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Website planning – 7 easy steps

Quite often I hear people say to me “yeah, my website is good – LOOK AT IT!” . Yep, it may look great, but does it do the job it is designed to do? BTW – what do you need a website for? Does it have a purpose? Do you think your website fills that purpose?

A few of my recent clients, didn’t have the rights answers to the above questions. Having a website “because I need one” is a start. It’s not a good start, but it is a start.

If you think you have a good enough website, please read on to get reassurance. If you were thinking it’s time to update my website, keep reading – you may learn something…

How to plan an effective website?

It pays to spend some time planning your website architecture. It can be created in a simple spreadsheet or Word document that lists the navigation and pages, or you can create a complex diagram that outlines detailed functionality requirements.

Too often people are in such a hurry to get a website live that they don’t pause long enough to consider the needs of the intended audience/s or the business itself. No matter how small or large you intend your website to be, mapping out its structure – based on its purpose – is essential to success.

Step 1: Identify your website goals

The first step in planning your website is to identify what you want it to achieve for your business and your customers. If you don’t know what you want the website to do – how will you measure its success?

Do you want your website to:

  • Generate online sales?
  • Generate new business leads?
  • Showcase your product-range as a catalogue?
  • Share downloadable/portable content (for example PDFs of documents, audio or video files)?
  • Capture customer information?
  • Build a database of subscriptions?
  • Connect with the audience in a forum? or
  • Provide easy ways for your audience to contact you

Once you listed your goals it will be easier to determine what type of website you need, what functionality is needed, and how to go about building it.

Step 2: Understand your audience

Who are you building this website for? What type of poeple are you looking to attract? What will THEY be looking to find on your website? Are you making it EASY for them to find it?

Understanding your target audience is a crucial step in planning the site. Large corporations will make a significant investment in developing target audience profiles, commonly referred to as Buyer Personas, exploring all the different scenarios that users may expect when interacting with a site.

Size doesn’t matter here. This crucial step will ensure that your site can fulfill the expectations of your visitors.

Step 3: Plan for the future

When creating your initial website architecture you must plan for the future. Make sure your structure is scalable – which means you can add more pages/products, add/remove items, and generally speaking,  the site need to grow with the business. Make sure the underlying system can support growth.

Planning for the future is also a good way to manage and save for web development costs.

Side note: Never use ‘under construction’ signs on the site if the content is not ready, and do not load empty pages online as it reduces visitor confidence.

Step 4: Understand you have Commit to regular maintenance

An important part of developing and maintaining a website is planning for how much maintenance your site will require. If you’re keeping a blog – make sure it is updated on regular (or acceptable) intervals. Your visitors will take you seriously, if you do the same. Outdated information can be a real turn off for visitors, so work towards keeping your information generic or easily and cost effectively updated. Realistically determine how often your website will require updates and factor maintenance into your budget.

Step 5: Choose a site navigation model

People who come to visit your site, need to find what they are looking for, and quickly. If they can’t easily find what they want in a few clicks they’re out! Don’t make people think too much, and try to understandyour logic. Create an environment where  common sense rules. There is a well known book by Steve Krug called Don’t Make Me Think which sums up this concept really well.

When talking to agencies and web designers, you’ll hear about UX, UI, Usability, etc… Simply put, the visitor need to find what they are looking for, fast! Making navigation too fancy or interactive can backfire because it can be frustrating and create barriers for your users.

Use logical navigation labels, make sure the purpose of the site is clear, and don’t assume the homepage will be the first page people will land on – they could arrive at your site via a link on another site or search engine to a specific sub-page.

The old KISS model works well. Keep It Simple!

Step 6: Create a marketing plan for the site

Building a site is only part of the process to establish a presence online. Creating the best website is meaningless, unless you have visitors. You’d need to plan how you intend to get visitors to your website.

There are several ways to get people to visit your site

  1. SEO (search engine optimisation) – Getting the search engines to find and list your site (and pages), based on keywords and phrases used. You should really consult a professional, BEFORE building the site. If it’s not too late…
  2. SEM (Search engine marketing) – Promoting your message on search results, by buying advertising on the different search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.)
  3. Online advertising – Buying advertising space on other websites.
  4. Social media presence – Create and maintain communities, and get them interested in you, your company and your product/service. They will follow to your website.
  5. Social Media Marketing – Buying advertising on Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, etc, targeting specific demographics.

If you’ve followed step 2, you’ll have a better understanding how to follow this step.

Step 7: Build the website architecture

Once you have carefully worked through the planning steps you should have a good understanding of who the site is for, and what you’d like them to do, when they visit.

The next step is to map it out.

Depending on your business objectives and budget there are several different options and approaches.

You can:

  1. Develop the architecture yourself and work with the person who will be writing the content.
  2. Prepare a creative brief for your web design agency that includes information architecture as part of your web project solution.
  3. Where information architecture and usability are core to the business model and return on investment, then you need specialists to take on this project.

There are too many “gurus” and “experts” out there. The reason large agencies have the right to exist, is because building websites can be a complex project.

Consider this – if you had build a shopfront for your business, you’d probably engage an architect, a designer and a builder, to make it happen. Building a website is very similar – it’s your ONLINE shopfront, so give this project the respect it deserves.

One thing to remember – don’t dwell on it for too long. Plan, and execute quickly! If you struggling to find the time, get someone else to do it for you.

The web is changing rapidly, so even the best website today, may look old and tired in 3 years. That’s ok! If the planning is done right, refreshing the website should be easy.