This is Part 1 of a three-part series of articles designed to help you understand how to plan your website.
Are you considering the idea of starting a web site for your business?
One of the most important decisions you need to make is whether or not to build this website yourself, or get someone else to create your website.
Both options have pros and cons. Whichever choice you pick will depend on a number of factors like:
- Allocated funds for website development
- How much time you have available
- Your business priorities
- How soon you need your site to be up and running
- Your skill level
- Your level of commitment to manage the project
- etc …
If your budget is limited and you want to save money, you could opt to build the site yourself, but it goes without saying that you will then need to spend some time learning how to put it all 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 someone else to build it for you, the first crucial step is to do some website planning. In this post, we explain in simple terms why planning your small business website is important and what to do before you spend your money getting a website built for your small business.
Proper website planning is regarded by many web business experts as being the most important step of building a successful web site. Taking some time to plan your web site upfront helps to avoid costly errors later and results in a better end end product.
In this article, we provide a comprehensive practical guide for business owners aimed at helping 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 or blog, and give you tips on how to talk to your web designer to make sure that you get a great website that you will truly be happy with.
Important: Before setting up a website or registering a domain for your site, it is vitally important that you first spend a little time researching your market.
Building a successful presence online requires more than getting a professional website or business blog set up. It requires in addition to lots of other things, a commitment to developing and implementing an ongoing website marketing strategy.
The Website Planning Process Explained
So … you have decided that you need a web presence.
Let’s start, then, by understanding 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 section together.
Note: To view a larger image click on the image or the link below the flowchart.
To make this process easy to follow, you may want to download and print the Website Planning Process Flowchart below.
After downloading and printing out the website planning flowchart, grab some 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 for the next 15-60 minutes.
Step 1 – Define Your Website Goals
No matter what type of web site you choose to build, the first step is to define clear goals for your site and make these goals as specific as you can.
Try to answer the these questions:
- What kind of web site am I planning to build? Is it a business web site, a portfolio site, a sales blog, or some other kind of site?
- What specific objectives would you like to achieve with this website?
For example, your main goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you may want to build an e-commerce website. Depending on your objectives, this may include setting up a secure website (i.e. changing your site from ‘http’ to ‘https’), adding a membership area exclusively for your customers, etc.
- Capture new leads – you might want a simple site built with a “squeeze” page (landing page) or an information page and a lead capture form where all traffic gets sent to,
- Have a portfolio site that will help build credibility and trust for your brand or organization, post news, announcements, or updates to staff, etc.
- Get more exposure online for your existing business – you might need a business blog built on a separate domain, or added to your existing website to provide tips or training information to your existing customers, or help establish 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 web site on your Website Planning worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are documenting this process.
After you have written your list, go through the list and select the goal that has overriding importance above all others.
Write down this goal on your worksheet (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 flowchart 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?
Owning 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 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:
Once you have listed at least 1-3 goals and written these down on your worksheet, go back to “Goal 1” and ask yourself this question: “how am I going to measure this goal?”
In other words, what benchmarks will you use to assess your site’s performance? How will you know if your web site is on track to help you achieve your objectives?
For example, your web site’s objective could be to help you get a certain target amount of leads to submit an enquiry each week using your site’s contact form, or signing up “X” amount of new list subscribers per campaign, etc …
Also, 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 modify these as more information is collected from visitors.
Step 2 – Web Site Name
Once you have clearly identified your website’s goals, the next step is to name your website.
This is an important step in 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. 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 company name), especially if your business name isn’t something that immediately brings up your products or services to mind. Remember, most online users will probably have never heard of you.
Put yourself in the shoes of an online customer. 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 customers.
Note: You can be creative and clever with the name, but try to avoid being “too clever”. This also can be said about choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. It can be a fun or quirky name, but it’s best to try and avoid web site names that could be made to 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 competitors, especially sites that occupy the search results that you would like to show up in.
For example, if you are thinking of starting a blog related to cooking, a quick online search for “cooking blog” reveals a number of ear-catching site names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, “A Chef’s Daughter”, “The Rambling Spoon” and more …
(Researching ideas for your website or blog’s name)
So … now is the time to get inspired. Make a big list of names and then begin narrowing this list down.
After you have narrowed the list down to the most likely candidates, repeat the same process as above to create 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 or blog is all about. For example, in one of the cooking blogs we came across while searching online, their description was “Fast, Fresh, and Simple Recipes Easy Enough for Tonight’s dinner.”
Include keywords in your site’s name and description.
After completing this step, the next step is to look at your domain name. If you plan to add a blog to your existing website and feel that your 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 for your web site. For example, you can register keyword-rich domain names (i.e. domains that contain the key phrase you would like to rank highly for in the search engines), expired domain names (domains that the previous owners have decided not to renew and that are now available to be registered once again, other top level domain names and domain name extensions, etc.)
Tip: Subscribe to this site to learn more about useful strategies on registering domains and tips on how to develop and implement your web marketing strategy.
Step 3 – Managing Your Website’s Technology
Once you have settled on a name and description for your web site, the next step is to come up with a clear plan for managing the technology that will host, support and help drive your web marketing vehicle.
We highly encourage you to consider building your site with WordPress.
(Build your website or blog with WordPress)
WordPress is not only a robust and secure platform to build a website or blog with, but it is also easy-to-manage and great for non-technical users.
WordPress is also the world’s most widely used CMS platform, and, as you can see below, WordPress powers almost 50% of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
(WordPress is the world’s most widely used CMS (Content Management System))
A WordPress website is an ideal digital technology platform for publishing content and communicating information about your business to visitors and potential clients.
A website or blog created with WordPress lets you interact better 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. In fact, no coding is required to publish content on a WordPress site, and managing things like backups and software upgrades can easily be automated.
Many large companies, small to medium businesses, institutions, organizations and even celebrities, in fact, no longer use traditional websites built using traditional website building tools. More websites are now being powered with WordPress, which provides businesses and their users with all of the functions and capabilities of a regular website.
If you want to have better management of your business online and don’t have the time, need or desire to learn “web development” languages such as HTML, then you should consider building your website or blog using WordPress.
Hosting & Managing Your Website
In addition to choosing WordPress to power your website, you should also choose where you are going to host your site, and whether you are going to outsource the management of your web site to professionals, or manage your own site.
(Hosting And Site Management)
We use and recommend WordPress for most website applications, and we provide more information about the benefits of using the WordPress CMS and expert advice on areas like how to register domain names, how to choose a good webhost and website management in other sections on this site.
If you would like more help with this step, feel free to contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Your Website Target Audience
After you have the initial planning steps we’ve discussed above figured out, then it’s time to define who your site’s target audience is.
Key information about your target audience should include the following:
- What your audience needs and wants
- What problems your audience has, or will have in the future
- How prefer to consume information
- How they generally tend to view themselves
- What they expect from you and your business
It’s very important that you try and create as accurate a profile of your ideal audience 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 important questions, like the following:
- Who is the ideal visitor for your web site?
- What kind of content will visitors be searching for on your web site?
- What problems and difficulties are people experiencing that your website or blog can help them solve online? What kind of solutions are people searching online for these issues?
- Are your ideal users technology-savvy? How will your site users consume information? Does your audience prefer video to visual content like images or graphics and text? Will they need downloadable content (e.g. price lists, schedules, timetables)? Will you need to create visual, audio or multimedia content to keep your site users engaged?
- Where do they live? Will geographic location, or factors like occupation, relationship status or gender play an important role in the success of your business? 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 visitors see themselves? Who do your visitors normally form online relationships with? What videos do they watch? What else do they buy, or consume online?
- What will your visitors 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?
Being able to accurately define your site’s key 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 with your website, and help to ensure that you get a website that will perfectly meet your budget, suit your needs and deliver you the type of results you expect.
- If you don’t have access to accurate research data about your target audience, then start with a “best guess” based on your experience and whatever research you can manage to get done.
- Don’t narrow things 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 worth pursuing.
- 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 site appeal to too broad an audience, 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 website, as you will see when we continue exploring the website planning process in another section.
This is the end of Part 1
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