Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Planning your new website - Part 2 : Planning

In this series, we will explore the website design process right from early planning to maintenance and updates. So subscribe to the blog and share it with anyone who might be about to go through the website creation process.

So I have already established in my website planning introduction post that you should not just jump straight into trying to create a website. In this post, I am going to outline some considerations for the initial planning phase. This will help prepare you for your first meeting with your Website Designer or Developer. At the end of the post is a link to our Basic 5 Page Website Planning Checklist.

1.       Planning

a. Research & Analyse the websites of your competitors/peers
The best thing about planning a website is that a lot of your initial research can be done in a few hours online. Just by visiting the websites of your competitors and peers, you will get a good understanding of any trends. You should be looking at them from a critical standpoint. Note down anything that you find annoying, distracting, interesting as well as ideas that you think work well. For example, if you are hoping to create an online store, and you were researching other online stores, you would look at aspects such as the process to find products, the process to add items to your cart and check out. You would note down design elements, and being an online store, what measures do they have in place to display secure shopping?

You should also be looking at the types of content that these sites have. Is it mainly text, video, images, audio or a mixture? Once again, what works well to communicate the message?

After analysing a number of competitor/peer websites, you should start to see some trends and you can rank the sites in order for most user friendly to least user friendly.

b. Research & Analyse the needs and requests of your target audience
One of the best aspects of Social Media is the amount of information that people give openly and honestly online. The first place I would start to research what my target audience needs and wants would be a social media platform such as Twitter. You can search for topics and trends by using their hashtag feature (try it, type #onlineshopping into the Twitter search box). Also by looking at forums about relevant topics, you can start to see what people are talking about, both positive and negative. This information is gold, large companies spend thousands of dollars on surveys, focus groups and other market research which isn't always accurate. You have access to all this just by listening in on conversations online. For an interesting article about a survey results versus social media analysis, read the article Using Social Media to Ask the Right Questions.

You should also do some key word analysis at this point. By using a tool such as the free Google Keyword Research tool, you can look at the number of times certain keywords are being searched for, as well as some variations of the keyword you typed in. This is an important step prior to writing your content, as the results here could potentially change the way your write. An example here is where there are technical words used in an industry only by those in that industry. By completing some keyword research, you might find variations that your customers actually use. By identifying these common keywords, you can then filter them through out your website so that it helps with your search engine ranking, as well as your website usability. Think about a user navigating your website, and they see one of these keywords in the navigation, a menu or a heading. This word can act as a trigger, and help them find what they are looking for. So these keywords can also be used as trigger words within your website.

c. Plan Your Website Structure
By now you should have a list of trends from competitor/peer websites, as well as a list of information that people are requesting through your social media analysis. You can now start to create your content. The very first thing to do now would be to create a site map of the sections you will have within your website. This is like a hierarchy of your website which starts with the most important pages at the top (i.e. Home, About Us, Products, Services, Contact) then adding sub categories below. The way you organise the website is very important as it can make a difference between a website that is user friendly and one that is not. The difference here can be huge, do you want a site that converts traffic into sales, enquiries, leads or a site that turns people away. Remember the use of your keyword research here, those trigger words could be used in your navigation or menus.

d. Create Your Content
After creating your website structure, you can start to create your content. Content should not only be looked at as text. Images, video, audio are all very important ways to communicate online. You should have some ideas of the type of content you need to produce from your earlier research. Remember to use the results of your keyword research as well. Where possible, these keywords should be used in headings, page titles, internal links, image alt and title tags and regular paragraph text.

Your content should always be written for your user, not yourself. You might want to sell, but the user does not want to be sold to. So you should write your content so that you are illustrating the benefits of a product or service, giving examples to the user of what it is like after they have bought the product or service. You might need to give some free helpful advice or other information of value to build trust with the user. But always remember, a website and its content should always be created for the end user, not you.

e. Create a Website Design/Development Brief
Once you have your research, site structure and content in order, it is time to bring it all together and create a Website Development Brief to give to potential website development companies. As a guide, you could use the following headings to form the structure of your website development brief::
  • Project Summary
    • -  What is the purpose of this project. Summarise your goals, time frames and budget.
  • Your Business/Organisation Background
    • -  Provide an overview of your business, including your products and services.
    • -  Include any information about existing website including features and traffic statistics.
  • Competitors/Peers
    • -  List your competitors/peers and their websites from your research, along with your notes and observations.
  • Target market
    • -  Provide an overview of your target market with your notes and observations.
  • Project Scope
    • -  What is included in this project
    • -  What is NOT included in this project
    • -  Include your site structure
    • -  Include your design requirements
    • -  Include any features you require (i.e. online store with 5000 products.)
    • -  Include any other services that will be required, such as website hosting, email and a domain name.
  • Technologies
    • -  If there are specific technologies that need to be used
    • -  Include any information about other existing systems that the website needs to integrate with.
  • Budget and Timeline
    • -  What is your budget
    • -  When does the site need to be online?
f. Select a Designer/Developer
This is a hard decision to make, but the difference here could be the difference between a website that is an asset for your business, that communicates your message and converts sales, leads, enquiries and a website that just costs you money.

You should really ask yourself a few questions after meeting with a website design and development company. Following is a checklist that will form the structure of another post within this blog. But it should give you an idea of some important steps in making the right decision.
  • Understand the risks & potential problems
    • IT is a high risk industry
    • Many IT projects that run overtime/over budget
  • Understand how a service based industry works
    • How do development companies make money
    • Time based billing
    • Pricing structures
  • Understand the talk of the trade
    • Scope Creep
  • Research their business
    • What is their mission?
    • What are their goals?
    • Will they be there in 5 years time?
    • Do they have a portfolio of past jobs?
  • Value, not price
    • Don’t cut corners
    • You will get what you pay for
    • Think Value for Money, not cheapest option
    • You will end up paying more in the end
    • Constant updates
    • Overhaul whole site to re-brand/design
    • You don’t always ‘see’ the quality
    • Good websites don’t always just have fancy designs
    • What is it worth?
    • Not getting the results
    • Lost sales
  • Be wary of the “Yes Men/Women”
    • These will be the people who promise the world and deliver a peanut
    • Jobs run over time & budget
    • They buy the job by quoting low
    • Inexperience means they will just do what you ask, not what is best for your business
  • Do they understand your business?
    • Do they know your user groups?
    • Is there an interest?
    • They should be able to provide advice and feedback
  • Flexibility
    • Meeting times
    • Pricing
    • Delivery
  • Consider Your Gut Feeling
    • What was the sales process like?
    • Do they understand the needs of your business and your industry?
    • How is their communication and are they accessible?
  • Set clear expectations and guidelines
    • Ensure there is a Contract with expectations
    • Set Project Milestones
    • Create Project Deliverables
    • Communicate your expected results and Return On Investment

If you follow the above closely, you will be well on the way to ensuring a successful website project.

The next stage in the website creation process is Design and Development. So make sure you subscribe to this blog so you can be notified when it is up online. Please feel free to share with anyone who might find the information useful.

Resource Link: Basic 5 Page Website Planning Checklist

Paul Brick

1 comment:

  1. That is a pretty detailed plan. It just goes to show that building a successful website is nowhere near as easy as 1-2-3. There is a lot of research, planning, and effort involved. Even the smallest detail can make or break your website.

    seo reseller