This is Part One of a three-part article series designed to help you understand the website planning process.
Are you considering the idea of getting a website or blog built for your business?
One of the most important decisions you need to make is if you should build this site yourself, or get someone to build the website for you.
Both options have pros and cons. Whichever option you decide will depend on a number of factors like:
- Your budget and finances
- How much time you can put into developing your website
- Your business priorities
- How soon you need your website to be up and running
- Your level of technical skill
- Your level of commitment to manage and complete the project
- And many other factors …
If you have a small budget and you want to save money, you could choose to develop your site yourself, but it goes without saying that you will need to spend time learning how to put it all together.
How To Plan A Web Site - A Practical Blueprint For Business Owners
Whether you decide to build a website yourself or get it built by someone else, the first crucial step is to plan your website. In this article, we explain why better web site planning helps your business and how to save money getting a web site built for your small business.
Website planning is considered by many online marketing strategists as being the most important aspect of the entire process of getting a website built. Taking time to carefully plan your website at the beginning will help you avoid costly errors later and create a better end product.
Below, we have compiled a comprehensive primer for non-technical users aimed at helping you better understand the process of planning your website. We will also cover the do’s and don’ts of planning a business website, and give you tips on how to talk to your web designer to make sure that you get the exact type of website that you want.
Important: before you even think of setting up a website or registering a domain for your online presence, it’s absolutely vital that you first research your market.
Building a successful online business presence requires more than getting a professional website and business blog set up. It also requires amongst many other things, a commitment to developing and implementing an ongoing web marketing strategy.
The Website Planning Process Made Simple
So … you have decided that you want 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 through the information in this section 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 shown above.
After downloading and printing out the website planning process chart, grab some paper and a pen, or whatever you use to take notes, so you can write 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 – Define Your Site Goals
No matter what type of web site you plan to build, the first step is to define a clear goal for your site and make it as specific as possible.
Ask yourself the following:
- What kind of website do you want to build? Is it a corporate website, e-commerce site, a personal blog, or some other kind of website?
- What do I expect the site to help me achieve?
For example, your main goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you may want an e-commerce site. Depending on your objectives, this could also require purchasing an SSL certificate to create a secure website (i.e. changing your site from ‘http’ to ‘https’), the addition of a membership site exclusively for your customers, etc.
- Build a list of subscribers – you may want a simple site built with a “squeeze” page (landing page) or a lead generation form where all of your online visitors get sent to,
- Have a corporate site that will help build credibility and trust for your organization or brand, post news, announcements, or updates to staff and clients, etc.
- Get more exposure online for your existing business – you may need a blog built on a separate domain, or added to your existing website to provide tips or training information to your existing customers, or help your authority and expertise in your target market.
- Or something else …
List your goals on your Website Planning worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are recording this information.
After your goals have been written down, go through your list and pick 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, review your list and repeat this process to find at least two more goals and write these down on your planning chart as “Goal 2” and “Goal 3“.
You’ve probably heard the old business 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 extra things you will need to manage.
Your website planning process is a subset of your business marketing planning process. It’s important, therefore, that you continue to refer back to your marketing plan to make sure that you will have the resources and capabilities available to implement the strategies that will help you achieve your goals.
So, with this in mind, do the following right now:
Once you have listed at least 1-3 goals and written these down on your flowchart, go back to “Goal 1” and ask yourself this question: “how am I going to measure this goal?”
In other words, what objective criteria are you going to use to assess your site’s performance? How will you know if your site is on track to help you achieve your business objectives?
For example, your site’s goal could be getting a specific target amount of leads each week via your site’s contact form, or signing up “X” amount of subscribers per quarter, 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 once more information is gathered from your site from site visitors.
Step 2 – Website Name
Once you have clearly identified your website’s goals, the next step is to name your website.
This is another 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 business 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 searching online for the very thing 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 your name, but try to avoid being “too clever”. This also goes for choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. It can be a fun or quirky name, but avoid website names that may 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 easily 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 show up in.
For example, if you are planning to start a blog related to food, doing a quick online search for “cooking blog” reveals a number of great site names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, ”Shockingly Delicious”, ”Worth The Whisk” and more …
(Researching name ideas for your web site)
So … now is the time to get inspired. Make a big list of names and then begin narrowing this list down.
Once you have narrowed this list down to the best choices, 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 in as few words as possible what your website is all about. For example, in one of the cooking sites we came across while searching online, the site’s description was “Fast, Fresh, and Simple Recipes Easy Enough for Tonight’s dinner.”
Include keywords in your web site’s name and description.
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 your 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 that you want to rank for in the search engines), expired domain names (a domain that the previous owner has decided not to renew and that can be registered again, different top level domain names and domain name extensions, etc.)
Tip: Subscribe to our site for useful strategies on registering domains and tips on developing a successful digital marketing strategy.
Step 3 – Managing Your Web Technology
Once you have chosen a name and description for your site, the next step is to create a clear plan specifying how to manage the technology that is going to host, support and help you drive your online business vehicle.
We recommend building your site with WordPress.
(Build your website or blog with the WordPress Content Management System)
WordPress is not only a robust and secure 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 below, WordPress powers over 45% of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
(WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS (Content Management System))
A WordPress-based website is ideal for publishing content and communicating your business information to existing and potential clients.
A website or blog driven by WordPress allows you to interact better with site visitors and makes things like posting content, special offers, promotions, news and announcements about your business, company or industry very easy, even if you have little to no technical web skills. No coding is, in fact, required to publish content on a WordPress site, and managing necessary tasks like backups and software upgrades can easily be automated.
In fact, many businesses no longer choose to build their websites using traditional website building applications. More sites are now being powered using “blogging” software like WordPress, which provides businesses and their users with all of the functionality and capabilities of regular websites.
If you want 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.
Hosting & Web Management
In addition to using WordPress to drive your site, you should also choose how you are going to host your website, and whether you are going to outsource the management of your website to somebody else, or manage your own site.
(Hosting And Web Site Management)
We use and recommend WordPress for many website applications, and we provide more information about the WordPress CMS and expert advice on subjects like domain name registration, webhosting and website management in other sections on this site.
If you would like more help or advice choosing a technology platform for your website, please contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Your Website Audience
After you have the basics of your site figured out, then the next step is to define who your website’s target audience is.
Key information about your target audience includes the following:
- Audience demographics
- What they need and want
- Any problems your target audience has, or will encounter in the future
- How prefer to consume information
- How they see themselves
- What they may expect from you and your business
It’s important to spend time creating as accurate a profile of your ideal visitors as possible. Try to picture the ideal person that you will be communicating directly with when presenting your content to.
Begin this process by asking important questions, like the following:
- Who will you be writing to?
- What will visitors be searching for on your website?
- What challenges are people experiencing that you will help to solve online? What specific solutions are people searching online for these issues?
- Is your target audience technology-savvy? How does your target audience consume digital information? Does your audience prefer video to visual content like images or graphics and text? Do they need downloadable content (e.g. price lists, schedules, timetables)? Will you need to create visual, audio or multimedia content continually to engage your target audience?
- Where are they located? Is geographical location or factors like occupation, relationship status or income level, significant to the success of your business? If so, what segments of the population will your website or blog be marketing to and how will you target these demographics online?
- How do they see themselves? Who does your audience interact online with? What videos are they watching? What else do they buy, or consume online?
- What does 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 online for free?
Being able to define your website’s target audience is a vital 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 ensure that you get a better result in the end.
If you don’t have access to accurate market research data about your target audience, then start with a “best guess” based on your experience and research.
Also, try not to 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 worth pursuing.
Conversely, unless you plan to build a portal website and have the resources to do so, avoid trying to make your web site be “everything to everyone”, 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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