Building a website is a very creative process and there is a strong urge to jump straight into design, layouts and visual aspects. But stop yourself. You do need a plan or as the saying goes you will be ‘planning to fail’. Okay, perhaps not quite that dramatic but putting the effort in upfront means you can base your design decisions on your plan to keep you on track.
In this article we’re going to dig into the following topics:
- What are your objectives?
- Who is your audience?
- What action do you want your visitors to take?
- Think about search engine optimisation early on
- Plan your website content
- Get your terminology right
- Keep it simple
Our recommendation is to make some notes in a simple document as you think about your project and make your plan.
What are your objectives?
The place to start when thinking about your website is what you want to achieve. What are the goals that would make this a success?
A website can serve several purposes for different organisations, generally they would fall into the following groups:
- Ecommerce: Selling products or services directly online to increase sales, eg: online shops, memberships and event registrations
- Brand promotion: To promote and showcase your brand online, eg: brochures and showcases
- Save costs: By moving services online you can save costs and give customers access to facilities 24/7, eg: customer accounts
- Customer service: To make it easy for your customers to get the information they need, eg: documentation and online manuals
- Facilitate discussion: By providing tools for online discussion you can build and nurture a community and following around your products eg: forums and commenting
From these top level groups we can determine some tangible objectives, here are a few examples:
Tom runs an ecommerce store selling widgets. He wants to increase his online sales. To do this he can (1) increase traffic (2) increase his conversion rate and (3) get more repeat sales. From this we know to focus on search optimisation, the checkout process and keeping in touch with his customers with newsletters and offers.
Jane is looking to improve customer service for her company. She wants to reduce the number of phone calls coming into her team, many of which are very similar. From this is need to make it clear that there is help and documentation available on the website. This content needs to be easy to search. Her team need to be able to easily refer customers to it in emails.
Harry runs a university project. He wants to encourage discussion around his research topic with academics in other universities. From this we know the website needs to be able to post his news and events in a clear way. The website needs to signpost to his social media channels, Twitter where he can easily share quick thoughts and also a private Facebook group setup for discussions.
Who is your audience?
Chances are you are not building a website for yourself, it is aimed at your prospective and existing customers. You should be putting yourself in their shoes. To do this it is helpful to define your audience. Remember that can be several different groups.
For example a school website might have 5 different groups as follows (1) prospective students / parents (2) existing students / parents (3) recruiting new staff (4) alumni (5) school governors.
What action do you want your visitors to take?
By defining your audience into groups you can now make notes on what each will be looking for on your website. What content are they after? What actions are they looking to take?
This will help to prioritise links and your website call to actions.
We often see features that have been added to a website as an afterthought. They stand out and are not in keeping with the rest of the website. This is because the function was forgotten during the design process and then hastily added in later – not ideal!
Get your terminology right
An often overlooked step is making sure the terminology you use on your website is what you audience will understand and use.
It’s common to have internal terminology or use acronyms but these might not be clear to prospective customers and definitely not what they will be using in search engines to find your website. Which means your search rankings will suffer too.
Do some research, find out what terminology makes most sense and use it on your content and navigation…
Plan your website content
Planning your content structure is one of the most important steps. You want to keep your website navigation simple and clear otherwise you will frustrate your visitors.
As per the step above the terminology should be familiar to your visitors.
To plan your structure we create a sitemap. This is a visual guide of the pages on your website. It does not have to show every page on the website but the type of content. For example: you can note down having a news section which you know will include multiple news posts and categories.
To create this plan you could use software like Excel or an online tool like GlooMaps which our clients really enjoy using.
Here is a snazzy sitemap we produced for a recent project:
Think about search engine optimisation early on
Search optimisation is often left to the end of a project or implemented retrospectively. In the steps described above we looked into terminology and website content. These two things are core to search engine optimisation so it makes a lot of sense to think about what search terms you want to be found during the website planning phase.
A fundamental concept of search optimisation is that you need to have content targeting the key phases you want to be found for. There is very little chance of being found for a key phrase if you do not have a page with content including those keywords.
Doing some keyword research means you can adapt your website content and even your navigation to make it more likely you will rank for those terms – this is optimising your website.
Keep it simple
As a final bit of advice we always recommend ‘keeping it simple’. Simple solutions are always the best solutions! Here are a few examples:
- keep the top navigation down to 5-6 items – the more you have the more effort it is for the visitor to digest and figure out
- keep the navigation consistent – it should not change as you navigate the website!
- your content should be written in simple terms – easy to read, easy to understand
- your visitors arrive to find content all the ‘bells and whistles’ are a distraction to them achieving that