This is Part One of a three-part series of articles designed to help you understand how to plan your website or blog.
Are you thinking about getting a website for your business?
If so, one of the most important decisions you need to make is whether or not to build your website yourself, or get someone else to build your website.
Both choices have pros and cons. Whichever option you select will depend on things such as:
- Budget amount
- Your business priorities
- Sense of urgency
- Your skill level
- 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 opt to build your website yourself, but it goes without saying that you will then need to spend some time learning how to put everything together.
A Basic Guide To Website Planning
Whether you choose to build a website yourself or get it built by someone else, the first important step is to plan your website. In this blog post we explain why planning your web site is important and what to do before investing in website development.
Website planning is regarded by many web business experts to be the most important part of building a successful business online. Careful planning before you begin can help you prevent costly mistakes later and create a better end product.
Below, we have compiled a comprehensive primer for business owners to help you better understand the website planning process. We will also cover the do’s and don’ts of planning a business website, and give you tips on how to brief your website developer to make sure that you end up with a website that will perfectly meet your budget and suit your needs.
Important: Before even thinking of setting up a website or registering a domain name for your online presence, it is vitally important that you first invest a little time re-evaluating your marketing strategy.
Developing a successful online business presence requires more than getting a professional website set up. It also requires other things, a commitment to develop and implement an ongoing online marketing strategy.
The Site Planning Process Simplified
So … you need a web presence.
Let’s start, then, by gaining a better understanding of the website planning process.
Before doing anything else, take a look at the chart below, and let’s work through the information on this page together.
Note: Click on the image or the link below the image to enlarge the flowchart.
To make this process easier to follow, we recommend downloading and printing the Website Planning Process Flowchart shown above.
Once you have downloaded and printed out the website planning process chart, 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 walk you through the process. Also, make sure that you will not have any distractions over the next 15-45 minutes.
Step 1 – Goals
Regardless of the kind of website you are planning to build, the first step is to define one or more clear goals for your site and make these as specific as possible.
Ask the following questions:
- What kind of website am I planning to build? Will it be a corporate website, an e-commerce site, a sales blog, or some other kind of website?
- What specific objectives would you like to achieve with this site?
For example, your goal could be to:
- Sell products or services online – you might need to build a site with e-commerce capabilities. Depending on your needs, this could even require adding a private membership area exclusively for registered users.
- Capture new leads – you may need 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 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 may want a business blog built on a separate domain, or added to your existing website to interact with users and keep customers informed about your latest product updates, or help assert your authority and expertise in your target market.
- Or something else …
Write down as many goals as you can think of for your site on your worksheet, a blank sheet of paper, or wherever you are documenting this information.
Once you have written your list, go through the list and choose the goal that has overriding importance above all others.
Write down this goal on your flowchart (in “Your Website Goals” section) as “Goal 1“.
Now, return to your list and repeat this process to find at least 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 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 business 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, let’s do the following right now:
Once you have identified at least 1-3 goals and written these in your flowchart, go back 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 assess your site’s performance? How will you know if your website is on track to help you achieve your business goals?
For example, your website’s objective could be to help you get a certain target amount of leads every week through your site’s contact form, or getting “X” new subscribers per marketing campaign, 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 once more feedback is gathered from users.
Step 2 – Your Website Name
After you have clearly identified your website’s goals, the next step is to come up with an appropriate name for your website.
This is another important step of the website planning process, so take your time and 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 just the name of your company, 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 of you.
Put yourself in the shoes of an online user. Who would be looking online for the very thing 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 clients.
Note: You can be creative and clever with your name, but it’s best to avoid being “too clever”. the same goes for choosing a catchy, memorable or a stand out name. It can be a fun or quirky website name, but it’s best to try and avoid anything that may 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 your site to come up in.
For example, if you are thinking of starting a cooking blog, doing a quick online search for “cooking blog” reveals some great blog names like: “Smitten Kitchen”, “Cooking With Amy”, “A Chef’s Daughter”, “Worth The Whisk” and more …
So … this is where you can get inspired. Make a big list of potential names and then begin narrowing these down.
After you have narrowed this list down to the most likely candidates, repeat the same process as above to create a description, tagline or unique value proposition for your website or blog.
Your description should be concise and inform the reader in as few words as possible what the website 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 website’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 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 names for your website. For example, you can register keyword-rich domain names (i.e. domains that include the key phrase you would like to rank well for in the search engines), expired domain names (domain names that the previous owners have decided not to renew and that can be registered once more, different top level domain names and domain name extensions, etc.)
Tip: Subscribe to our site to learn more about useful strategies on registering domains and tips on developing your web marketing strategy.
Step 3 – Manage Your Website’s Technology
After choosing a name and description for your website, the next step is to have a clear plan for managing the technology that is going to host, support and help power your web marketing vehicle.
We strongly recommend choosing WordPress.
WordPress is not only a robust platform to build a website with, but it is also easy-to-manage and great for non-technical users.
WordPress is also the world’s leading CMS platform, and, as you can see from the screenshot below, WordPress powers almost 50% of the world’s CMS-driven websites.
A WordPress site provides an ideal digital technology platform for publishing your content and communicating your business information to existing and potential clients.
A website or blog built using the WordPress platform allows you to interact with online users, and makes things like posting content, special offers, promotions, news and announcements about your products, company or industry very easy, especially if you have little to no technical web skills. No coding is, in fact, required to publish content on a WordPress site, and managing things like site backups and software upgrades can easily be automated.
In fact, many large companies, small to medium businesses, educational institutions, organizations and even celebrities no longer power their websites using static website building applications. More websites are now being powered by WordPress, which can provide businesses and their users with all of the functions and capabilities of regular websites.
If you want to have better control your own web marketing and don’t have the time, need or desire to learn “web code” languages such as HTML, then you should consider choosing a WordPress-powered business website or blog.
Hosting And Managing Your Web Site
In addition to using to build your website or blog with WordPress, you should also decide how you are going to host your site, and if you are going to outsource your site management to someone else, or manage your own website.
We use and recommend WordPress for most website needs, and we also provide a lot more detailed information about the benefits of using WordPress and tips on subjects like how to register domain names, web hosting and website management in other posts on this site.
If you need more help with this step, please contact us for assistance.
Step 4 – Your Target Audience
Once you have the basics of your site figured out, then the next step is to define who will be your target audience.
Key information about your site’s target audience should include the following:
- Audience demographics
- What they need and want
- Any problems users face, or will have in the future
- How they consume information
- How they generally see themselves
- What they may expect from you and 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 actual person that you will be communicating directly with and presenting your content to.
To work through this process, begin by asking questions, like the following:
- Who is your ideal visitor for your website?
- What will visitors look for on your website or blog?
- What problems and challenges are your visitors going to face that your site can help to solve online? What kind of solutions are people searching online for these issues?
- Are your ideal users technology-savvy? How does your audience consume digital information? Will they prefer video to images and text? Will they need downloadable content (e.g. price lists, schedules, timetables)? Do you need to create visual, audio or multimedia content regularly in order to keep your target users engaged?
- Where do they live? Could geography and factors like occupation, relationship status or income level affect the success of your website? If so, what segments of the population will your website be marketing to and how will you find and target these demographics online?
- How does your audience see themselves? Who does your audience interact online with? What videos are they watching? What else do they buy, or consume online?
- What does your audience 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?
Having the ability to accurately 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 with your website, which will then ensure that you get a website that will deliver you the kind of results you expect.
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 have done.
Also, 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 sustainable.
Conversely, unless you plan to build a portal website and have the resources to do so, avoid trying to make your site appeal to an audience that is just too broad, 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 website, as you will see when we continue exploring the website planning process in another section.
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