This is Part 1 of a 3-part article series designed to help you understand how to plan your website.
Are you thinking about getting a website or blog built for your business?
If so, one of the many decisions you have to make is whether or not to build the site yourself, or get someone to build your web site.
Both choices have pros and cons. Whatever choice you select will depend on many factors such as:
- Budget size
- Your business needs and priorities
- Sense of urgency
- Your technical skills
- Your level of commitment to supervise and manage the project
- and so on …
If you have a small budget and you want to save money, you could opt to build your site yourself, but it goes without saying that you will then need to spend time learning how to put your site 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
Table of Contents
A Basic Guide To Website Planning
Whether you decide to build a website yourself or get someone else to build it for you, the first important step is to do some website planning. In this post, we explain in simple terms the importance of planning your business web site and how to save money getting a website for your small business.
Proper website planning is regarded by many web business experts as being the most important step of building a successful business online. Taking some time to plan your site at the beginning helps to avoid costly mistakes later and also help create a better end product.
In this article, we provide a comprehensive blueprint 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 developer to make sure that you end up with a website that will perfectly meet your budget and suit your needs.
Important: Before setting up a website or registering a domain for your website, it’s absolutely vital that you first research your market.
Building a successful digital presence requires more than just having a professional website and business blog built. It also requires other things, a commitment to develop and successfully implement an ongoing digital marketing strategy.
The Site Planning Process Made Simple
So … you have decided that you need a website.
Let’s start, then, with an overview of the website planning process.
Study the flowchart below, and let’s work through the information on this page 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 Process Flowchart shown above.
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 jot down your thoughts and ideas as we take you through the process. Also, make sure to shut out all distractions over the next 20-35 minutes.
Step 1 – Define Your Website Goals
No matter what kind of site you want to build, the first step is to define one or more clear goals for your website and make it as specific as possible.
Ask yourself the following:
- What kind of website do you want to build? Will it be a business website, an e-commerce site, a sales blog, or some other kind of website?
- What specific objectives would I like to achieve with the site?
For example, your main goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you will want to look at getting an e-commerce site. Depending on your goals, this could include setting up a secure website (i.e. changing your site from ‘http’ to ‘https’), adding a membership site exclusively for customers, etc.
- Capture new leads – you may need a simple site built with a “squeeze” page (landing page) or an information page and a lead capture form where all of your traffic gets sent to,
- Have a services site that will help build credibility and trust for your organization or brand, post news, announcements, or updates, etc.
- Get more exposure online for your existing business – you might want a blog built on a separate domain, or added to your existing website to provide tips or training information to new customers, or help grow your authority and expertise in your target market.
- Or you may need a combination of the above or something else entirely …
Record whatever goals you want your website to help you achieve on your Website Planning worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are recording this process.
After your goals have been written down, go through your list and select the goal that has overriding importance above all others.
Write this goal down in your process 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 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 pile on a whole lot of extra responsibilities on your plate.
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 business marketing plan to make sure that you will have the resources and capabilities to implement the strategies to help you achieve your goals.
So, with this in mind, let’s do the following right now:
After listing at least 1-3 goals and written these down in your planning sheet, return to “Goal 1” and ask yourself this question: “how am I going to measure this goal?”
In other words, what objective criteria will you use to evaluate your website’s performance? How will you know if your website is on track to help you achieve your objectives?
For example, your site’s objective could be getting a specific number of leads every week through the contact form on your site, or signing up “X” new subscribers per quarter, etc …
Also, 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 adjust these as more feedback is collected from visitors.
Step 2 – Name Your Site
After you have clearly identified your website’s 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 to think carefully about what you are going to name your site.
Brainstorm ideas 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 will probably have never heard of you.
Put yourself in the shoes of an online customer. 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, try to come up with a name that would entice your potential clients.
Note: You can be creative and clever with your name, but try to avoid being “too clever”. the same can be said about choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. It can be a fun or quirky site name, but it’s best to 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 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 own.
For example, if you are thinking of starting a cooking blog, 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 …
(Research ideas for the name of your web site or blog)
So … now is the time to get inspired. Make a huge list of names and then start narrowing the list down.
Once you have narrowed your list down to the best contenders, repeat the same process as above to create a description, tagline or slogan for your site.
Make your description concise and inform the reader in as few words as possible what your site is all about. For example, in one of the cooking sites we came across while searching online, their 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.
After completing this step, it’s time to look at your domain name. If you plan to add a blog to your existing website and decide that this blog should be its own entity, 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 that you want to rank highly for in the search engines), expired domain names (a domain that the previous owner has decided not to renew and that have been made available for registration once again, different top level domains and domain name extensions, etc.)
Tip: Subscribe to our site to learn more about practical strategies on registering domains and tips on developing a successful digital 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 for managing the technology that will host, support and help drive your website.
We recommend building your website with WordPress.
(Build your website with the WordPress CMS)
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 popular web content management system, and, as you can see below, WordPress powers over 45% of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
(WordPress - the world’s leading Content Management System)
A WordPress-based website or blog provides an ideal web technology platform for publishing content and communicating your business information to existing and potential clients.
A business website or blog driven by WordPress lets you interact with online users and makes things like posting content, special offers, promotions, news and announcements about your 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 necessary features like file and data backups and software upgrades can easily be automated.
In fact, many large companies, small to medium businesses, institutions, organizations and even celebrities no longer use traditional websites built using static website building technologies. More websites around the world are now being powered with WordPress, which can provide businesses and their users with all of the functionality and capabilities of a regular website.
If you would like to have better control your business online and don’t have the time, need or desire to learn technical “web development” languages such as HTML, then we recommend that you consider building your website or blog using WordPress.
Web Site Hosting And Web Site Management
In addition to using to build your website with the WordPress CMS platform, you should also plan who is going to host your website, and if you are going to let professionals manage your web presence, or manage your own site.
(Web Hosting & Website Management)
We use and recommend WordPress for most website applications, and we provide a lot more detailed information about the benefits of using WordPress and expert advice on subjects like domain name registration, webhosting and website management in other articles on this site.
If you need help or advice, please contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Defining Your Target Audience
After you have the initial planning steps worked out, then the next step is to define who will be your website’s target audience.
You need to know key information about your target audience, such as:
- Audience demographics
- Needs and wants
- What kind of problems your audience has, or will have in the future
- How they consume information
- How they generally view themselves
- What they can expect from you and your site
It’s important to spend time creating as accurate a profile of your target site users as possible. Try to picture the ideal person that you will be communicating directly with when presenting your information to.
Begin this process by asking lots of questions, like:
- Who will your site’s content be addressed towards?
- What will visitors search for on your site?
- What challenges are people experiencing that your business can help to solve online? What kind of solutions are people searching online for these issues?
- Are your target users technology-savvy? How will your visitors consume digital information? Will they prefer video 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 visual, audio or multimedia content often in order to engage your visitors?
- Where do they live? Will geographic location, or factors like age, relationship status or income level play an important role in the success of your website? If so, what segments of the population will your website or blog be marketing to and how will you find these demographics online?
- How do they see themselves? Who does your target audience typically form online relationships with? What videos are they downloading? What else do they buy, or consume online?
- What will your site users expect from your site? What kind of information are you willing to provide to them freely or for a fee? What kind of information are you unwilling to provide to them for free?
Being able to accurately define your site’s target audience 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 in developing your website, which will then ensure that you get a better result in the end.
- If you don’t have access to accurate research data about your target audience, just start with a “best guess” based on your experience and whatever research you can get your hands on.
- Don’t limit your scope 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 viable.
- 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 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 post.
This is the end of Part 1
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