Every successful project starts with a clear plan. Building a new website is a substantial undertaking. Whether you build it yourself or you outsource to a web professional, you will need a clear roadmap to ensure success.
The following structure will help you start strong.
1. Goals & Objectives
The best place to start is with a list of website objectives. Ask yourself "What do I want my website to achieve?"
Write out a comprehensive list of objectives and then narrow it down to 2 or 3 primary website goals.
Here are some common objectives to get you started:
- Introduce your business to the world.
- Increase business authority, legitimacy, credibility and reputation.
- Attract new investment.
- Increase sales.
- Increase customer engagement.
- Increase brand awareness.
- Increase email subscribers.
- Increase your social following.
- Improve customer satisfaction.
- Streamline operations by automating marketing systems.
- Attract new employees.
- Increase profitability.
- Generate more qualified leads.
- Improve your lead conversion rate.
- Streamline your content strategy.
Narrow down your goals as much as possible. Doing this at the beginning of the website creation process will help guide the build by focusing on the objectives that really matter. If for example, your primary goal is to attract new investment for your startup, you do not want to use your landing page to highlight new customer service initiatives. Instead your design, information architecture, copy and imagery will all be used to emphasise the investment opportunities your venture offers.
2. Who is your target audience?
As you outline your goals, your target audience will start to take shape. This step is an important one, so take some time to map out who exactly you want to visit your site.
Jot down demographic, contextual and behavioural details about your target users. Add as much detail as possible.
There are a host of online tools to help you create buyer personas, but this doesn't have to be overly complicated. Just think clearly about who will be using your site.
If you don't know, or you're still not sure, talk to your clients, talk to prospective clients. Get a better sense of who you are hoping to do business with.
3. User Journeys
Once your users arrive on your site, what do you want them to do? This is sometimes referred to as a "funnel", but I prefer "user journey" or "user path" because it places the human experience at the heart of your web-design process.
Mapping out user paths through your site will increase your goal conversion rate for the simple reason that you are actively leading your users from A to B. Where A is them landing on your site, and B is your desired outcome.
Plan several touchpoints to direct users along an ideal path. Think about the types of CTAs you might use to direct them more effectively. Again this needn't be overly complicated, just write it out in simple terms:
- Ella navigates to the homepage.
- She sees our business name, she reads our tagline, she scrolls down and reads some short information about what we offer. (Informing)
- She sees a link to a blog article that interests her. (Engaging)
- She clicks it and reads the article. (Increasing trust)
- She clicks to read another article fed to her below the first. (Engaging).
- She uses the ever present site navigation to look at our services page. (Informing)
- She clicks on a CTA to enquire with us about our services. (Website goal)
Map out as many of these short user journeys as you'd like. They will be invaluable tools when you begin to structure your site.
User journeys through your website will differ, but with good management and site architecture you can guide your users to your desired outcome.
4. Keyword Research
There is a wealth of information available about how to optimise for search engines (SEO), but the best time to ensure your site is optimised correctly, is when you begin building it.
At this stage you know your website goals, you know your target audience, so now you need to define the keywords you want your site to rank for.
This is a very broad topic and we will barely scratch the surface of how to drill down into the best keywords for your new site, but here are some initial steps you can take:
- Make a list of topics relevant to your business and indutry.
- Think about the kinds of phrases your target audience will type into Google when they are looking for the services / products you offer.
- Write out a list of these potential phrases and get as detailed as possible. The longer this list, the better.
- Research your competitors keywords.
- Aim for realistic keywords: "Ethically produced pleather shoes Paris" will get you a lot further than "Shoes Paris"
- To expand on the above point - long-tail keywords are key. Over 70% of searches are long-tail.
At the website creation stage of keyword planning, I always recommend that business owners focus on targeting a maximum of two keywords per site page and one is even better.
When thinking about website keywords, the most important thing to remember is to write content for humans first. Write for your readers, not for Google. The days of keyword stuffing are (thankfully) well over. Search algorithms are intelligent enough to get around most cynical strategies, so write for your users and optimise for keywords.
Do set some target keywords for each page on your website and do take these into account when writing copy. Don't write copy for keywords. It is far more valuable to actively engage one user with valuable content than it is to turn away 15 with spammy keyword copy.
5. Information Architecture (IA)
How you present the information on your site is a delicate balancing act of delivering enough information to engage your users, but being discerning enough not to overload them.
You want your target audience to find the information they expect to receive at the right time in their user journey. And in a manner that clarifies, but doesn't overwhelm.
Think about how best to present your product or services. What information has to be present on the homepage? What information should be included in services? The way you organise and manage the delivery of information can fall under a number of different IA categories. It might be hierarchical, chronological (blogs), alphabetical (ecommerce) or your site might use a number of different structures layered within each other.
Whatever system, or combination of systems you use, try to keep it as simple and as logically structured as possible.
One of the most important IA devices is your site navigation structure. Are you going to use a navbar? Dropdown menus? Menus within menus? A link to a store that then has various menus and sub-menus? Will you have CTAs on the site? Are you going to use pop-ups? There are a wide variety of ways to structure information and the flow of information around a site.
For sites with a lot of information, or a lot of products such as ecommerce stores, you might want to incorporate a search functionality. Even for blog sites with many articles on different topics, search might be useful.
Actionable steps you can take at this stage include:
- Roughly write down the most important information first. Things that must be communicated to the client.
- Write down medium importance information that you feel enhances the quality of their journey through your site.
- Write down any other information that won't directly impact their decision-making process, but that you would still like to include.
- See if these packets of information form a logical path or structure. They can directly guide the next step in your website strategy which is site structure.
- Have a think about how site navigation could be used to most effectively allow the user to absorb all of the information chunks in a way that is clear and accessible.
6. Site Structure
At this point in your website strategy, you will have a much clearer idea of:
- What your site will look like.
- What you hope to achieve from it.
- Who its target audience is.
- What journey you’d like your users to take.
- What keywords you’re targeting.
- How you plan to present the information.
With all that mapped out, it becomes a lot easier to start to structure the physical organisation of the site.
Start to sketch out what pages you will need. Where they will live in relation to the homepage. What kind of navigation will best suit your needs and the needs of your site users.
If you've followed these steps you now have a workable website strategy document. If you have the technical skills, you can continue to build on what you've drafted and start the process of building your new website. Alternatively if you choose to hire a web designer / developer, the strategy you've outlined will be invaluable to directing them in creating the perfect business website for you.
Useful Resources & Tools:
- Hubspot - Make my persona tool
- Figma - For user journeys, brainstorming, any visual planning
- Google Keyword Planner
- MOZ Keyword Explorer
- ahrefs Keyword Explorer
- Wordstream Keyword Tool