This is Part One of a three-part series of articles designed to help you understand the website planning process.
Are you considering the idea of starting a website or blog for your business?
If so, one of the most important decisions you need to make is whether or not to build your web site yourself, or get someone else to build your site.
Both options have pros and cons. Whatever choice you pick will depend on many factors such as:
- Your financial situation
- Your business priorities
- Sense of urgency
- Your skill level
- Your level of commitment to manage the project
- etc …
If you have a small budget and you want to save money, you could opt to create the website yourself, but it goes without saying that you will need to invest time figuring out how to put your site together.
Planning Your Website – Understanding The Process
Whether you decide to build a website yourself or get it built by someone else, the first important step is to get some planning done. In this blog post we explain the importance of web site planning and what to avoid doing when planning a web site for your small business.
Planning your website is considered by many online experts to be one of the most important aspects of the process of getting a website for your business. Careful planning in the early stages of your business development process helps to avoid costly mistakes later and also help you create a better end product.
Below, we have compiled a comprehensive practical guide for business owners that will help you better understand the process of planning a website for your business. We will also cover what to do and what not to do when planning a website, and give you tips on how to talk to your web developer to ensure that you end up with the exact type of website that you want.
Important: Before even thinking of setting up a website or registering a domain name for your online presence, it is highly recommended that you first do a little market research.
Building a successful online business presence requires more than getting a professional website or business blog built. It also requires in addition to a number of other things, a commitment to develop and implement an ongoing online marketing strategy.
The Site Planning Process Simplified
So … you have decided that you need a web presence.
Let’s start, then, with an overview of the website planning process.
Study the process chart below, and let’s go through the information on this page together.
Note: To view a larger image click on the image or the link below the image.
Grab a few sheets of paper and a pen, or whatever you takes notes on, so you can write down your thoughts and ideas as we walk you through the process. Also, make sure to shut out all distractions over the next 25-60 minutes.
Step 1 – Your Website Goals
Regardless of the kind of web site you plan to build, the first step is to define a clear goal for your web site and make these as specific as you can.
Try to answer the these questions:
- What kind of website are you planning to build? Will it be a corporate website, a portfolio site, a business blog, or some other kind of website?
- What specific objectives would you like to achieve with this website?
For example, your goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you will want a site with e-commerce capabilities. Depending on your goals, this could also require the addition of a private membership area exclusively for registered users.
- Build a list of subscribers – you might need a simple site built with a “squeeze” page (landing page), or an information page and a lead capture form where all of your online visitors get directed towards,
- Have a portfolio site that will help build credibility and trust for your brand or professional services, post news, announcements and information about company events, etc.
- Get more exposure online for your existing business – you may need a business 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 your authority and expertise in your specific niche.
- Or something else …
List as many goals as you can think of for your website on your worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are recording this process.
Once you have written your list, go through the list and select the goal that has overriding importance above all others.
Write down this goal.
Now, return to your list and repeat this process to find two more goals and record these.
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 whole lot of extra responsibilities on your plate.
Your website planning process is a subset of your business marketing planning processes. It’s important, therefore, that you continually refer to your business 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, do the following right now:
Once you have identified at least 1-3 goals and written these down, go back to “Goal 1” and ask yourself this question: “how will I measure this goal?”
In other words, how are you going to quantify and review your results? How will you know if your site is on track to help you achieve your objectives?
For example, your website’s goal could be to help you get a specific target amount of leads every week via your site’s contact form, or signing up “X” number of new membership sales per marketing campaign, etc …
Think about the resources and costs associated with managing the process of measuring your goals. If you need to, revise your business plan to accommodate your findings.
Note: Keep your goals as flexible as possible at this stage, so you can readjust these once more data is gathered from users.
Step 2 – Site Name
Once you have clearly identified your goals, the next step is to come up with an appropriate name for your site.
This is an important step of the website planning process, so take your time and think carefully about what you are going to name your site.
Brainstorm your ideas or mastermind with others. Get in touch with a few customers (or potential customers if you haven’t launched your business yet) and get their input.
Try to think beyond the obvious (i.e. your business name), especially if the name isn’t something that immediately brings up your products or services to mind. Remember, most online users have probably never heard about you.
Put yourself in your ideal customer’s shoes. Who would be looking online for the very thing 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 potential clients.
Note: You can be creative and clever with your name, but it’s best to avoid being “too creative”. The same advice can be said about choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. It can be a fun or quirky site name, but avoid website names that can sound offensive (and definitely stay away from trademarked or registered names or phrases – you’ll just be asking for trouble!)
Go online and do a little research to find out what other companies in your industry or niche have named their sites. Study your competitors, especially sites that occupy the search results that you would like to own.
For example, if you are thinking of starting a food blog, a quick online search for “cooking blog” reveals some ear-catching blog names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, “A Chef’s Daughter”, “Worth The Whisk” and more …
So … this is the time to get inspired. Make a big list of potential names and then narrow your list down.
Once you have narrowed the list down to the best contenders, repeat the same process as above to create a description, tagline or unique value proposition for your website.
Your description should be concise and inform the reader in as few words as possible what the website is all about. For example, in one of the cooking sites we came across while doing research, the blog description was “Fast, Fresh, and Simple Recipes Easy Enough for Tonight’s dinner.”
Including keywords in your web site’s name and description can also be useful.
Once you have completed this step, the next step is to look at your domain name. If you plan to add a blog to your existing web site and feel that your blog should be its own entity, by all means register a new domain name for your site.
There are different strategies you can use to register domains for your website. For example, you can register keyword-rich domain names (i.e. domains that include the key phrase you want to rank well for in the search engines), expired domain names (domain names that the previous owner has decided not to renew and are now available to be registered once more, other top level domains and domain name extensions, etc.)
Step 3 – Managing Your Site’s Technology
After choosing a name and description for your site, the next step is to create a clear plan for managing the technology that will host, support and drive your online business vehicle.
We strongly encourage you to consider getting your website built 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 most popular content management system (CMS), and, as you can see from the screenshot below, WordPress powers almost half of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
A WordPress website or blog is ideal for publishing content and communicating your business information to users and potential customers.
A business website or blog built using the WordPress CMS platform allows you to better interact with online users, and makes things like posting content, special offers, promotions, news and announcements about your product or services, company or industry very easy, even if you have little to no technical web skills. In fact, no coding is required to publish content on a WordPress site, and managing essential features like backups and software upgrades can easily be automated.
Many large companies, small to medium businesses, educational institutions, organizations and even celebrities, in fact, no longer use a traditional website built using static website building tools. More websites around the world are now being powered with WordPress, which can provide businesses and their users with all of the functionality and capabilities of a regular website.
If you would like to control your business online and don’t have the time, need or desire to learn technical “web programming” languages such as HTML, then you should consider building your website or blog with WordPress.
Hosting And Managing Your Site
In addition to building your website or blog with WordPress, you should also decide who is going to host your site, and if you are going to outsource your website management to someone else, or manage your own website.
Step 4 – Defining Your Target Audience
Once you have the initial planning steps figured out, then it’s time to define who will be your site’s target audience.
Key information about your web site’s target audience includes:
- Audience demographics
- Needs and wants
- Problems they are experiencing, or will have in the future
- How they like to consume digital information
- How they generally tend to see themselves
- What they expect from you or your site
It’s important to spend time creating as accurate a profile of your target website visitors as you can. Try to picture the actual person that you will be communicating directly with and presenting your information to.
To work through this process, begin by asking questions, like:
- Who is your ideal visitor for your website or blog?
- What kind of information will users search for on your website or blog?
- What difficulties are people experiencing that your information will help to solve online? What specific solutions are people searching online for these issues?
- Are your target users technology-savvy? How will your site users consume digital information? Does your audience prefer video to images 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 continually to engage your visitors?
- Where are they located? Will geographic location and factors like education, relationship status or gender affect the success of your website? If so, what segments of the population will your website or blog be marketing to and how will you target these demographics online?
- How does your audience see themselves? Who do your site users form online relationships with? What videos are they watching? What else are they buying or consuming online?
- What do your site 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 are you unwilling to provide online for free?
Having the ability to accurately define your website’s key target users is an important step in the website planning process and it will help you communicate better with your web developer and everyone else assisting you in developing your website, and ensure that you end up with a website that will perfectly meet your budget and suit your needs.
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 research.
Also, don’t limit your criteria too much. You could end up investing too much time pursuing a niche that is just too small, or an online opportunity that may not be sustainable.
Finally, unless you plan to build a portal website and have the resources to do so, avoid trying to make your web site appeal to an audience that is just too broad, or you’ll just end up putting yourself in an untenable position when it comes to developing and implementing an effective content strategy for your site, as you will see when we continue exploring the website planning process in another section.
This is the end of Part 1