How to develop and maintain a website - ESRC


Understanding your users

The most successful websites are those that give their users what they want as easily and quickly as possible. Building a website that can do this requires careful planning.

Identifying your users

Before you start building a website you need to be clear on who your target audiences – users – are and what tasks they will want to complete on your website.

Your target users might include:

  • other researchers
  • higher education professionals
  • government representatives
  • politicians or their researchers
  • media
  • business users
  • students
  • study participants.

Identifying your users’ needs

Your users will visit the site because they want to find information or complete a task. This could include:

  • general information about your research, programme or centre
  • specific pieces of information like a press release or research paper
  • upcoming events
  • relevant publications
  • the people who make up your team
  • the organisations you collaborate with
  • your contact details and how to find you.

Understanding your users’ needs will help you prioritise the information you provide online, and to develop a suitable structure for your website. You should build your site around your users’ top tasks.

Prioritising content based on user needs

When you have identified your users and their key requirements, you can prioritise the content that you need to include on your website.

Only include content that will genuinely help your users. Do not include inward-focused content or unnecessary information.

You need to group your content into logical sections that users will easily identify with. Your section and content titles must be clear and meaningful for your users.

When you begin to design your site, make sure that your users can clearly find the content they need to complete their top tasks. For example, one of your user groups may be other researchers who come to find relevant research papers. A prominent and descriptive link on the homepage and good search facility allows them to go straight to your list of publications.

If users are likely to want to know more about your research to use for their own purposes, you must ensure that they can easily find out:

  • what research you are involved in
  • who funds your research
  • how to contact you for information about your research
  • what the impacts and findings of your research have been so far
  • how to keep up-to-date with your work – such as through news on your website, newsletters, RSS feeds and social media.

Your users may also have particular tasks that are very specific to you and you should ensure that they can easily complete these. Ask some of your users to test your website to see if they can achieve these tasks. Their feedback can be invaluable.

Last updated: 31 August 2021

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