Are you about to embark on a new website project?
Before you dive in and start contacting website developers there are a few steps you need to take to make the whole process A LOT easier!
Just like when you plan to build a new house, you’ll need to organise the plans for your website before you can start contacting companies to quote on building it.
Planning your website to acheive your personal or business objectives is actually just as important as getting your site built, but it’s a step that is often overlooked.
This guide will move you from “I need a new website” to planning exactly what it is you need, right through to the final build.
1. Work out WHY you want a new website.
Do you actually know why you want a new website?
Most people understand that in today’s ever connected world, your website is usually the first point of contact a customer has with your business. They’re a necessity.
Not many businesses really consider what they’re trying to achieve by getting their new website.
- Are you going to sell products?
- Are you going to capture leads and enquiries?
- Are you going to take online bookings / orders?
- Are you going to showcase your work?
- Are you going to build a 24/7 online sales machine?
A website is an opportunity not only to showcase your brand to your customers but to really think about your business objectives and how they can align to help solve your customers problems.
Your first step in getting your website designed is to work out what it actually is you want!
There are a few key questions you need to answer before moving on to the next step, these are:
- Who are you and what do you do as a business?
- What is the message you’re trying to put forward?
- Who are your customers?
- What are your customers’ problems and how do you solve them?
- What do you need to tell your customers?
- Is the website going to be used in conjunction with another marketing campaign?
- What content are you going to show?
Getting this information together is a crucial step in planning your website and one that should be consulted and discussed with all key stakeholders right from the start – business owners, CEO’s and other decision makers.
It’s worth taking the time to get this right to avoid ‘Bob’ chiming in for the first time with “a few ideas” two days before launch.
The process of getting everyone on board with the direction right from the get-go will form the foundations of a brief.
Ongoing consultation with everyone will help smooth out the process and keep everyone on the same page.
2. What does your customer want from your website?
When thinking about your business, the business goals, your website and your team it’s very easy to forget about the most important thing: your customer.
Your website should solve your customer’s problems. It should speak to them in their language and it should be designed in a way that’s going to appeal to them. You don’t necessarily need to have all the answers, but great questions to ask yourself are:
- What are their personality types?
- How will they view and navigate your site?
- Will they be predominantly mobile-based?
- Are they older and prefer larger fonts?
- Are they younger and demand short ‘meme-worthy’ content?
- Would video better explain to them what you do?
Finding common traits amongst your current customers is a great way to plan your website. You can create your ideal client by grouping their common traits into a customer persona.
This is much easier than it sounds.
For example, if your business is in manufacturing or engineering, your key customer persona could be called “Dave”.
Dave works in a business in a noisy warehouse. Dave started off “on the tools” and is now a manager.
He’s busy so he often searches things on his phone – reading loads of words is time-consuming so he skims most text looking for the information he needs.
Diagrams with captions catch his eye and he likes video explanations where he can listen to what’s being said while watching product creation and processes in action.
Dave’s biggest problem right now is he needs someone to design and fabricate a specific part for a project he’s working on and you just so happen to be able to provide this for him.
Dave doesn’t like computers and prefers to speak with someone on the phone, it’s quicker and easier for him to get the information he needs.
So, how do you get Dave to become a customer?
Firstly, graphical and video content is going to be key, you may need to plan what diagrams you need to get made up, what spec sheets need to be created and how your content needs to be broken up so that it can easily be skimmed and Dave can find the bit of information he needs quickly.
If you have the budget creating videos of your process, showing the creation of products and how they’re designed and made, will help Dave connect with you.
Make sure your main call to action is “Call us” with your phone number clearly shown at the top and bottom of every page on mobile and desktop.
This is just a very brief, quick example but you can see how when you combine the goals of the business, with the behaviours and needs of your customer, you’re starting to create a really solid plan for the success of your website.
3. Turn your website plan into a website brief
Now that you know why you want a website, what you want to say, who you want to say it to, and how you need to say it – it’s time to put it all together into a website brief.
In this step, it’s important that you go over the details of your site.
Including things like:
- What are the pages of your site going to be?
- What will the sections of each page entail?
- How many pages and sections are required to effectively present the information in a way that it is engaging and converts?
- How should a user navigate between pages to get to the point where they take action to contact you?
This part of the process is creating the architecture of your site, or in other words – how all the elements of your site fit together.
The best way to create an effective site architecture is by building sitemaps.
We use the FlowMapp Sitemap Builder so everyone can visualize how your site will be laid out and what you’ll need to pull it together. When it’s time to get quotes from designers, a sitemap is an essential tool for them to understand the scale of your request.
Ask yourself and your stakeholders:
- Will you have an About Us page? Who will be on it? Will there be a page for each person?
- Will there be product pages? How many? What specifications need to go on each page?
- Will you have a Google map?
- What are pages to go on your main menu and what are sub-pages that link from those pages?
- Will there be sign up forms or mailing list integrations? Where do you want these to appear?
Go over every required page in complete detail from the top menu all the way down to the footer, sketch it on a piece of paper if you need to!
Example of a sitemap from Flowmapp:
Your sitemap provides an overview of how your site will function in an easy to read, visual diagram.
Here you’ll also create categories and navigation paths that show how a user will navigate with the site. Your web designer will then be able to use what you’ve created to design website elements and to know where content will go.
Having a clear sitemap and navigation path for your customer is not only good for usability, it also helps search engines like Google to easily read, follow and understand your website’s structure- which works better for everyone!
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4. Time to talk about website content.
4.1 What content?
Ok, so you’re getting some momentum now. It’s time to start thinking about content.
You’ve already done your key customer persona above (Dave), and you know how they absorb their information best. So what content do you need to create?
Will your content include both text and video? Will you need forms? Calculators? Pictures? All of these questions can help you define your content needs.
Once you’ve decided what needs to be on each page of your site, you’re going to need to decide who is going to create it. Will it be you? Will it be someone else at the business? Will it be an expert?
Whoever it is, the whole web design process will go much smoother if you have this finalised before contacting a web developer.
This is where many businesses and website projects come to a sudden halt.
It’s best to figure out:
- Who is going to write the content?
- Who is going to take the photos/choose the images?
- Who is going to create the diagrams/infographics?
- Who is going to create the videos?
- How much will it all cost?
- Where can we save money?
The sitemap you created earlier is a great help during this step.
You can use it to visualize your website and decide if you actually need all the pages you have added, or if you can cut back or shift pages around to present your content in a better way.
All this is much easier at this stage before development has begun!
Your content budget, timeframe and content creation may mean you need to start smaller and add more content and pages over time.
With a reliable web developer, this is all possible. Or it might mean you can pay experts to create it for you (more on that below), meaning you’ll get it done much quicker.
Sometimes doing this step alone shows you just how much you’ve bitten off!
Having all your content ready before contacting your web designer not only streamlines the development process and minimises the chance of delays but reduces the stress of trying to rush it so your designer can add it to the site. It also helps you avoid unexpected hiccups in your budget.
4.2 How do we streamline and maximise the effectiveness of content creation?
You have a few options for your content.
Not everyone is a writer, photographer or a videographer. It’s hard to find the time, and quite frankly if you were a writer you’d probably be by a lake putting the finishing touches on your latest novel, not working in your business.
It’s time to organise your existing collateral.
You might have an old website with content that can be edited and whizzed up to be more in line with your new message. You might have a photo library, PDF guides, documents, newsletters, branding, promotional materials, adverts, the list goes on…
Think of everything you possibly have available and then organise it in such a way that you can work out what can be used, what new content needs to be made and then work out how to get it done.
You can even update your sitemap now to highlight pages which have content and pages that still need content.
When writing or rewriting your content, always think about who will be reading your website. Some best practices for writing your content are:
- Use short sentences and paragraphs. It’s easier for your customer to consume your information, especially on mobile devices.
- Use bullet points where possible so that readers and search engines can easily scan your content.
- Write to your customer, not at them. Be honest with them.
- Be clear and speak to your customer in a way they will understand.
- Avoid industry jargon whenever possible.
- Look for opportunities to link to other pages on your site.
- Try not to double up- Google doesn’t like this and neither do your customers.
- Make sure each page has unique content.
- Consider what problems your business solves for your customers and work that into your copy.
Even if you choose to create all your web content yourself, we often advise having a copywriter or content creator look over your work.
Sometimes being so involved in your business means it’s hard to step into your client/readers shoes.
4.3 Having your website content organised aids the design of your site
It’s very rare that we’re contacted by a business needing a website and they answer the content question with “Yes, we have all our content and all our images ready, and we know exactly which pages each will be placed on”.
Getting your content organised prior to asking a web designer to quote or design a layout for your website is actually crucial. Having your finalised content when building and designing page layouts saves loads of time and revisions.
Every time content changes it also means alignments change, box sizes need adjusting and lots of other little edits- which can add up lots of time spent. Planning this ahead will keep the designer as your friend.
Also remember to spell and grammar check before sending in the final text. No, seriously.
It also gives you more time to plan and implement SEO strategies, by optimising your content pre-launch.
5. Create the wireframes or sketches of each page
In order for your chosen designer to really understand your vision for each page your brief needs a framework to work to. This doesn’t have to be fancy, a rough sketch on paper that you scan in or photograph is fine.
A wireframe is essentially a sketch/blueprint diagram of each page of your site that shows where you see the main elements going. Your designer can work with these sketches to bring them to life with your content.
Be sure to include your thoughts on:
- Headers / sliders
- Image locations
- Video locations
- Note for which text is to go in text boxes
- Interactive elements
- Call to actions
- Trust logos & icons
When creating your wireframe sketches, it’s important to remember that these diagrams are less ‘design’ (that’s the designer’s job) and more ‘skeleton’ – used to show the layout and placement of things.
This part can be difficult as you aren’t a designer yourself, and that’s fine. Spend some time looking at other websites and figure out why you like them. These notes are always handy for your web designer. Rest assured, a good web designer will run through all of this with you before they quote on a website build.
They are most useful for obtaining the necessary approvals from stakeholders before the web design team starts building. With these diagrams, everyone can quickly see the direction and scope of a project before too much time and money is invested in getting a designer to create something that our friend ‘Bob’ or the CEO wants changed down the track.
If you want to get into the nitty gritties, you can even do a wireframe for each page on mobile phones as well as on desktop – and you can decide which content to remove/hide if there is too much for mobile. Of course your developer will also be able to do this – but considering this may help them get a clearer understanding of what is the most important content to present.
6. How will your new website look?
Getting back to our house analogy – if you just ask a builder to build you a house without thinking about how many bedrooms, what materials to use and how you want they layout of your house- you’re probably not going to get the type of house you want.
The same goes for websites.
You might already have a branding guide – a document that outlines your company’s colours, logo, fonts, font sizes etc, but if you don’t – now is a good time to put even a brief one together. This is usually what is meant when someone talks about the “look and feel” of the website.
Think of brands like Virgin, Coca Cola, Facebook – they all have branding guidelines that need to be strictly followed to maintain their visual identity. This doesn’t have to be a big, expensive exercise. If you need, you can ask your web designer to quote on making one for you.
It’s much easier for a web designer to build you a site that reflects your brand, so that customers can instantly recognise your business at a glance, if you have a colour scheme or brnading guide to follow.
This branding should also extend to offline collateral, such as brochures and ads. These assets, although not digital, should align with the fonts and colour scheme used to design website pages, to create a unified experience.
Where do I find images?
This is another good time to think about the images you will choose for your website.
Make sure they reflect the brand and are of good quality. You might want to consider what you already have available or whether you need to take some new pictures.
Stock photos can be excellent if you don’t have the time or budget to hire a photographer. Your web designer should be able to point you in the direction of some good stock image sites such as Pixabay, Adobe Stock and Unsplash.
Once you’ve planned the brand of your site, it’s good to once again get some feedback from stakeholders, to ensure that the look and feel are appropriate for the company.
Feedback during branding and wireframe discussions are a great chance to make adjustments before investing into the development of your website.
Make sure you name all your images so that they’re easily recognised “about-us-top-header.jpg” and organsie them in a Google Drive or Dropbox folder to send to web designers.
7. It’s time to start contacting web designers!
Ok, you have now completed your checklist. You have:
- Decided why you need a website and what the goal of your site is.
- Decided who your customers are and what their pain / problem is.
- Created a sitemap of pages that will achieve your goal.
- Decided what content will go on each page and have it created either by you or a copywriter.
- Created some rough sketches/wireframes of the page layouts.
- Found some stock images, or have a photographer working on fresh pics.
- Created a rough branding guide.
- You’ve put all this in a document (website brief) and have all your content in a Google Drive / Dropbox folder.
With your website plan and brief completed, it’s time to begin contacting web developers!
This step should flow smoothly, as you are able to present a detailed brief to designers and they’ll know exactly what they are building and how to quote accurately.
There will be no quoting up a 1 bedroom apartment when you’re expecting them to build 3 story 10 bedroom mansion and vice versa.
You’ve hopefully got your content created by this point and will know what budget you have available for the website build.
Once you start speaking with developers, you might find that what you’re hoping for and your budget don’t quite match. This is ok. A good web designer can work with you to help the two align a little better.
Remember that websites are not set-in-stone objects, they’re not like a print advertisement or marketing material that can’t be changed once launched. Websites can be constantly added to, refined, adapted and grown.
In fact, it’s vital that your website constantly evolves on an ongoing basis to keep bringing new visitors to your site! You can always start small and build up over time.
8. This all sounds a bit hard, do I really need to do this?
We won’t deny, it can be a bit of work.
But hopefully you can see the value in going through this process and how it not only helps you get the website you want, but how to do so without annoying or costly roadblocks along the way.
It also means you’ll have a website that helps your customers feel at ease with your brand, which in turn increases the number of people who contact you.
You’re at ease. The customer is at ease. The web designer is at ease. Everyone is relaxed and things flow smoothly.
There are some web agencies out there (like us) that can walk you through this process step by step; guiding you along the way to answer your questions and help you plan and organise your website. We call this a Discovery Session.
Getting an expert with experience in this process means every detail of your site is planned out properly. It will cost you more than doing it yourself, but it will save you the headaches and dollars down the track, so it’s more than worth it.
Frankly, if you don’t have a biref and your web designer is not offering you a planning session of some kind before they quote on a site, they’re simply guessing what you want.
So to plan your website brief properly with no costly guesses, simply book a chat and we’ll be in touch to learn more about your business and explain how our no obligations Discovery Session process works.