This is Part One of a 3-part series of articles about how to plan your website.
Are you thinking about taking your small business online?
One of the many decisions you need to make is whether or not to build this website yourself, or get someone to create the website for you.
Both choices have pros and cons. Whatever choice you select will depend on many things like:
- What kind of a budget you have allocated for website development
- How much time you can put into building your website
- Your business priorities
- Sense of urgency
- Your level of technical skill
- Your level of commitment to supervise and manage the project
- etc …
If you have a small budget and you want to save money, you could choose to develop the web site yourself, but it goes without saying that you will then need to invest time figuring out how to put things together.
How To Plan Your Website – What To Do And What Not To Do
Whether you decide to build a website yourself or get someone else to build it for you, the first important step is to do some website planning. In this post we explain why planning your website is important and what to avoid doing when planning a web site for your small business.
Planning your website is regarded by many online marketing experts to be one of the most important aspects of the whole process of getting a website built. Taking time to carefully plan your website upfront helps to avoid costly errors later and results in a better end end product.
In this article, we provide a comprehensive primer for non-technical users aimed at helping you better understand the website planning process. We will also cover the dos and don’ts of planning a website or blog, and give you tips on how to talk to your website developer to ensure that you end up with a website that will perfectly meet your budget, suit your needs and deliver you great results online.
Important: Before setting up a website or registering a domain for your web site, it’s absolutely important that you first spend a little time doing market research.
Building a successful digital presence requires more than just getting a professional website set up. It requires amongst lots of other things, a commitment to develop and implement an ongoing digital marketing strategy.
The Site Planning Process Explained
So … you have decided that you want an online presence.
Let’s start, then, by gaining a better understanding of the website planning process.
Before doing anything else, study the process chart below, and let’s work step-by-step through the information in this post together.
Note: To view a larger image click on the image or the link below the process chart.
To make this process easy to follow, we recommend downloading and printing the Website Planning Flowchart shown in the above image.
Once you have downloaded and printed out the flowchart, grab some paper and a pen, or whatever you takes notes on, so you can jot down your thoughts and ideas as we walk you through the process. Also, make sure to shut out all distractions over the next 15-45 minutes.
Step 1 – Define Your Goals
No matter what type of website you decide to build, the first step is to define one or more goals for your website and make these as specific as possible.
Ask these questions:
- What kind of web site am I planning to build? Is it a business web site, e-commerce site, a personal blog, or some other kind of website?
- What specific objectives would you like this website to help you achieve?
For example, your goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you might need to build a site with e-commerce facilities. Depending on your objectives, this could also require the addition of a membership site area that only your customers can access.
- Capture new leads – you might want a simple site built with a “squeeze” page (landing page), or a lead generation form where all of yourvisitors get directed to,
- Have a portfolio site that will help build credibility and trust for your professional services or brand, post news, announcements and information about company events, etc.
- Get more exposure online for your existing business – you may want to look at getting a blog built on a separate domain, or added to an existing website to interact with users and keep customers informed about your latest product updates, or help establish your authority and expertise in your specific niche.
- Or something else …
Record whatever goals you want your website to help you achieve on your worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are recording this process.
Once you have written your list, go through your list and choose the goal that is most important to your business.
Write down this goal on your process chart (in “Your Website Goals” section) as “Goal 1“.
Now, go back over your list and repeat this process to find two more goals and write these down in your worksheet as “Goal 2” and “Goal 3“.
You’ve probably heard the old saying “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
But, what if you already can’t manage?
Building a website is going to pile on a ton of extra responsibilities on your plate.
Your website planning process is an integral aspect of your business marketing planning processes. It’s important, therefore, that you continually refer to your marketing plan to make sure that you will have the resources and capabilities available to implement the strategies to help you achieve your goals.
So, with this in mind, take a moment to complete the following right now:
After listing at least 1-3 goals and written these in your planning chart, go back to “Goal 1” and ask yourself this question: “how will I measure this goal?”
In other words, what benchmarks will you use to measure your website’s performance? How will you know if your site is on track to help you achieve your business objectives?
For example, your website’s objective could be getting a certain number of leads every week through your site’s contact form, or getting “X” numbers of subscribers per week, etc …
Think about the resources and costs associated with managing the process of monitoring your goals. If you need to, revise your business plan to accommodate your findings.
Note: It’s also important to keep your goals as flexible as possible at this stage, so you can re-evaluate these as more information is collected from your website from visitors.
Step 2 – Name Your Website
After you have clearly identified your site’s goals, the next step is to come up with an appropriate name for your website.
This is an important step of the website planning process, so take your time to think carefully about coming up with a good name for your site.
Brainstorm your ideas or mastermind with others. Call a few customers (or potential customers if you haven’t launched your business yet) and get their input.
Try to think beyond just the name of your company, especially if your name isn’t something that immediately brings up your products or services to mind. Remember, most online users have never heard about you.
Put yourself in the shoes of an online customer. Who would be looking online for the very product or service your company sells? What would they be typing into a search engine or browser to find you? Once you know this, try to come up with a name that would entice your users.
Note: You can be creative and clever with your name, but it’s best to avoid being “too creative”. the same can be said about choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. You can have a fun or quirky name, but it’s best to avoid names that may sound offensive (and definitely stay away from trademarked or registered names or phrases – you’ll just be asking for trouble!)
If you go online, you can quickly find out what other companies in your industry or niche have named their sites. Study your competition, especially those who occupy the search results that you would like to show up in.
For example, if you are planning to start a food blog, a quick search online for “cooking blog” reveals some great blog names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, “Shockingly Delicious”, “Worth The Whisk” and more …
So … this is the step where you can get inspired. Make a huge list of potential names and then begin narrowing your list down.
After narrowing this list down to the best candidates, repeat the same process as above to craft a description, tagline or unique value proposition for your site.
Your description should be concise and inform the reader with as few words as possible what the website is all about. For example, in one of the cooking sites we came across while searching online, the site description was “Fast, Fresh, and Simple Recipes Easy Enough for Tonight’s dinner.”
Including keywords in your site’s name and description can also be useful.
Once you have completed this step, it’s time to look at your domain name. If you plan to add a blog to your existing website and feel that this blog should be its own entity, then go ahead and register a new domain name for your site.
There are different strategies you can use to register domains names for your web site. For example, you can register keyword-rich domain names (i.e. domains that include the key phrase you would like to rank for in the search engines), expired domain names (domains that the previous owners have decided not to renew and that can be registered again, other top level domain names and domain name extensions, etc.)
Tip: Subscribe to our site to learn more about practical strategies on registering domains and tips on how to develop your web marketing strategy.
Step 3 – Managing Your Technology
Once you have settled on a name and description for your website, the next step is to develop a clear plan to manage the technology that will host, support and help drive your online marketing vehicle.
We highly encourage you to consider building your website with WordPress.
WordPress is not only a robust web-building platform, but it is also easy-to-manage and great for non-technical users.
WordPress is also the world’s leading content management system (CMS), and, as you can see from the screenshot below, WordPress powers almost 50% of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
A WordPress-powered website or blog is ideal for publishing content and communicating with existing and potential clients.
A business website or blog created with WordPress lets you interact with site visitors, and makes things like posting content, special offers, promotions, news and announcements about your services, company or industry very easy, especially if you have little to no technical web skills. In fact, no coding is required to publish content on a WordPress site, and managing things like file and data backups and software upgrades can easily be automated.
In fact, many businesses no longer use static websites built using traditional website building tools. More sites are now being powered by technologies like WordPress, which can provide businesses and their users with all of the functions and capabilities of a regular website.
If you would like to have better control your business online and don’t have the time, need or desire to learn “web code” languages such as HTML, then you should consider using a WordPress-powered business website or blog.
Website Hosting & Web Site Management
In addition to using to build your web site with the WordPress web publishing software, you should also choose where you are going to host your site, and whether you are going to outsource your site management to someone else, or manage the website yourself.
We use and recommend WordPress for most website applications, and we also provide more information about the benefits of using WordPress and tips on subjects like domain name registration, webhosting and website management in other sections on this site.
If you need help, don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Defining Your Target Audience
After you have the basics of your site worked out, then it’s time to define who will be your target audience.
You will want to know key information about your site’s target audience, such as:
- Audience demographics
- What your audience needs and wants
- Problems your audience experiences, or will encounter in the future
- How they consume digital information
- How they generally see themselves
- What they expect from you andor your business
It’s essential that you try and create as accurate a profile of your ideal visitors as you can. Try to picture the actual person that you will be communicating directly with when presenting your information to.
To work through this process, begin by asking important questions, like:
- Who is the ideal visitor for your website?
- What will visitors search for on your website?
- What difficulties are people experiencing that your website can help them solve online? What specific solutions are people searching online for similar problems?
- Is your audience technology-savvy? How does your audience consume information? Will they prefer videos to visual content like images or graphics and text? Will they need downloadable content (e.g. price lists, schedules, timetables)? Do you need to create content like videos, audios or multimedia presentations regularly in order to engage your audience?
- Where are they located? Can geographic location and factors like education, relationship status or income level impact the success of your site? If so, what segments of the population will your web site be marketing to and how will you find and target these demographics online?
- How do your target users see themselves? Who does your audience form relationships online with? What music are they downloading? What else are they buying or consuming online?
- What do your target users expect from your site? What kind of information are you willing to provide to them for free or for a fee? What kind of information will you not be providing to them for free?
Being able to define your website’s target audience is an important step in the website planning process and it will help you communicate better with the web developer and everyone else assisting you in developing your website, and help to ensure that you get a better end product.
If you don’t have access to accurate market information about your target audience, then start with a “best guess” based on your experience and whatever research you can get your hands on.
Also, try not to limit things too much. You could be going after a niche that is just too small, or an online opportunity that may not be worth pursuing.
Finally, unless you plan to build a portal website and have the resources to do so, avoid trying to make your website be “everything to everyone”, or you’ll just end up creating a ton of extra work for yourself when it comes to populating your website with content, as you will learn when we continue exploring the website planning process in another post.
This is the end of Part 1
To read Part 2 of this article, click here:
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