This is Part 1 of a three-part series of articles designed to help you understand the website planning process.
Are you considering the idea of getting a web site for your business?
One of the many decisions you have to make is if you should build the web site yourself, or get someone to help create your web site.
Both choices have pros and cons. Whichever choice you select will depend on many things like:
- Marketing budget
- How much time you have available
- Your business needs and priorities
- Level of urgency
- Your technical skills
- Your level of commitment to supervise and manage the project
- etc …
If you have a small budget and you want to save money, you could decide to develop your website yourself, but it goes without saying that you will need to invest time figuring out how to put things 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
A Cost-Saving Guide To Web Site Planning For Non-Technical Business Owners
Whether you decide to build a website yourself or get it built by someone else, the first important step is to plan your website. In this article, we explain in simple terms the importance of planning your website and what to avoid doing when planning a website for your business.
Planning your website is considered by many online experts to be the most important aspect in the whole process of getting a website for your business. Investing some time to plan your site upfront will help you prevent costly errors later and create a better 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 brief your web designer to ensure that you get a website that will truly work for your business.
Important: Before setting up a website or registering a domain name for your site, it’s highly recommended that you first research your market.
Building a successful digital presence requires more than just having a professional website or business blog built. It requires other things, a commitment to developing and implementing an ongoing website marketing strategy.
The Website Planning Process Simplified
So … you have decided that you need an online presence.
Let’s start, then, by understanding the website planning process.
Study the flowchart below, and let’s work step-by-step through the information in this post together.
Note: Click on the image or the link below the image to enlarge the process chart.
To make the process easier to follow, we recommend downloading and printing the Website Planning Chart shown above.
After downloading and printing out the website planning flowchart, 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 that you will not have any distractions over the next 20-35 minutes.
Step 1 – Your Goals
Regardless of the type of web site you choose to build, the first step is to define one or more clear goals for your site and make these as specific as you can.
Try to answer the these questions:
- What kind of web site am I planning to build? Will it be a corporate web site, a portfolio site, a business blog, or some other kind of site?
- What specific objectives do you expect your site to help you achieve?
For example, your goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you might want an online shop. Depending on your goals, this could include setting up a secure site (i.e. changing your site from ‘http’ to ‘https’), adding a private membership area that only registered users can access, etc.
- Build a list of subscribers – you might need a simple site built with a “squeeze” page (landing page) or a direct sales letter where all online traffic gets directed to,
- Have a services 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 may need to build a blog built on a separate domain, or added to your existing website to engage 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 …
Write down all of your goals on your worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are documenting this information.
Once your goals have been written down, go through the list and choose the goal that has overriding importance above all others.
Write this goal in your planning chart (in “Your Website Goals” section) as “Goal 1“.
Now, go back over your list and repeat this process to find two more goals and list 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?
Adding a website is going to pile on a whole lot of additional responsibilities on your plate.
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, take a moment to complete the following right now:
After identifying at least 1-3 goals and written these on your flowchart, return 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 evaluate your website’s performance? How will you know if your website is on track to help you achieve your business objectives?
For example, your website’s goal could be to help you get a specific target amount of leads to submit an enquiry each week through your site’s contact form, or getting “X” new list subscribers per marketing 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 adjust these as more information is collected from your site.
Step 2 – Web 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 another important part of the website planning process, so take your time and 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 just the name of your company, especially if the 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 thing 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 users.
Note: You can be creative and clever with the name, but it’s best to avoid being “too creative”. This also can be said about choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. You can have a fun or quirky website name, but avoid website 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 easily find out what other companies in your industry or niche are naming their sites. Study your competition, especially those who 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 online search for “cooking blog” reveals some memorable site names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, “A Chef’s Daughter”, ”Worth The Whisk” and more …
(Research name ideas for your website)
So … this is the time to get inspired. Make a huge list of possible names and then narrow these down.
After reducing your list of names down to the most likely candidates, repeat the same process as above to craft a description, tagline or unique value proposition for your web site.
Your description should be concise and inform the reader with as few words as possible what the site is all about. For example, in one of the food blogs we came across while doing research, the site description was “Fast, Fresh, and Simple Recipes Easy Enough for Tonight’s dinner.”
Include keywords in your site’s name and description.
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 website 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 names for your web site. For example, you can register keyword-rich domain names (i.e. domains that contain the keyword phrase you would like to rank for in search engines), expired domain names (a domain name that the previous owners have decided not to renew and that can be registered once again, other top level domains and domain name extensions, etc.)
Tip: Subscribe to our site for useful strategies on registering domains and tips on how to develop a successful web site marketing strategy.
Step 3 – Managing Your Web Technology
After settling on a name and description for your site, the next step is to come up with a clear plan to manage the technology that will host, support and drive your website.
We strongly encourage you to consider getting your site built 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 content management system (CMS), and, as you can see below, WordPress powers almost 50% of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
(WordPress is the world’s leading Content Management System (CMS))
A WordPress-driven website provides an ideal digital technology platform for publishing your content and communicating your business information to existing and potential clients.
A website or blog driven by the WordPress CMS platform allows you to better engage 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 use a traditional website built using traditional website building tools. More sites around the world are now being powered using technologies like 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 own web marketing and don’t have the time, need or desire to learn technical “web coding” languages such as HTML, then you should consider building your website or blog with WordPress.
Hosting & Managing Your Site
As well as using WordPress to drive your website, you should also plan who is going to host your site, and whether you are going to outsource the management of your website or blog to others, or manage your own site.
(Hosting & Managing Your Site)
We use and recommend WordPress for many business needs, and we provide a lot more detailed information about WordPress and tips on subjects like domain name registration, how to choose a good host and website management in other blog posts on this site.
If you would like more help or advice, feel free to contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Defining Your Audience
After you have the basic planning steps we’ve discussed so far worked out, then it’s time to define who your target audience will be.
You will want to know key information about your target audience, such as:
- Audience demographics
- What they need and want
- Problems your audience faces, or will have in the future
- How they consume digital information
- How they generally tend to view themselves
- What they can expect from you or your site
It’s very important that you try and create as accurate a profile of your target audience as possible. Try to picture the actual person that you will be communicating directly with when presenting your content to.
Begin this process by asking questions, like:
- Who will your content be directed to?
- What will users look for on your site?
- What difficulties are people experiencing that the information you provide on your site will help to solve online? What specific solutions are people searching online for similar issues?
- Are your target users technology-savvy? How does your audience consume digital information? Does your audience prefer videos to images 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 visitors engaged?
- Where do they live? Will geography, or factors like occupation, religion or income level play an important role in the success of your site? If so, what segments of the population will your website be marketing to and how will you target these demographics online?
- How does your target audience see themselves? Who does your target audience form online relationships with? What music are they listening to? What else are they buying or consuming online?
- What will they expect from your site? What kind of information are you willing to provide online freely or for a fee? What kind of information are you unwilling to provide to them for free?
Having the ability to define your site’s key 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 end product.
- If you don’t have access to accurate information about your target audience, then start with a “best guess” based on your experience and whatever research you have done.
- 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.
- 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, avoid trying to make your website or blog be “everything to everyone”, or you’ll just end up creating a ton of extra work for yourself 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 post.
This is the end of Part 1
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