As the internet has matured so have business’s requirements in a website. No longer is it enough to just have a website, or have a website that looks good. A website is now a vital part of a business’s marketing arsenal and is a valuable sales tool in itself. In order to ensure that the money spent you spend on your website is well spent and will provide a return on your initial investment you need to spend time planning your website and setting attainable goals.
This document will help you plan your website design and get you thinking about all the issues you need to address. It will also help you when talking to web design firms as you will be able to give them a clear idea of what you are after.
It Starts With the Planning
It probably goes without saying but the place to start is with the planning of your website. This can be broken down into four (4) main steps:
- Defining your website’s goals;
- Determining your target audience(s);
- Reviewing your competition;
- Determining you traffic sources.
Define Your Website Goals
The first place to start is by defining the goals of your website. This is also what you will measure to evaluate the success of the venture. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve with your site? Some goal suggestions:
- To sell online?
- To collect targeted leads?
- To provide information about your products and services?
- To brand yourself?
- To provide customer support?
- To entertain?
- To build a community?
- To receive advertising revenue?
- To reduce printing and mail out costs?
When you define these goals bear in mind they don’t all have to be achieved at once. Your plan could involve a roll out of goals over a period of time.
Determine Your Target Audience(s)
Who is your target audience? This can be broken down into:
- Primary Audience
- Secondary Audience
- Geographic Locations
Your primary audience is who the majority of your website will be targeted to. Generally this will be one or two groups who are most important to your business and those you expect to receive the maximum return on your investment (ROI).
Your secondary audiences are everyone else you expect to visit your site. List as many of these as you can.
The beauty of the internet is that you don’t necessarily have to market just to your local area, unless you provide a service that is only available to your local area of course. If you are only targeting a local area again it is easy to focus on just that region. List all the geographic regions you would like to target – think local suburbs, states and countries.
Review Your Competition
The internet is a great tool to research your competition. Spend some time on your competitor’s websites and ask yourself:
Is the website professional looking?
Is it easy to work out who they are and what they do?
Is it easy to use? Can you find what you are looking for?
Would I do business with them based on their website?
It’s also important to remember that your competition offline may not be the same as your online competition. If you are wanting your website to rank in the search engines take some time to see what sites are currently ranking well for keywords relevant to your business. The top ranking sites are your online competition. Take a look at their websites and answer the questions above for them too. You may also need to consider what effort they took to reach the top of the search engines and talk to your web designer/search marketer about what will be required of your site to achieve similar success.
Determine Your Traffic Sources
Where will the visitors to your website be coming from? I’m not going to address offline marketing here just the online marketing as some of the options need to be considered before the site is designed so they can be done together – such as search engine optimisation (SEO.
Here are some of your online marketing options:
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
- Pay Per Click Advertising
- Links on Partner Sites
- Email Campaigns
- Website Sponsorship
- Forum Participation
- Content Creation
- Other – you may have other ideas.
It’s important that you tell your web designer what online marketing strategies you are planning to use so they can take that into account if need be when developing your website.
Develop Your Online Strategy
All of the above will help you in deciding what information you should have on your website and how best to structure it.
Determine Your Website’s Content
Now is the time to decide on the content you want on your website. By content I am including text, images, illustrations, support documents and the like. Here are some of your options:
Product information – descriptions, specifications, photos, user manuals, warranties, reviews, pricing etc.
Online ordering help – payments accepted, shipping info, returns policy etc.
Service information – services offered, locations covered, warranties, pricing etc.
Company information – history, staff profiles, photos etc.
Contact details – address, phone and fax numbers, email addresses, contact names etc.
Location details – maps, parking options, opening hours etc.
News – business news, special offers, features etc.
Articles and resources – information to help support your offerings and educate your prospects and clients.
Forms – quote requests, contact forms, newsletter subscriptions etc.
Case studies – examples of successful work done to date.
Develop Your Website Structure
Often called an information architecture or site flowchart – the site structure is like the architect’s blueprint of the organisation and layout of your website. The content you want on your website will help determine the structure of the site. It’s best to break this down into main section which will then have sub-sections off of that.
As a starting point I’ve listed the main sections that most sites would have. This can be added to or deleted from as required.
- Product/Service 1
- Product/Service 2
- Product/Service 3
- Product/Service 4
- Company News
- About Us
- Contact Us
- Site Map
This will give potential web design firms an idea of what is required in your website and will help them prepare a quote for you.
Putting It All Together
Once you have completed all of the above you are ready to have your website built. If you have not done so you will need to select a web design firm. Provide all the information you’ve put together from above, discuss your requirements and budget, provide examples of websites you like and talk to them to see whether they are a good fit for your business. You want a company that understands you and your goals and that you feel will help you ensure that your website is a success. With the right web design team and the planning you did using the above structure you;re sure to be on the path to a successful website.