Are you thinking about taking your small business online?
One of the many decisions you have to make is if you should build your website yourself, or get someone to create your site.
Both choices have pros and cons. Whatever choice you select will depend on many things like:
- Your budget and finances
- How much time you can put into developing your site
- Your business priorities
- How soon you need your website to be up and running
- Your technical skills
- Your level of commitment to manage and complete the project
- and so on …
If you have a small budget and you want to save money, you could choose to develop the web site yourself, but it goes without saying that you will then need to spend some time learning 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
Planning Your Web Site - A Money-Saving Primer For Non-Technical Business Owners
Whether you choose to build a website yourself or get someone else to build it for you, the first important step is to get some good planning done. In this article, we explain why better website planning can help grow your business and how to save money getting a web site.
Planning your web site is considered by many online experts to be the most important step of the whole process of getting your website built. Careful planning in the early stages of your business development process can help you prevent costly errors later and create a better end product.
In this post, we provide a comprehensive guide for business owners aimed at helping you better understand your website planning process. 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 website designer to make sure that you end up with a great website that you will truly be happy with.
Important: Before setting up a website or registering a domain for your web site, it is highly recommended that you first research your market.
Developing a successful business presence online requires more than getting a professional web site built. It also requires amongst lots of other things, a commitment to develop and successfully implement an ongoing web site marketing strategy.
The Site Planning Process Explained
So … you need a website.
Let’s start, then, by understanding the website planning process.
Take a look at 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 chart.
To make this process easier to follow, we recommend downloading and printing the Website Planning Chart below.
Once you have downloaded and printed out the website planning flowchart, grab a few sheets of 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 30-45 minutes.
Step 1 – Goals
No matter what kind of site you decide to build, the first step is to define clear goals for your site and make it as specific as you can.
Ask the following questions:
- What kind of website do you want to build? Is it a professional services website, e-commerce site, a sales blog, or some other kind of website?
- What do you expect your site to help you achieve?
For example, your goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you will need an e-commerce website. Depending on your goals, this could require purchasing or installing an SSL certificate to create a secure website (i.e. changing your site from ‘http’ to ‘https’), the addition of a membership area that only your customers can access, etc.
- Capture new leads – you might want to look at getting a simple site built with a “squeeze” page (landing page) or a lead generation form where all of your visitors get directed towards,
- 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 might need to build a business blog built on a separate domain, or added to an existing website to better promote your services, or help establish your authority and expertise in your specific niche.
- Or you may need a combination of the above or something else entirely …
List whatever goals you want your web site to help you achieve on your worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are recording this process.
After you have written your list, go through your list and select the goal that is most important to you.
Write this goal in your planning sheet (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 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 processes. It’s important, therefore, that you continue to refer back to your marketing plan to make sure that you have the resources and capabilities available to implement any strategies you set 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 on your planning sheet, go back to “Goal 1” and ask yourself this question: “how will I measure this goal?”
In other words, what benchmarks are you going to use to evaluate your site’s performance? How will you know if your web site is helping you achieve your business goals?
For example, your website’s objective could be to help you get a certain number of leads every week via your site’s contact form, or signing up “X” new list subscribers per quarter, etc …
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 re-evaluate these as more feedback is collected on your website from your site visitors.
Step 2 – Naming Your Site
Once you have clearly identified your website’s goals, the next step is to name your web site.
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 ideas 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 name isn’t something that immediately brings up your products or services to mind. Remember, most online users will probably have never heard about you.
Put yourself in your ideal customer’s shoes. 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, try to come up with a name that would entice your potential customers.
Note: You can be creative and clever with your name, but try to avoid being “too clever”. This also can be said about choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. You can have a fun or quirky name, but avoid names that can sound offensive (and definitely stay away from trademarked or registered names or phrases – you’ll just be asking for trouble!)
Go online and do a little research to find out what other companies in your industry or niche are naming their sites. Study your competitors, especially sites that occupy the search results that you would like to own.
For example, if you are planning to start a cooking blog, doing a quick online search for “cooking blog” reveals a number of memorable blog names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, “A Chef’s Daughter”, ”Worth The Whisk” and more …
(Researching name ideas for your web site or blog)
So … this is where you can get inspired. Make a huge list of potential names and then start narrowing these down.
After reducing this list down to the most likely contenders, 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 your site is all about. For example, in one of the food blogs we came across while doing research, the site’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, the next step is to look at your domain name. If you plan to add a blog to your existing site and decide 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 website. For example, you can register keyword-rich domain names (i.e. domains containing the key phrase you want to rank highly for in search engines), expired domain names (domains 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 this site to learn more about practical strategies on registering domains and tips on developing your website marketing strategy.
Step 3 – Managing Your Site’s Technology
After choosing a name and description for your site, the next step is to develop a clear plan to manage the technology that is going to host, support and drive your website.
We strongly recommend using WordPress.
(Use WordPress to build your website)
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 most popular CMS (Content Management System))
A WordPress-powered website is ideal for publishing your content and communicating information about your business to users and potential customers.
A business web site or blog built using the WP CMS platform allows you to engage with site visitors and makes things like posting content, special offers, promotions, news and announcements about your business, 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 tasks like backups and software upgrades can easily be automated.
In fact, many large companies, small to medium businesses, institutions, organizations and well-known brands no longer use their websites using traditional website building tools. More websites are now being powered by WordPress, which can provide 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 you should consider building your website or blog with WordPress.
Hosting & Managing Your Website
As well as choosing WordPress to power your website, you should also plan where you are going to host your website, and whether to hire others to manage your web site, or manage your own website.
(Hosting & Web Management)
We use and recommend WordPress for many website needs, and we provide more detailed information about WordPress and information on subjects like domain name registration, finding a good webhost and website management in other blog posts on this site.
If you need help or advice choosing your technology platform, don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Define Your Website’s Audience
Once you have worked through the basics discussed so far, then it’s time to define who your website’s target audience will be.
You will want to know key information about your target audience, such as:
- Audience demographics
- What your audience needs and wants
- What problems your audience experiences, or will face in the future
- How they consume digital information
- How they generally tend to view themselves
- What they will expect from you or your business
It’s very important that you spend time creating as accurate a profile of your ideal users as possible. Try to picture the ideal person that you will be communicating directly with and presenting your information to.
To work through this process, begin by asking lots of questions, such as:
- Who is your ideal reader for your website?
- What will users be searching for on your site?
- What challenges are people experiencing that your site will help to solve online? What types of solutions are people searching online for these problems?
- Are your ideal users technology-savvy? How does your target audience consume digital information? Will they prefer videos to visual content like images or graphics and text? Do 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 keep your site users engaged?
- Where do they live? Will geography, or factors like occupation, relationship status or gender play a significant role in the success of your website? If so, what segments of the population will your website be marketing to and how will you find these demographics online?
- How does your audience see themselves? Who do your site users engage online with? What videos are they downloading? What else are they buying or consuming 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 will you not be providing online for free?
Being able to accurately define your site’s target users is a vital step in the website planning process and it will help you communicate better with your web developer and everyone else assisting you with your website, which will then ensure that you get a better result in the end.
- If you don’t have access to accurate data about your target audience, then start with your “best guess” based on your experience and whatever research you have done.
- Try not to narrow your criteria too much. You could be going after 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, avoid trying to make your web site 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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