This is Part One of a three-part article series about how to plan your website.
Are you thinking about getting a website built for your business?
One of the most important decisions you need to make is whether or not to build the website yourself, or get someone to help build the website for you.
Both choices have pros and cons. Whatever choice you select will depend on many things like:
- Budget amount
- How much time you can put into this area
- Your needs and priorities
- Sense of urgency
- Your technical skills
- Your level of commitment to manage the project
- and so on …
If your budget is limited and you want to save money, you could choose to create your website yourself, but it goes without saying that you will need to spend some time learning how to put everything together.
Before planning your website you need to plan your digital business and ask questions about the capabilities of your business to manage and grow a digital presence.
To help small businesses plan an effective digital presence, we have published a book called “The Small Business Digital Manager.”
‘The Small Business Digital Manager’ looks at why most small businesses end up with an unmanageable web presence almost as soon as they take their business online and why this leads to poor results, and shows you how to be in control of your digital business processes and get better results online using a systematic and doable approach.
In addition to the book, we have also developed a comprehensive online course that will help you implement a practical and effective digital plan for your business.
For more details, go here: The Small Business Digital Manager – How To Get Better Results Online
The Website Planning Process
Whether you choose to build a website yourself or get it built by someone else, the first important step is to get your website planning done. In this post, we explain why planning your small business web site is important and how to save money getting a web site for your small business.
Planning your website or blog is considered by many web strategists to be the most important aspect in building a successful website. Taking some time to plan your site in the early stages of your business development process will help you avoid costly mistakes later and create a better end product.
Below, we have compiled a comprehensive practical guide for business owners aimed at helping you better understand the process of planning your website. 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 website designer to make sure that you get a website that will truly work for your business.
Important: before you even think of setting up a website or registering a domain name for your online presence, it is vitally important that you first invest a little time re-evaluating your marketing strategy.
Developing a successful digital presence requires more than getting a professional website built. It also requires in addition to lots of other things, a commitment to develop and successfully implement an ongoing web marketing strategy.
The Website Planning Process Simplified
So … you have decided that you want a website.
Let’s start, then, by trying to gain a better understanding of the website planning process.
Study the flowchart below, and let’s go step-by-step through the information on this page together.
Note: To view a larger image click on the image or the link below the diagram.
To make this process easy to follow, we recommend downloading and printing the Website Planning Flowchart below.
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 take you through the process. Also, make sure to shut out all distractions over the next 15-45 minutes.
Step 1 – Your Website Goals
No matter what kind of web site you want to build, the first step is to define a clear goal for your site and make these goals as specific as possible.
Ask yourself the following:
- What kind of web site do I want to build? Will it be a business website, e-commerce site, a personal blog, or some other kind of website?
- What do you expect this site to help you achieve?
For example, your goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you will want an online shop. Depending on your objectives, this could also require setting up a secure website (i.e. changing your site from ‘http’ to ‘https’), the addition of a membership site exclusively for registered users, etc.
- Capture new leads – you may want to look at getting a simple site built with a “squeeze” page (landing page) or an information page and a lead capture form where all of your visitors get sent to,
- Have a services site that will help build credibility and trust for your brand or organization, post news, announcements, and updates to staff, etc.
- Get more exposure online for your existing business – you will need a business blog built on a separate domain, or added to an existing website to provide tips or training information to your new and potential customers, or help assert your authority and expertise in your target market.
- Or you may need a combination of the above or something else entirely …
Record as many goals and objectives as you can think of for your website on your worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are recording this information.
After you have written your list, go through the list and select the goal that is most important to your business.
Write this goal down in your process chart (in “Your Website Goals” section) as “Goal 1“.
Now, return to your list and repeat this process to find two more goals and record these on 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?
Running a website is going to to add a ton of additional things you will need to manage.
Your website planning process is a subset 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 to implement the strategies to help you achieve your goals.
So, with this in mind, do the following right now:
After picking at least 1-3 goals and written these in your planning chart, return 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 web site is on track to help you achieve your goals?
For example, your website’s goal could be to help you get a certain number of leads every week through your site’s contact form, or signing up “X” numbers of newsletter subscribers per marketing campaign, etc …
Also, 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: Keep your goals as flexible as possible at this stage, so you can adjust these as more information is collected from your website from visitors.
Step 2 – Site Name
Once you have clearly identified your site’s goals, the next step is to come up with an appropriate name for your web site.
This is an important part of the website planning process, so take your time to think carefully about what you are going to name your site.
Brainstorm ideas 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 the obvious (i.e. your company name), 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 user. Who would be searching online for the very product or service you sell? 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 prospects.
Note: You can be creative and clever with the name, but try to avoid being “too creative”. The same advice goes for choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. You can have a fun or quirky website name, but avoid names that could be made to sound offensive (and definitely stay away from trademarked or registered names or phrases – you’ll just be inviting 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 sites that occupy the search results that you would like to appear in.
For example, if you are planning to start a food blog, doing a quick search online for “cooking blog” reveals a number of great blog names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, “A Chef’s Daughter”, “The Rambling Spoon” and more …
(Research name ideas for your website or blog)
So … this is the step where you can get inspired. Make a huge list of possible names and then begin narrowing the list down.
After you have narrowed the list down to the most likely choices, repeat the same process as above to create a description, tagline or slogan for your web site.
Make your description concise and inform the reader with as few words as possible what your site is all about. For example, in one of the food sites we came across while searching online, the blog’s description was “Fast, Fresh, and Simple Recipes Easy Enough for Tonight’s dinner.”
Including keywords in your website’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 web site and decide that your business blog should have its own domain name, then by all means register a new domain name for your site.
There are different strategies you can use to register domains names for your website. For example, you can register keyword-rich domain names (i.e. domains containing the keyword phrase you would like to rank highly for in search engines), expired domain names (a domain name that the previous owner has decided not to renew and that can be registered once again, different top level domains and domain name extensions, etc.)
Tip: Subscribe to this site for practical strategies on registering domains and tips on developing and implementing a successful digital marketing strategy.
Step 3 – Manage Your Site’s Technology
After choosing a name and description for your site, the next step is to come up with a clear plan for managing the technology that is going to host, support and help you power your web marketing vehicle.
We highly recommend getting your site built with WordPress.
(Use WordPress to build your website or blog)
WordPress is not only a robust and secure platform to build a website with, but it is also easy-to-manage and great for non-technical users.
WordPress is also the world’s leading CMS platform, and, as you can see from the screenshot below, WordPress powers over 48% of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
(WordPress is the world’s most widely used Content Management System (CMS))
A WordPress-powered website is an ideal web technology platform for publishing content and communicating your business information to existing and potential clients.
A business website or blog powered by WordPress lets you 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, especially if you have little to no technical web skills. No coding is, in fact, required to publish content on a WordPress site, and managing things like data backups and software upgrades can easily be automated.
Many large companies, small to medium businesses, institutions, organizations and well-known brands, in fact, no longer use traditional websites built using traditional website building applications. More sites are now being powered using technologies like WordPress, which can provide businesses and their users with all of the features and capabilities of regular websites.
If you would like to have better management and control of your business online and don’t have the time, need or desire to learn technical “web programming” languages such as HTML, then we recommend that you consider building your website or blog with WordPress.
Web Hosting & Site Management
In addition to choosing WordPress to drive your website, you should also think about how you are going to host your website, and if you are going to let somebody else manage your web site, or manage your own site.
(Web Hosting & Website Management)
We use and recommend WordPress for most business uses, and we provide more detailed information about the WordPress CMS and expert advice on areas like domain name registration, choosing a good host and website management in other blog posts on this site.
If you need more help with this step, please contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Your Website Target Audience
Once you have worked through and completed the basic planning steps discussed so far, then it’s time to define who will be your target audience.
Key information about your site’s target audience should include:
- What your audience needs and wants
- What problems they face, or will have in the future
- How they consume information
- How they generally view themselves
- What they expect from you and your business
It’s very important that you spend time creating as accurate a profile of your target website visitors as possible. Try to picture the ideal person that you will be communicating directly with and presenting your content to.
To work through this process, begin by asking important questions, like the following:
- Who is your ideal reader for your site?
- What kind of content will users search for on your website?
- What difficulties are your users going to experience that your business will help to solve online? What specific solutions are people searching online for these issues?
- Are your visitors technology-savvy? How will your site users consume information? Will they prefer video 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 target audience?
- Where do they live? Is geographical location or factors like education, relationship status or gender, important to the success of your site? If so, what segments of the population will your website or blog be marketing to and how will you find and target these demographics online?
- How do they see themselves? Who does your target audience interact online with? What videos do they watch? What else are they buying or consuming online?
- What will your audience expect from your site? What kind of information are you willing to provide online freely or for a fee? What kind of information will you not be providing to them for free?
Being able to define your site’s 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, which will then ensure that you get a better result in the end.
- If you don’t have access to accurate research information about your target audience, just start with a “best guess” based on your experience and research.
- Try not to narrow your scope 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 viable.
- Create a list of all the things you would like your website to be able to do for your business and for your customers. This could include things such as having restricted areas where customers can view their order details and resellers or affiliates can view or download private or confidential information, add a directory, forum, customer support helpdesk, etc.
- Educate yourself about any additional functionalities that your website will need to provide your business with better website administration, more efficient website management, improved web security, etc. and list these as well. This could include managed webhosting, automatic backups, brute-force attack prevention, and more.
- Unless you plan to build a portal website and have the resources to do so, don’t try to make your web site appeal to too broad an audience, or you’ll just end up putting yourself in an untenable position when it comes to populating your website with content, as you will learn when we continue exploring the website planning process in another section.
This is the end of Section 1
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"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum