Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Planning is essential to the success of businesses and organisations. It’s no different when it comes to planning a website. Unfortunately, making the proper accommodations when planning a website is often overlooked. Due to the busy schedule of business owners, there is often not enough time to dedicate to the project. A fatal flaw in website development is underestimating the time, skills, and expertise that should go into building a thriving website. Planning for a website is as important as planning for any other investments your business is about to make.
This guide will help you to plan appropriately for the development of your website, leading to a more successful platform from which your brand can grow. We will discuss how to identify the purpose and audience of your website, how to perform a needs assessment and choose the correct content, as well as examine navigation and aesthetics.
- Identify the Purpose
- Identify the Audience
- Needs Assessment
- Other Assets
Identity the Purpose
Usually the purpose of a business website is to encourage sales. Successful sites inform, entertain, educate and inspire audiences all the while converting visitors into leads, and converting those leads into customers. Websites offer the opportunity to purchase physical or digital products and services directly from the business, as well as providing a platform for people to engage with their business brand.
Frequently, the end goal of a website is lost in meetings about content, formatting, and digital platforms. If sales is the goal of your website, you must tailor your content to drive sales. This doesn’t just involve product descriptions and sales pitches. It can include educational content that inspires your customers to make an informed purchase.
If sales is not the purpose of your website, determine what it is, and create a website around that goal. Usually you will want to induce some kind of actions from a visitor, whether that is to sign up, donate, or volunteer. These might be among the primary goals for your website.
Investing in your website is an investment in the growth of your brand and business. It is integral that you allow your website to change with your business. If the goals of your site change, make sure you update your content to reflect that.
Identify the Audience
After you have decided on the purpose of your website, you will need to identify your target audience. This involves thinking about who will be engaging most with what you have to offer. This could be the buyers of your products or services, people you wish to educate and inform, or people you’d like to have volunteer or donate. Choosing the correct register and medium for your target audience is essential. You have to speak to them in a way that will appeal to them. For example, if the majority of your customers are experts in your industry, you can use technical jargon and niche information. If the majority of your customers are not skilled in your area of expertise, you may want to use simple language that appeals to their interests.
A helpful way to identify your target audience can be to visit the websites of competitors and see who is sharing their content. You may have a common target audience. This will inform the people you will target with your content.
Performing a needs assessment is crucial to setting expectations for what you want to get from your site. A needs assessment is when you chart what your business has achieved, what you would like to achieve in the future, and how to achieve those goals. Only twenty hours spent on a needs assessment can save forty hours of development time when creating your website (1). Having a firm grasp of the things you want to achieve saves your business time and money. Realising what you need halfway through the process of building a site can be costly. Proper planning is crucial to an easy and cost effective development process.
The first step in the actual planning of your website should be a list of things you need, in as much detail as possible; starting with the essentials and ending in incidentals. This is what a needs assessment will do for you. By skipping the needs assessment step, most businesses fail to properly plan, and end up with complications down the line, or worse, ineffective and costly websites. Arriving at an accurate cost and vision before the project is undertaken is vital to the success of the site.
Some important notes to remember when you are conducting a needs assessment:
- If your website is public facing, it must be designed for your audience, not for you. It should meet the needs of your audience while working in tandem with your marketing strategy.
- A website is not static. It is the primary representation of your brand that customers interact with. It should be flexible and change with the changing needs of your audience.
- You should have a list of key internal stakeholders i.e. everyone who has something valuable they can contribute to the development of the website.
Your assetsneed to be included in your site planning. This includes things like brand assets and social media accounts, as they are the backbone of your brand. This step is easy as it just means keeping the theme of your brand in mind during the designing process. This includes brand iconography, colours, fonts, reviews, platforms, etc. Keeping these things in mind isn’t a hindrance, it should provide inspiration. It will guide you as you look for ideas for your site.
Content is will make up most of what your website has to offer. Examples of content are blog posts, articles, interviews, product pages and case studies, to name a few. Choose a medium that will suit your customers. Naturally you don’t have to create content before your website is ready, but having an understanding of the kinds of content you will be promoting will help you to design a website that will bolster the success of that content.
Brainstorming one or two ideas for each type of content you would like on your website will help you to get a sense of what your content will look like. This could influence the aesthetic of your website.
Website navigation refers to the way in which your website and links are organised. The aim of navigation should be to create a site that is easy for your target audience to use. There are four easy steps to ensuring accessible navigation for your site:
- Begin by mapping your site on a piece of paper. Put the homepage at the top, which is the page that your website domain URL will direct people to.
- Below your homepage, make a list of the essential pages like “Contact” and “About”.
- Make a list of the other main categories that will appear on your site below the essential pages. For example, if you are a garden centre your categories might include sheds, seeds, and tools.
- Below these main categories, you will need to make a list of subcategories. For example below seeds there might be flowers, or other specific item lists.
Creating this brief list will help you to prepare for the way your website will flow. Usually websites have a top or side menu that a visitor can access from every page. This helps navigate between essential pages which contain main categories. The key to good navigation is keeping it simple. You want customers to be able to navigate your site intuitively to find the content they need. Including a search box is a helpful way to guide people toward the information they are looking for.
Aesthetics refers to the way your site looks. This is crucial for attracting new customers. Fortunately most hosting platforms offer templates with themes that make having an aesthetically pleasing website easy.
Below we will look at some things to keep in mind while planning the look of your site:
- Keep your target audience in mind. Think about the demographics you are targeting with your content. Whether it is business owners, parents, teens, or farmers, it is important you have the right tone to engage them.
- Make sure to use professional quality images. Visual content is engaging and ensures that you don’t have pages of interrupted text. Ensure that you use quality graphics that compliment your content.
- Keep it simple. Your site needs to be easy to read. Make sure text is a readable colour on a plain background. Stick to popular fonts that every search engines can format.
- Make it easy for your audience. Keep the most important information front and centre. If your audience can’t find what they’re looking for, they will go somewhere else. Ideally visitors should not have to scroll down to access the information they want.
- Your website should have a responsive design. This is a design that changes your site to be formatted for mobile devices. Nowadays people make their decisions on the move, you want your content to be readable no matter here your customers are.
If you don’t know where to start, visit a competitors website to see what you can do better. Don’t copy your competitors exactly, otherwise you won’t stand out.
Making the right decisions for your website can be easy, if you have a plan to consult. You should take as much time as you need to make your plan, but it doesn’t have to be too detailed; don’t get bogged down in the specifics. Having a file, or even a paper list, of the most important things to your business will help you to stay on track. Keeping your target audience, goals, and brand at the centre of the plan will ensure success for your site.
Resources 1. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2018/02/comprehensive-website-planning-guide-part1/