper.
      • For main calls-to-action or forms, write them down on their own piece of paper. Even if they don’t quite represent a page or blog post, they need to be organized so they’ll stand out.
      • Landing pages, which are pages visitors should come to if they’re coming from somewhere specific (such as an advertisement offer) should have their own piece of content. You might want to use a phrase like “Email landing page” or “Facebook ad landing page”.
  3. When you run out of pieces of paper or time, put your pencil down and step back.
  4. If there are unused pieces of paper, set them aside in a separate pile.

You may feel frustrated now because you didn’t have enough time or enough pieces of paper. You’ll be able to make some revisions later, but it’s important to keep moving.

Story Creation – 10 minutes

You’re now going to write short stories, sometimes called User Stories for each piece of content. You’ll find essays and books written about User Stories, but in a nutshell, User Stories are short stories about the user.

  1. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  2. For each piece of content, flip the piece of paper and briefly write:
    • Who: Who is this piece of content specifically for? This is the “User” of this story.
    • What: What is the most important thing you want someone to do with this content? This is where you write the “Story” of this “User”.
    • Why: Why do you want someone to do that most important thing with this content? Be as specific as possible.
    • You could write it out like this: I want [WHO] to do [WHAT] so that [WHY].
    • Examples:
      • “Start here” page: I want first-time visitors to come to read the page so that they can quickly find out what my website is about.
      • “Event registration” page: I want parents to fill out the registration form so that they can come to our workshop.
  3. You only have 10 minutes, so if you’re stumped on coming up with a story for a piece of content, skip it and work on another piece.
  4. When you finish or run out of time, put your pencil down and step back.
  5. If there are pieces without a story, set them aside in a separate pile.

You should now have pieces of paper representing content of your website, along with specific audiences, reasons and calls-to-action for each piece. If you’re frustrated because there was content you were struggling with, don’t worry and keep moving.

Organizing the site map – 5 minutes

  1. Set your timer for 5 minutes.
  2. Landing pages: Put the Home page at the top of your workspace. Adjacent to your Home page, place any landing pages, which would be pages people would land on besides your Homepage if they were coming from someplace like an advertisement.
  3. Primary content: Underneath the Home page, place the top 3 pieces of content that your Who needs to get to. Imagine, if your audience could only look at three pieces of content on your website, what would they be?
    • The pieces of content here will be linked to either in the Primary navigation of your site or in clear calls-to-action buttons on your landing pages.
  4. Secondary content: Underneath your home page and top 3 pieces of content, place any content pieces that would naturally fall underneath.
    • Example: If one of your top 3 pieces is “Skincare”, underneath it you might have a more specific content piece such as “Moisturizing Creams”.
    • Don’t try to shove unrelated links in the 3rd level just because you’re afraid they’ll get missed. They will get missed if they’re placed somewhere they don’t belong, such as if you were to put “Cheeseburgers” under “Skincare”.
    • The content pieces here will be linked underneath the links in the Primary navigation. That’s why it’s important that they’re related to the Primary content pieces.
  5. Footer content: After you’ve done that, take your remaining content pieces and organize it below the 3rd level.
    • These pieces of content will be accessible via the footer of your site.
  6. When you finish or run out of time, put your pencil down and step back.

You should now have a site map, which is a map of your site. If you’re frustrated because you didn’t get as many pieces of content in your primary and secondary navigation, it’s okay. You’re doing a good thing by clearing the clutter and providing an easy-to-follow path for your visitors.

Review – 10 minutes

  1. Set your time for 10 minutes.
  2. Look at each piece of content and answer the following:
    • Does this piece of content align with my overall Who, What and Why?
      • Example: If you’ve got a website targeting dog-owners, but have a page about your favorite chocolate truffles, that would be considered a mismatch.
    • Does this piece of content align with my Spending Plan?
      • Example: If you want content requiring premium features, such as a membership section, you’ll need to make sure your spending plan will cover the costs.
    • Does this piece of content move me toward my SMART goals?
      • Example: If you have a piece of content that’s suitable for your target audience and fits your budget, but doesn’t really do much for moving you closer to your goals, you may want to shelve it for content that moves you faster to your goals.
    • Take any pieces that doesn’t answer a resounding yes to those earlier questions and place them in a pile to the side.

Revision – 10 minutes

  1. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  2. This is your opportunity to change any content you wish.
    • If you still have some blank pieces of paper, or you couldn’t come up with a specific user story, you can fill it out. However, you need to organize and review each piece of content before the time runs out.
  3. Once the timer is done, tidy up the pieces of paper so they all have the content phrase (e.g. “Home”, “About”) facing up
  4. Take a photo of your site map with all the phrases facing up so you’ll have it as a reference.
  5. Flip the pieces over so they show their stories, then take a picture of it.
  6. For backup, take that extra piece of paper and write down the hierarchy you created of your site, using just the key phrase of each piece of content. On the other side of the page, write the key phrase and the user story in a list.

You did it!

Congratulations! You just designed a blueprint for your website’s architecture in an hour – all on your own! Now that you’ve got this figured out, you’ll be able to start the next step, prototyping.

Did you find this post helpful? Too long? Too vague? Please let me know in the comments section below.

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