Starting from scratch when planning a website can be daunting.
Yes, there are templates available online, best practice examples and a general idea of how you’d like it to look; but none of those things will ensure your website will end up successful.
Of course, we all want our websites to look good. But just having a visually appealing site alone doesn’t convert visitors to customers – your website needs to have the right strategy, and this can be achieved by taking some time to properly plan your website.
Where to Start When It Comes to Website Planning
If you’re about to commission a website designer to build you a website, you are at some point, going to have to tell them what you expect from that site.
This is where a lot of businesses neglect to provide enough details on the plan and purpose of the website, leaving it ultimately to the website designer… and then later complaining that the website isn’t performing how they expected.
Planning your website properly in order to achieve specific objectives is crucial for quick success; rather than trying to rectify problems at a later stage and costing you more money.
To support our clients to create a good website plan, we suggest downloading our helpful design brief1. This is a short guide to help you plan your website and think about aspects that will shape and form the layout, content and strategy of your site. So, go ahead and click the download link1 and save your document; we’ll be waiting here for you when you return to discuss the areas of website planning.
Areas of Website Planning; What to Consider
Hosting and Domain Details
We’ll just cover this briefly, as these technical questions can easily be assessed and answered by your professional website designer.
Hosting is the server space where your website will be stored and is purchased through a web hosting service. If this hasn’t been paid for, your web designer should be able to arrange this or signpost you to a reputable service provider.
The domain name is your website address and can be bought and registered at an internet domain registrar, again your web developer can help you with this if you don’t have one already.
Business and Website Goals
In order to reach a destination, you need to know where you’re going and how to get there. The same is true for your website.
Page 2 of the design brief will help you to do that.
This is the section where you need to ask yourself, why does my business need a website? To do that, you need to look at the purpose of your organisation and the business goals.
Start by writing down your long-term goals; your mission. Then the short-term goals for where you would like your business to be in 12 months.
This is necessary as achieving business goals will be the overall aim throughout the entire process. Here are some examples2 of business goals and how these relate to your website.
As you can see from those examples, the goals for websites looking to sell products online, will be different for those looking to generate leads. Once you have the purpose of your website written down, you can move on to the next important stage, which is how you will motivate your website visitors to take action; achieving your goals.
Focusing on the Website Audience
The only way your website will be successful is if it meets the needs of your target audience.
Knowing who you want the website to appeal to, as well understanding the needs of visitors is research you won’t want to skip over.
So, write down as much as possible about your intended audience, including their demographic, persona and then think about what experience these visitors would want to have.
- Do they want a website that provides technical details and specifics easily without searching through pages of content?
- Do they want to read blogs and experiences to alleviate concerns over entering a new contract?
- Do they want to linger on photos, video’s, music or use forums with like-minded people?
- Do they want to purchase something safely, quickly and easily?
As well as thinking about the needs of your customers, don’t forget to think about things your audience won’t want, such as a site where they get lost searching for what they need or a website that irritates them with lots of pop-ups or adverts. When you have an idea of what your website should include, this information can be added to page 4 of your design brief.
When you have an insight into what your customers want to achieve once they are on your website (and remember, it may not necessarily be what you would like), you can then work with your web developer to create a site that your customers will be happy to come back to again and again.
Learning from Your Competitors
For your website planning, don’t forget to assess the competition. It may be that you can learn some good practice, or it may be that you can learn practices to avoid.
Visit competitor sites and go through the process as you would a new customer; look at what works well, what frustrates you. Write them down and incorporate them in to your own website plans.
The idea is to gain an edge on your competitors, however if you’re struggling to find a tactic that your competitors already haven’t covered, then speak with your web developer who can suggest new tactics or ideas you may not have thought about, such as we do at our friendly white board sessions3.
Now is the time to plan the content and functionality of the website (page 5 of your design brief).
To start planning your website content, first consider which information is vital to include to achieve your business goals, such as:
- A clear, brief explanation of what your business does
- Your unique selling point – what makes your business / service / product different to your competitors
- Your online value proposition – why customers should interact with your business online and on your website
- Service and product descriptions
- Contact details
Then consider additional content that will motivate the right actions. Content that will funnel your visitors towards the end goal; these could be blogs, videos, case studies, technical data, articles and images.
You don’t have to write every bit of content just yet, as you’re only creating a plan that will help form an overview and a site map. From here you can get an idea of how many web pages are required as this will help when it comes to finalising the cost of the website build.
In addition to content, you also need to consider the functionality of your website; what tools and facilities will make it work. Don’t worry, you won’t need to have any technical knowledge, you’ll just need to think about what will enable your visitors to meet the goals you’ve set, which could be a purchase, a contact, form filling or sign-up.
So at this point, you’ll need to specify if your site will need a shop (eCommerce), if you want to use or even create a specific tool, such as a ‘design your own’ section, or ‘calculate the cost’ tool. There are also other options you may want to think about, including a customer login and database, app downloads and how you would like your website to be viewed on a mobile device.
The earlier you can identify and plan the functionality of your website, the easier it will be to build and design a site that is optimised for success.
Putting Your Website Plan into Action
Once you have completed your design brief, you’ll certainly have a clear vision of what you want your website to achieve, and how you will motivate visitors to take a desired action.
With a little bit of focused website planning, you can be sure that you’re on your way to a successful and effective website.
All you need to do now, is to meet with your website developers for a relaxed and friendly initial consultation4.
At your initial consultation, you can further your ideas with expert knowledge from your website designer, as well as alleviate any concerns you may have over price and process.
So, there you have our short guide to website planning. Once you’ve asked yourself the right questions, and spent some time considering the needs of your visitors, you’ll be surprised how crucial website planning was to the success of your business objectives.
If you’ve found this short guide to website planning useful or know a business that could benefit, please feel free to share it – it’s easy just use the buttons floating down the left handside.
For more support with website planning, or information on the next step of website design, click here5.