This is Part One of a three-part article series designed to help you understand the website planning process.
Are you thinking about taking your small business online?
If so, one of the many decisions you need to make is whether or not to build the web site yourself, or get someone to help build your web site.
Both choices have pros and cons. Whatever option you pick will depend on a number of things such as:
- Marketing budget
- How much time you have available
- Your needs and priorities
- Sense of urgency
- Your level of technical skill
- Your level of commitment to manage the project
- And many other factors …
If your budget is limited and you want to save money, you could opt to develop the site yourself, but it goes without saying that you will need to spend 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 a 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 Website Planning Process: A Useful Blueprint For Business Owners
Whether you decide to build a website yourself or get it built by someone else, the first important step is to get some planning done. In this post, we explain why planning your small business website is important and what to do before building a web site.
Proper website planning is considered by many online experts as being one of the most important steps in building a successful web site. Careful planning in the early stages of your business development process helps to prevent costly errors later and can help create a better end product.
In this article, we provide a comprehensive practical guide for business owners designed to help you better understand the 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 talk to your website designer to ensure that you get a website that will perfectly meet your budget and suit your needs.
Important: Before setting up a website or registering a domain name for your digital business, it’s absolutely important that you first spend a little time doing market research.
Building a successful digital presence requires more than getting a professional web site built. It requires in addition to other things, a commitment to develop and implement an ongoing web site marketing strategy.
The Site Planning Process Explained
So … you want a website.
Let’s start, then, with an overview of the website planning process.
Before doing anything else, study the process chart below, and let’s work step-by-step through the information in this section together.
Note: Click on the image or the link below the image to enlarge the chart.
To make the process easy to follow, we recommend downloading and printing the Website Planning Flowchart shown in the above flowchart.
Once you have downloaded and printed out the flowchart, grab some paper and a pen, or whatever you takes notes on, so you can write down your thoughts and ideas as we walk you through the process. Also, make sure to shut out all distractions over the next 15-35 minutes.
Step 1 – Goals
No matter what type of website you choose to build, the first step is to define clear goals for your website and make these as specific as you can.
Come up with answers to these questions:
- What kind of website am I planning to build? Will it be a corporate website, e-commerce site, a personal blog, or some other kind of site?
- What specific objectives would I like my website to help me achieve?
For example, your main goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you may need to build an e-commerce website. Depending on your goals, this may 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 private membership area exclusively for your registered users, etc.
- Build a list of subscribers – you may want to look at getting 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 directed towards,
- Have a portfolio site that will help build credibility and trust for your professional services or brand, post news, announcements, or updates, etc.
- Get more exposure online for your existing business – you may want a business blog built on a separate domain, or added to an existing website to interact with users and keep customers informed about your latest product updates, or help establish your authority and expertise in your target market.
- Or you may need a combination of the above or something else entirely …
List whatever it is that you want your site to help you achieve on your Website Planning worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are documenting this process.
Once you have written your list, go through the list and pick the goal that has overriding importance above all others.
Write this goal on your planning sheet (in “Your Website Goals” section) as “Goal 1“.
Now, review your list and repeat this process to find two more goals and write these down on your process 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?
Adding a website is going to pile on a ton of extra responsibilities on your plate.
Your website planning process is a subset of your business marketing planning process. It’s important, therefore, that you continually refer to your marketing plan to make sure that you will have the resources and capabilities available 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 on your planning sheet, go back to “Goal 1” and ask yourself this question: “how will I measure this goal?”
In other words, what metrics are you going to use to evaluate your website’s performance? How will you know if your website is on track to help you achieve your goals?
For example, your site’s objective could be getting a certain number of leads to submit an inquiry each week via the contact form on your site, or getting “X” new members per month, etc …
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 data is gathered on your website from your users.
Step 2 – Naming Your Website
Once you have clearly identified your website’s goals, the next step is to name your web site.
This is an important part of 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 company name), especially if your 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 your ideal customer’s shoes. Who would be looking online for the very product or service you sell? 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 potential customers.
Note: You can be creative and clever with the name, but try to avoid being “too clever”. The same advice goes for choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. You can have a fun or quirky name, but it’s best to avoid names that may sound offensive (and definitely stay away from trademarked or registered names or phrases – you’ll just be inviting 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 competition, especially those who occupy the search results that you would like your site to come up in.
For example, if you are thinking of starting a blog related to food, a quick online search for “cooking blog” reveals a number of memorable site names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, “A Chef’s Daughter”, ”Worth The Whisk” and more …
(Researching ideas for the name of your web site or blog)
So … now is the time to get inspired. Make a huge list of possible names and then narrow the list down.
Once you have narrowed your list down to the most likely choices, repeat the same process as above to create a description, tagline or slogan for your website.
Make your description concise and inform the reader in as few words as possible what the web site is all about. For example, in one of the cooking blogs we came across while doing research, the blog’s description was “Fast, Fresh, and Simple Recipes Easy Enough for Tonight’s dinner.”
Including keywords in your site’s name and description can also be useful.
After completing this step, the next step is to look at your domain name. If you plan to add a blog to your existing web site and feel that this business 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 that include the key phrase that you want to rank highly for in the search engines), expired domain names (domains that the previous owner has decided not to renew and that can be registered once more, other top level domain names and domain name extensions, etc.)
Tip: Subscribe to this site to learn more about cost-effective strategies on registering domains and tips on developing and implementing a successful online marketing strategy.
Step 3 – Manage Your Technology
After settling on a name and description for your web site, the next step is to have a clear plan outlining how you are going to manage the technology that will host, support and help drive your web marketing vehicle.
We strongly recommend getting your website built with WordPress.
(Build your site with the WordPress CMS)
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 web content management system, and, as you can see from the screenshot below, WordPress powers over 48% of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
(WordPress is the world’s most widely used Content Management System)
A WordPress-powered site is an ideal digital application platform for publishing your content and communicating with users and potential clients.
A website or blog created with the WordPress platform lets you engage with site visitors 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. No coding is, in fact, required to publish content on a WordPress site, and managing tasks like site backups and software upgrades can easily be automated.
In fact, many large companies, small to medium businesses, institutions, organizations and even celebrities no longer power their websites using traditional website building applications. More sites are now being powered with WordPress, which provides businesses and their users with all of the functions and capabilities of regular websites.
If you want to have better management of your business online and don’t have the time, need or desire to learn “web coding” languages such as HTML, then you should consider building your website or blog using WordPress.
Hosting And Managing Your Site
In addition to choosing to build your site with WordPress, you should also decide where you are going to host your website, and whether you plan to outsource the management of your site to somebody else, or manage your own web site.
(Hosting And Managing Your Site)
We use and recommend WordPress for many website uses, and we also provide more information about the WordPress CMS and tips on subjects like how to register domain names, finding a good webhost and website management in other sections on this site.
If you would like more help or advice with this step, don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Your Audience
After you have worked through and completed the initial planning steps discussed so far, then it’s time to define who is your target audience.
Key information about your site’s target audience includes the following:
- Audience demographics
- Their needs and wants
- Problems your audience experiences, or will have in the future
- How they consume digital information
- How they see themselves
- What they might expect from you and your site
It’s vitally important that you spend time creating 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 important questions, like:
- Who will you be writing for?
- What will visitors look for on your site?
- What challenges are people experiencing that your website or blog will help them solve online? What types of solutions are people searching online for similar issues?
- Are your site users technology-savvy? How does your target audience consume digital information? Does your audience prefer video 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 often in order to engage your site users?
- Where are they located? Will geographic location and factors like occupation, religion or gender affect the success of your business? If so, what segments of the population will your web site be marketing to and how will you find these demographics online?
- How do your target users see themselves? Who do your visitors engage online with? What magazines and publications are they reading? What else are they buying or consuming online?
- What will your target users 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 to them for free?
Being able to define your website’s target audience is an important 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 end up with the exact type of website that you need.
- If you don’t have access to accurate market information 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 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 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 site, as you will see when we continue exploring the website planning process in another section.
This is the end of Section 1
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"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now