Plan your website

This section will take you through the stages involved in building a website, starting with analysing your audience and goals, then deciding how to structure your website, how to get it hosted and how to set up your own website address or domain.

You'll learn about the website development process, about the important issue of maintenance, and about keeping your content fresh in order to keep people visiting your site.

Luckily there are a number of tools that make starting and running a website and/or blog relatively simple. For example, using our WordPress guide (Read more) you can have a free website built around your choice of blogging template up and running within five minutes (prior to adding your own content), with a built-in Content Management System which just about anyone can use.

Audience & goals

The secret of a successful website is knowing which audience/s you are trying to reach, and designing site content that furthers the goals of these audiences and the goals of the organisation.

It may seem obvious, but websites are for their users. Your website is about providing your users with information that they want or need, and people will not make a habit of visiting your website if it doesn't do this.

When designing your website you need to understand that you will have different users, with differing needs. Don't presume that new users understand your organisation or the issues you are working on.

What are the goals of your website?

A good way to start the design process is to identify what the goals of your website are. They might include the following:

  •  To educate and inform
  •  To create an organisational identity
  •  To expand your base and mobilise your supporters
  •  To improve media outreach and engagement
  •  To campaign
  •  To influence decision makers and people in power
  •  To serve as a trusted news source
  •  To provide specialised data, research orinformation which relates to your advocacy
  •  To support a conversation with your audience around a particular issue

Read more about designing your strategy.

Who are your website's users?

If you already have a website, think about who its users are. They might include the following:

  •  Supporters/members
  •  First time visitors
  •  Press
  •  Funders (small donors or other, larger, funders)
  •  Other organisers and activists
  •  Opponents and targets of your campaign
  •  Decision makers

Having an understanding of your audience's age range, education, language/s and gender balance will help you to create content that speaks directly to them.

Once you have identified your goals and the site’s users, you can start identifying the goals of those users: what are they trying to find or do? What information or resources can you offer to people visiting your site that will meet their needs?

In order to help people using your website to understand the issue you are working on you should design a 'frame'. A frame is the way you tell your story to people in terms of geography, personal/public narrative and tactics.

Design your website for your target audience and participant communities

If you are just beginning to establish a website, see our strategy guide for more information on how to define your target audience/s and participant communities (Read more). To ensure your website will meet their needs, you can conduct an audience definition exercise: 

 Who are your audiences?

  •  Name them and rank their importance; for example, primary, secondary, tertiary
  •  Name three other sites they use regularly

For your highest priority audiences ask the questions:

  •  What do you want them to learn or do?
  •  How do they get to your site?
  •  What are they trying to find?
  •  Where do they click on the front page?
  •  What do they do next? 

For each of your core audiences you can create a ‘click path’, a set of links that you want them to click on and follow. Click paths allow multiple audiences to have their needs met with one page design; for example, if your goals with a supporter would be: to get them to take action, to show them how their actions matter and to get them to recruit others, they might click on a ‘Campaign updates’ or ‘Take action’ link, and one of the actions that you offer them could be to recruit others.

Stand-alone campaign site?

Consider whether you should create a stand-alone campaign site or an integrated campaign and organisational site. Stand-alone campaign sites are generally about a single subject whereas integrated sites have a campaign fitting into a broader organisational website.

If you want to make a stand-alone site for a particular campaign your audience might expect the following:

  •  Specific and focussed information
  •  An issue that is currently under the spotlight
  •  Regularly updated information about the issue

An organisational site, on the other hand, will contain general information for first-time visitors who are learning about the issue/s or organisation. It may cover many different issues.

The following examples of websites built either for specific campaign or for organisations in general have been chosen because they run on small budgets and are highly effective. 

Specific campaign websites: is a global campaign site focussed onmobilising people to address climate change, in particular by applying pressure in time for the world leaders' Copenhagen talks on climate change.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is a website that represents an international consortium of organisations; it is focussed on banning the production and use of landmines.

Revenue Watch is an aggregation of organisations that are working toward the responsible use of environmental resources.

Mizzima is focused on disseminating up-to-datenews about Burma.

Organisational websites:

New Tactics in Human Rights are an organisation that supports 'a community ofpeople committed to human rights'. They enable dialogue and support knowledge sharing while they also provide training and other services. Their website is made using the CMS Drupal

Sex Work Europe supports the rights of sex workers in Europe and it uses the CMS Joomla, while The Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network uses the CMS Drupal

Website contents

The structure of your website will obviously vary depending on your organisation and what you want to use the website for. Here are some ideas about standard pages for a website and what they might include:

About Us

The About Us area of your site might include the following:

  •  Mission statement
  •  Staff and board biographies
  •  Contact information
  •  Annual reports
  •  Jobs & volunteering
  •  History & victories
  •  FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Campaign Updates

If yours is a campaigning site then you should provide information and updates relating to the strategy and tactics of your campaign. Think about your campaign as a story– where are you in the story? You might also want to include the following:

  •  About the issue/s. It's important to frame the issue in easy-to-understand terms that relate to personal experience. Beware of providing too much information and instead think of the one thing you want users to grasp.
  •  Event reports
  •  Pictures, audio or video documentation
  •  Legislative updates
  •  Link to ways for users to get involved

Get Involved / Take Action

This area of your site will show ways in which site visitors can engage with your campaign ororganisation, either online or offline:

 Online involvement

  •  Sign up for email newsletters
  •  Action alerts/Petitions
  •  Contact the media/Letter to the editor
  •  Contact your representative in government
  •  Tell a friend
  •  Donate/Become a member

Offline involvement

  •  Volunteering opportunities
  •  Events
  •  Local groups
  •  Toolkits/Action resources

Press Room

This is an area where the press can go to get information on your organisation or campaign. It might contain press releases, contact information for the person in your organisation who is responsible for talking to the media, or media resources such as images or audio and video recordings for use online or in print. It might also contain details of news coverage, speeches or reports.


If you have a donations strategy within your organisation, make it easy for people to give you money or offer volunteer help. Allowing people to give in-kind donations such as office equipment is also an idea. If you want to keep this simple, just supply an email address that people can write to if they have something to offer.

Development process: Static or dynamic?

Decide what type of site you are creating: is it a static website that won't change very often and will act like an online brochure for your organisation, or is it a dynamic website that will change often and hold a lot of content?

Try to be realistic about this. Most organisations would love to have a dynamic website, but simply don't have the time to keep it up to date or the capacity to keep generating useful content. Decide who will be responsible for designing and publishing your website's content. The people involved in website development might be designers, writers, web developers and project managers. Some of these may be internal while others may be external consultants. Using volunteers (as long as you are willing to monitor their work) is one positive way to gather dynamic content, create diversity and build relationships.

Set aside some time to plan in advance how content will be updated. If this is going to be a significant challenge for you, think about developing your website in stages, starting with something small and allowing it to grow.

  •  Static websites are simple websites that hardly change and don't have a lot of content. You can build something like this in software such as KompoZer (Read more) which doesn’t require the installation of a database. In order to edit static websites you need to edit the HTML (the code that enables the text to be displayed in your internet browser) directly in KompoZer or other software and then re-upload the content to your web server.
  •  Content Management Systems allow you to build more dynamic websites, with the potential for including a lot of content that can be changed frequently and easily. These require a database such as Wordpress, Drupal or Joomla (Read more). These systems offer you more flexibility, and features such as permissions which mean that different members of staff can update different areas of the site. They also offer an easy-to-use online interface to edit website content, which means staff members don’t need to use HTML.

A dynamic website with a Content Management System is nearly always the best choice. Even very small organisations with little previous knowledge can set up these flexible websites free of charge or at very little extra cost, using the built-in templates provided.

Graphic design process

The graphic design of your site will convey your organisational identity. Most sites will require two basic designs, one for the home page and a second for lower-level pages.

A standard process is as follows:

  •  Create wireframe sketches of your page layout. These wireframes will allow you to finalise the page layout, without any artwork or content placed. This means you will already have decided on the page structure and how interactions will work before you work on the graphics.
  •  Work on how users will interact with the content. Will you have one menu at the side of the content? Or, will you split the content up into sub-menus? Think about how users will find your content,and how you will be adding to it in the future.
  •  Choose a colour palette and graphics that convey the goals and personality of your organisation and match with your other publications or branding. Work with a graphic designer to establish a look and feel for your site, or if you feel confident try it yourself.
  •  Generate templates from the final design that can be filled in with content.