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 if you should build the site yourself, or get someone else to help create the site for you.
Both options have pros and cons. Whichever choice you decide will depend on things such as:
- Your financial situation
- How much time you can put into the project
- Your priorities
- Level of urgency
- Your technical skills
- Your level of commitment to supervise and manage the project
- and so on …
If your budget is limited and you want to save money, you could choose to develop your web site 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 an e-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 Web Site Planning Process - A Comprehensive Guide For Business Owners
Whether you choose to build a website yourself or get it built by someone else, the first crucial step is to get some website planning done. In this blog post, we explain in simple terms why better website planning can help your business and what to do before investing in website development.
Proper website planning is considered by many web strategists to be one of the most important parts in building a successful web site. Taking time to carefully plan your website upfront will help you avoid costly errors later and create a better end product.
Below, we have compiled a comprehensive practical guide for non-technical users 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 business website, and give you tips on how to brief your web developer to ensure that you get 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 name for your online presence, it’s highly recommended that you first research your market.
Building a successful presence online requires more than just having a professional web site set up. It requires in addition to lots of other things, a commitment to developing and implementing an ongoing web marketing strategy.
The Website Planning Process Explained
So … you need an online presence.
Let’s start, then, by gaining a better understanding of the website planning process.
Study the diagram below, and let’s go step-by-step through the information on this page together.
Note: Click on the image or the link below the image to enlarge the diagram.
To make the process easier to follow, you will want to download and print the Website Planning Flowchart below.
Once you have downloaded and printed 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 take you through the process. Also, make sure that you will not have any distractions over the next 15-60 minutes.
Step 1 – Defining Your Website Goals
No matter what kind of web site you plan to build, the first step is to define one or more clear goals for your web site and make these goals as specific as possible.
Come up with answers to these questions:
- What kind of website do I want to build? Is it a corporate website, e-commerce site, a personal blog, or some other kind of website?
- What do I want the website to help me achieve?
For example, your goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you will need an online web store. Depending on your goals, this may include purchasing or installing an SSL certificate to create a secure website (i.e. changing your site from ‘http’ to ‘https’), the addition of a private download area that only your registered users can access, etc.
- Build a list of subscribers – you might want to look at getting a simple site built with a “squeeze” page (landing page) or a direct sales letter where all online visitors get directed towards,
- Have a corporate site that will help build credibility and trust for your brand or organization, post news, announcements, or information about company events, etc.
- Get more exposure online for your existing business – you will want to look at getting a business blog built on a separate domain, or added to your existing website to interact with users and keep customers informed about your latest product updates, or help assert your authority and expertise in your specific niche.
- Or you may need a combination of the above or something else entirely …
List all of your web site goals on your Website Planning worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are documenting this information.
After your goals have been written down, go through the list and select the goal that has overriding importance above all others.
Write down this goal in your planning chart (in “Your Website Goals” section) as “Goal 1“.
Now, review your list and repeat this process to find at least two more goals and record these 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?
Owning a website is going to pile on a whole lot 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 back to your marketing plan to make sure that you have the resources and capabilities to implement any strategies you set to 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 in your process chart, return to “Goal 1” and ask yourself this question: “how am I going to 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 business objectives?
For example, your site’s goal could be getting a certain target amount of leads to submit an inquiry each week through your site’s contact form, or signing up “X” amount of members 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 as more feedback is collected from your site from site visitors.
Step 2 – Naming Your Web Site
After you have clearly identified your goals, the next step is to come up with an appropriate name for your site.
This is another important step in the website planning process, so take your time to think carefully about what you are going to name 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 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 have probably never heard of you.
Put yourself in your ideal customer’s shoes. Who would be searching 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 answer, try to come up with a name that would entice your prospects.
Note: You can be creative and clever with the name, but it’s best to avoid being “too clever”. The same advice 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 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 food blog, doing a quick online search for “cooking blog” reveals some ear-catching site names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, ”Shockingly Delicious”, “The Rambling Spoon” and more …
(Researching ideas for your website or blog’s name)
So … this is where you can get inspired. Make a huge list of potential names and then narrow the list down.
After narrowing your list down to the best choices, repeat the same process as above to craft a description, tagline or slogan for your website.
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 cooking blogs 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 web site’s name and description can also be useful.
After completing this step, it’s time to look at your domain name. If you plan to add a blog to your existing site and decide 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 for your website. For example, you can register keyword-rich domain names (i.e. domains that include the keyword phrase you would like to rank highly for in the search engines), expired domain names (a domain name that the previous owners have decided not to renew and that are now available for registration once again, different top level domain names and domain name extensions, etc.)
Tip: Subscribe to our site for cost-effective strategies on registering domains and tips on developing and implementing your web site marketing strategy.
Step 3 – Managing Your Web Technology
After deciding on a name and description for your site, the next step is to develop a clear plan specifying how to manage the technology that will host, support and help drive your site.
We highly recommend using WordPress.
(Use WordPress to build your website or blog)
WordPress is not only a robust 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 from the screenshot below, WordPress powers almost 50% of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
(WordPress is the world’s leading Content Management System (CMS))
A WordPress site is ideal for publishing your content and communicating your business information to existing and potential clients.
A website or blog driven 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, 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, institutions, organizations and even celebrities, in fact, no longer use a static website built using traditional website building technologies. More websites around the world are now being powered using “blogging” software like WordPress, which can provide businesses and their users with all of the functions and capabilities of regular websites.
If you would like to control your business online and don’t have the time, need or desire to learn technical “web code” languages such as HTML, then you should consider using a WordPress-powered business website or blog.
Web Hosting And Site Management
In addition to using WordPress to drive your site, you should also choose who is going to host your website, and whether you plan to outsource the management of your web site to someone else, or manage everything yourself.
(Hosting & Web Site Management)
We use and recommend WordPress for most website applications, and we also provide a lot more information about WordPress and information on subjects like domain name registration, webhosting and website management in other articles on this site.
If you need help or advice with this step, please contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Your Website’s Audience
After you have completed the basic planning steps discussed so far, then it’s time to define who will be your target audience.
Key information about your target audience includes the following:
- Needs and wants
- Problems your target audience faces, or will face in the future
- How they consume information
- How they view themselves
- What they expect from you and your business
It’s important to 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 when presenting your content to.
To work through this process, begin by asking lots of questions, like the following:
- Who will you be writing for?
- What kind of content will users search for on your website or blog?
- What challenges are people experiencing that the content you provide can help to solve online? What kind of solutions are people searching online for these issues?
- Is your target audience technology-savvy? How will your visitors consume information? Will they prefer videos 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 often in order to engage your audience?
- Where do they live? Could geography and factors like occupation, relationship status or income level affect the success of your site? 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 target audience see themselves? Who do your site users engage online with? What music do they listen to? What else are they buying or consuming online?
- What will your target audience expect from your site? What kind of information are you willing to provide online 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 target users 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 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, just start with your “best guess” based on your experience and research.
- 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 sustainable.
- 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 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 see when we continue exploring the website planning process in another section.
This is the end of Part 1
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