The Complete Guide to Small Business Website Architecture Development

Demystifying the contents and technical setup of your page

MartinEdic
Feb 10 · 8 min read
Photo by Sime Basioli on Unsplash

Websites don’t start with design or coding.

They start with a goals assessment — including visitor motivation and a stated buyer focus. A top level message (one core message) is developed and an architecture outline is assembled that shows top and secondary level pages, along with their core purpose. Finally, website copy is written into the outline.

Based on this document, design wireframes are built, the website pages and menus set in place, copy is dropped in, and the design is refined.

Any website developer who starts with visuals instead of content should be avoided. Business websites are information resources for buyers.


Introduction

This article covers a model for a Business to Business (B2B) website whose primary purposes are to provide information about the company and product(s) and to generate sales inquiries.

The team or individual creating this architecture should have content marketing and writing skills, combined with some web development skills. In my case, I’m a writer and content marketer with WordPress skills, but I’m not a coder or designer. This combination gives me the ability to design the information architecture, write the site messaging and other content, and layout basic pages and navigation in WordPress. The designer styles the site and, if required, a web developer develops any custom elements.

As noted above, I feel strongly that this is the preferred order for site development, rather than having a designer develop wireframes with lorem ipsum (placeholder) text. Business websites are information sources first and foremost — their design should facilitate delivery and access to the information, but the information must be created and organized first.


Getting Started: Goals and Requirements

Scenario: Your client has shared a wishlist spreadsheet of desired site focus areas and messaging:

  • The first challenge is to show the scope of the capabilities while retaining a focus on customer needs.
  • The second challenge is targeting the main customer personas.
  • Finally, we need to provide an easily accessible set of content tailored to the needs of buyers/researchers doing due diligence on potential purchasing choices (assume they are assembling a list of products or services — your competition). This content must anticipate the specific requirements of the buyer at these stages:
  • Discovery. Determining what products are likely prospects and defining the problems to be solved.
  • Research. Researching each product offering and comparing feature sets, ease of use and implementation, cost, both direct and indirect (price, implementation requirements, training, and cultural acceptance), timeframes and any specific capabilities that are critical.
  • Recommendation. The discovery and research team makes recommendations to management for testing or further research.
  • Reputation. At this stage, they’re probably looking for social proof — validation of value by other buyers reviews through testimonials, case studies, etc.
  • Lead Generation. A contact is made. It is at this point that client sales reps begin in-depth consultative work with the client.
  • Purchase. Price negotiation. Financial considerations.
  • Implementation, training, customer support.

This is the buyer journey. In my opinion and experience, this should be the model for designing and delivering web content. No one is visiting your site randomly. They have a specific set of problems that have become critical enough to consider changing their workflows.

This drives the site information flow:

  • Top-level. Are this product and company what we’re looking for? Can they scale? What do existing customers say? Do they offer the capabilities we need? What kind of “nice to have” capabilities are included? Can we afford it?
  • Secondary. Product feature/benefits set. Implementation and training support. Cultural fit.
  • Third level: Specific details on various features, case studies and white papers, blog articles, etc.

At each of these levels, the call to action is this:

“We can help you make an informed choice. Contact us for a top-level, early-stage conversation about your needs.”

This is the primary goal of every single piece of information on the site. Anything that does not support this goal is nice to have but not critical.


Building a Site Outline

When I say outline, I’m talking about information organized into a hierarchy, with top-level navigation pages and the subpages beneath them in an outline format. Here’s an example for the About section of a site:

  • About:
  • History
  • Team
  • Blog
  • Careers

There’s always a question whether the top level, in this case About, is itself a page or simply a navigation link. I prefer it to be a page because I don’t like clicking on things that look like links but don’t do anything when you click them. However, I haven’t found a compelling reason other than my preference for this choice.

On a section like the About section above, all the subpage information could actually be on the top-level page, with the subpage navigation being anchor links that take you to that section on the page. This means people browsing have the ability to see specific information, but the site remains streamlined. A site with many pages is not necessarily a well-designed site — it may simply confuse the visitor.


Company and Team Pages

Company pages are more important than many businesses think. Prospective buyers doing research and due diligence visit these areas to assure themselves that you’re stable, have the resources to handle their needs and seem like people they feel good doing business with.

We want to work with nice, competent people and company cultures that feel compatible.


One Page Site Design

One page site design is a trend that started several years ago.

All information is on the Home page and navigation links are anchors to points down the page. I believe it was driven by those endless sales pitch pages you see for online success products, which is not a model most businesses want to emulate. However, if you have a minimal product set, this could be a good option.


Page Information Hierarchy

From a writing and messaging point of view, information is presented with the core message at the top and information supporting that message being presented below, with denser details further down the page. Just remember, supporting information that gets too detailed, such as specs, should be on a product or service detail page linked to from the home page. If possible, supporting information should be available in a format that can be printed or easily shared in an email or via something like Slack.


The Social Proof Dilemma

This hierarchy may not be as obvious as it looks. If you have really compelling social proof, in the form of testimonials and case studies with actual company and customer names, these powerful indicators should be seen relatively quickly, followed by customer logos. The reality is that these are often not available and anonymized social proof is not top-level supporting information. Get those names and permissions!


Link targets: Open On Page or Open New Tab

Whenever you add a link to a site, whether in navigation or within text, as part of an image or anywhere else, you can set the link to either take them directly to the new page, leaving the old one behind, or opening it in a new browser tab. This can be an important choice.

If they go direct to the linked page, they risk losing context or getting lost. If everything opens a tab they may curse you for cluttering their window. My general rule is if the link simply offers more detail or a clarification, open a new tab so they can easily close and return to their original page and complete their reading. If it goes to a page that continues the subject matter they have been consuming, a direct link may be best.

Tip: Testing for this kind of usability can make a big difference in the success of your site. While testing is an entirely different subject there is a simple test you can do. Ask a colleague not involved in the development to read through the page and describe their experience. If they click a link, for example, and they say “oh, I didn’t expect it to go there,” you’ve identified a potential issue.

The reason I’m getting into this level of detail is critical: You’re creating a navigable information resource. The success of that information delivery can make a material difference in the success of your business. This is not an exaggeration.


What about SEO?

This article is not about best practices for website writing. However, there’s a major search engine optimization consideration at work here. First, web crawlers index your site by following links in order and analyzing the information relationships between the linked content for relevance. Amazing technology. So a well-designed architecture tells the engines that this is a more relevant site, bumping your rankings over time.

Second, clarity around finding information on a site means visitors will spend more time on page and more time on site, both critical success metrics for you and the search ranking of the site.


Keeping it simple

Websites have a way of getting out of control really fast. Information gets repeated in various places causing confusion and visitor burnout. Product features are one area where this becomes a problem. Features are only important if they answer a buyer question and they should be able to find that answer quickly. Complexity and repetition don’t help.


Blogs, Categories, and Resource Pages

So, how do you manage this?

Work off your original architecture document, using it as guide to where to put the new information, and whether it repeats existing information (in which case it should update and replace that information, not add to it).

Blogs are a great place and you can always use links to blog posts for reinforcing or deeper dive sources (open in a new tab!).

I like well-organized Resource pages with sections for things like FAQs, video collections, webinars, white papers, case studies, etc. As these add up in quantity, they require their own library with a table of contents and category links that automagically create pages dedicated to specific subjects. Few sites take full advantage of this capability.


Why Categories are Powerful Information Delivery Tools

Let’s look at what should be a common scenario, that often goes wrong.

A salesperson is asked for more information on a feature or product. They typically send a bunch of links or, even worse, attach a lot of docs to an email. With the proper use of categories, all this information can be accessed with one link to the category page for that feature or product. In the long run, it is really useful to get this right now and enforce category usage, including limiting the number of categories.

This also greatly simplifies information delivery via a CRM (customer relationship management software, like Salesforce). In the information library of the CRM, there should only be links to relevant category pages and the content should only reside there on the site, not in the CRM. This gives you version control and eliminates outdated versions being shared via email (every time you attach a doc to an email you’ve created a new uncontrollable version of that document).

Information architecture can seem daunting but it shouldn’t. Getting it right greatly improves your customers’ access to information that drives buying decisions, and gives you a model for centrally delivering and managing that product and marketing information.

Which is what a B2B website should be.

Note: I write frequently about the business of freelance writing. You can see a list of the articles here.

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MartinEdic

Written by

Novelist, Tech Marketing Writer, Growth Consultant. I have been a professional writer for over 20 years- 8 non-fiction books and 1 novel, many articles, etc.

Better Marketing

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