Planning is the single most important step that impacts the success of a website design project. Unfortunately, it’s the one far too many businesses
Since I know how busy most business owners are, this chapter assumes you’re working with a professional web designer and looking for simple steps to get started.
Don’t have time to read? Watch this short video summary for the highlights:
WHY PLANNING IS IMPORTANT
Building a website is like building a house. You wouldn’t just call up a contractor and say, “I’d like a house. How much will that cost, and how soon can you have it done?” Before you can start building, you need land, permits, financing, floor plans, and architectural drawings.
Creating a website design is much the same. Before your website developer can write a single line of code, they need to know your goals and expectations for your website and have a detailed plan and sitemap in hand. Unfortunately, too many businesses focus on the wrong things when planning a website design. They get hung up on design elements or some cool
THE FOUNDATION: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF YOUR WEBSITE DESIGN?
Construct solid groundwork for your website design by starting with goals. What do you want your website design to do? Answering this first gives you a basis for all your other decisions about your website.
Your website design goals might be things like:
- Driving sales
- Generating new leads
- Building your company image & credibility
- Educating your audience
What if you want your website design to do all of these things? Try to identify one primary goal, and prioritize secondary goals in order of importance. Websites that try to be all things to all people all at once often end up confusing visitors, because they aren’t sure what to do next.
Once you determine your general goals, make them S.M.A.R.T by finding ways to track and measure them. This will give you a basis for deciding if your website is successful or not.
For example, if your goal is to generate more leads, keep track of how many requests for quotes you get via your website. Tracking software can make this easier, but even a simple Excel spreadsheet will work. Once you have a baseline, set a realistic goal for how many leads you want to get from your website each month.
One of the first questions I get asked at the start of any website development project is, “How much will this cost?” My answer is usually, “It depends,” because I don’t yet have all of the details I need from the planning process to provide an accurate estimate. Still, when starting to plan, it’s important to have some mutually understood concept of
Let’s go back to the house analogy. If you’re building a house, you might only want a 400 square foot tiny house. Or you might want a 10,000 square foot mansion. You can live in either, but they serve different needs and start at vastly different price points. Websites work the same way. A basic templated website design with a few pages can be quite economical to get up and running. Meanwhile, a fully custom website with e-commerce and custom programming can easily cost over $20,000.
If you have a budget number in mind, start there. If not, at least identify the scope of what you’re looking for. Is it a mansion, a tiny house, or somewhere in between? This will give your web designer some idea of your expectations and help them ask the right questions along the way.
Regardless, don’t get caught up with exact numbers at this point. Price alone is a poor foundation for planning a website design and can lead to cutting corners and a poorly designed, under-performing result. Instead, revisit your budget after you’ve gone through your initial planning. By then, you will have a much clearer picture of what you want from your website, and your web designer can provide a more accurate estimate.
3 KEY QUESTIONS EVERY WEB DESIGN NEEDS TO ANSWER
Website strategic planning starts with a deep understanding of your business, your target audience, and your message. If you’ve done an overall marketing plan, you probably already have a strong grasp on this.
As you’re planning your new website design, think about answering these three questions for your visitor: Who are you? Why should I care? What do you want me to do?
Who Are You?
Your web design needs to introduce your business to your audience. First, this means you need to tell people what you do. Your visitors have a short attention span, so make it obvious from the instant someone hits your homepage.
This is especially important if you’re a small business in a niche industry that isn’t widely known. Take our client Precision Coating Technology & Manufacturing for example. Their niche is industrial coatings and powder coating – I know, exciting, right?
But even though it’s a technical field selling to other industrial or manufacturing businesses, their homepage is clear about what they do. They create industrial coatings for every application – whether that’s metal brackets, surgical implements, or
Another important part of who you are is the purpose or mission of your company. As noted speaker Simon Sinek points out, every business knows what they do, but very few are able to express why they do it. Speaking to your “why” can set your business apart from your competitors.
Why Should I Care?
Here’s the harsh truth: your website visitors don’t really care about your products or services. They care about how you can help them solve their problems. They’re all asking, “What’s in it for me?”
In order to answer this, you first need to know who is asking. That means knowing who your target audience is. Identify your ideal customer, and develop buyer personas, so you gain a deep understanding of your customers’ motivations, goals, and challenges.
Once you know what matters to your customers, you can start talking about how your product or service can help them. Just don’t fall into the trap of self-centeredness! Unfortunately, too many businesses forget about their customer, and only talk about themselves and how great their products and services are.
One way to convince customers to care is by focusing on benefits, not features. A feature is what something is, and a benefit is what something does. Apple is great at this. When the first iPod came out, it had a huge amount of storage for audio files. But that was a feature. Apple didn’t sell that. Instead, they sold “1,000 songs in your pocket.” They focused on the benefits and result of the new technology, rather than the product itself.
What do you want me to do?
Think back to your goals. What do you want your website to accomplish? If you’re like most businesses, you ultimately want people to buy from you. The trick is that there are often many steps between the first time someone visits your website and when they make a purchase. You need to continually get your visitors to take the next step toward your goal.
Maybe you want them to read an educational article, register for an event, or download a free resource. Or maybe you just want them to contact you for a quote. These are the types of actions that can move your prospects further down the sales funnel until they’re ready to buy.
As you’re working through the design and development process, think about what calls to action (CTAs) you can use to tell your visitors exactly what you want them to do. Make them clear, and concise and support them with strong benefits to encourage your visitors to take action.