6 Tips For Building a Better Portal


KM TOOLS – The Portal

So you just took the lead of your portal? Don’t sweat it, here are 6 do’s and don’ts for managing your site. There’s a lot more to it than this, but these 6 steps will get you started on the right foot.

Building a better portal#1 Keep it simple. Bling is nice on the Hollywood red-carpet, but it tends to slow down a site, and can distract the design team from focusing on usability. Of course you want your site to look nice, but never lose sight of functionality and ease of use. Ask yourself this “It looks nice, but will the users know what to do?”

#2 Don’t make me think! If you haven’t read Krug’s book yet, stop right now and go get a copy. Organize your portal and navigation with the user in mind. Your navigation should reflect their mental model, not the operating system’s file structure. Add additional links when they make sense. For example, that link to Krug’s book is built into the text, so it’s right there when you’re thinking about it, not hidden at the bottom of the page, or even worse, on another page.

#3 Utilize search. Chances are your portal will come with some kind of configurable search. Make sure it crawls the right places (internal and external to your site) and, using your knowledge map, make some additional guesses on what people will search for. You may be able to configure a “best bet” so that certain links always appear for certain searches. (ie “Company Handbook”)

#4 Build a site map. A site map shows your entire site at a glance. Fancy expanding menus are great when you already know what’s there, but a single page showing everything at a glance can help users build a mental image of your site, find content they know is there, but didn’t know how to categorize, and allows them to identify content they may not have thought to look for.

Side note. Don’t leave broken links, If you must leave a link as a placeholder, leave it as plain, un-clickable text, not an empty or invalid link that sends users who knows where. I’m amazed by how many designers think this is OK.

#5 Don’t move that! Users will bookmark or link to your content from other sites. If you must move something remember those users. One technique is to remove all content at the old location and leave a “We have moved – Click Here” link. This will encourage the users to update their bookmarks. Then after some time, at least 6 months, you can remove the original location all together. (Be sure not to leave old content behind, users will find it and use it.)

#6 Post once use everywhere. The beauty of a website is that you can post content in one location and access it from many locations. If you plan ahead you can post a document and have dozens of links to that document. When it’s time to update it you only have to update one document and instantly dozens of locations on your portal have the latest information. (I promise you, if you post multiple copies of the same document, after the first update to that document some legacy copies will remain on your portal, confusing users and potentially leading to decisions based on old information.)

Portals are not technology, they are information sharing tools. That’s why I believe a knowledge manager should be in charge of a portal. Up-time is nothing if the portal can’t get the right information to the right people at the right time. Make your portal a real KM Tool!


About John Donahue

I'm a practicing Knowledge Manager, providing KM consulting for organizations from small businesses to large governmental agencies. I've organized and participated in KM and IKM Working Groups at a US Embassy overseas, with the US DoD, and with deployed NATO headquarter staffs. I served 20-years as an Air Force officer and aviator, during which time I was an award-winning instructor at the US Air Force Academy and logged nearly 100 combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. Now a seasoned Knowledge Manager and certified Project Management Professional I'm applying my organizational, leadership, teaching and technical skill to the knowledge management profession.

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