A planning checklist for your new website
I’ve mentioned a few times in my blog that one of the key mistakes that online startups make is to completely underestimate the amount of work required to plan and create their new website.
A useful way to manage that situation is to create a planning checklist for everything that is required.
Writing your planning checklist is also a good time to think about and define the basics of your online business, what is your website is intended to achieve, who is your target market etc.
1. What are your goals?
This might seem so blindingly obvious that you don’t need to write it down, but if you search around the web you’ll find an awful lot of websites that simply don’t make sense. There are ecommerce sites with no call to action anywhere, brochure websites that don’t have any contact details, and much more. Once you define your goals though, it becomes very clear how you need to focus your website, and what are key elements that must be included.
Some typical goals for a website include:
- Sell products to consumers or resellers etc
- Generate revenue in other ways: professional services, subscriptions to content etc
- To assist in developing new markets for an existing business
- To establish yourself as an authority on a topic, or as an author
- To provide resources for existing customers.
There are many other goals that a business might have for their website, and being clear about those goals will make the development process much much easier.
2. What is your target audience (demographic).
Whilst defining your target market, or audience, would have been one of the first steps in deciding to create a business, defining your goals in step 1 will help you refine your understanding and definition of the audience you want to reach with your website. (just a reminder, markets change all the time, so it’s worth revisiting this question on a regular basis)
Why is defining your audience important? In the context of your website it will determine the graphic look and feel of the new website, how the content is written and presented, the style of images used, even such details as font size etc.
In a broader marketing context, knowing your audience or target market impacts on every aspect of your business, from determining the customer need that you intend to meet, what your unique selling point (USP) is, product development, how you communicate with your customers etc.
Some questions that help to define your audience include:
- What makes your product or service unique?
- How is your business different from your competitors, why should they choose you?
- Where does your product or service sit in the market, is it cheaper or more expensive, how does the quality compare?
- What advantage do you offer your customers?
- Do you have unique or special products and knowledge?
As you answer these questions, you will begin to build up a picture of your target audience, and that definition will be extremely useful when you are creating content for your website.
3. Research your competition and their websites
Online or offline, understanding who your competitors are, what their USP is, and how they convey their brand is extremely important.
As part of your research for your website, you need to look at your competitors’ websites in detail (the web makes it far easier to research the competition).
The goal of this research is:
- To understand your competitors products and services
- Compare your products and service, are they competitive?
- Try to assess their target audience
- Evaluate what works and what doesn’t work on their websites
Copying competitor sites in design, layout and content is obviously a bad idea, both from a your customers’ perspective and SEO, but understanding what your competitors are doing with their websites can inform how you meet the challenge and better meet your customers’ needs.
4. Is there any specific functionality you need on your website?
It’s easy to assume that your website will have all the functionality that you need, whether that’s forms, shopping cart, social media integration etc.
However, unless you specify exactly what you want on the site your web development team might easily miss a piece of functionality that want on your site. The best approach is to write a list that includes everything you might possibly want to have on your site, and then to review and refine that list with your web developer.
Functionality you might need on or for your website:
- A Content management system so you can update your site
- Ecommerce shopping cart
- Payment gateway options
- Shipping fulfillment tools
- Image galleries
- Email marketing
- Email addresses
The functionality options available on sites now are huge, so I won’t list them all here. You can look at the SiteSuite product specifications to see a longer list, or just review sites that you like and jot down the elements you’d like to include on your website.
5. Decide on your preferred design style
Web design, like any other sort of design, is highly subjective, and while it is important that you are happy with the design of your site, it's actually more important that it resonates with your target audience. When you are ready to start the design process with your web development partner, it is always extremely useful if you prepare a design brief. This helps you to be clear about what you want, and helps your designer understand what is important for your business.
Some design considerations include:
- Is there a design style or ethic that is common to your industry?
- What is the age demopgraphic of your target market.
- Are there specific accessibility requirements for your market?
- Provide some example sites that illustrate the syle you prefer.
- Do you have a company brand or style guide that you need to adhere to in the site design?
- How will your audience access your site, ie. mostly desktop, or on mobile devices?
- Include your website goals in the brief.
6. Define your budget
While it’s possible to get a free website easily enough now, there’s a world of difference between a free site that you build yourself and a professionally designed, built and marketed website.
If your website is key to the success of your business, I’d strongly recommend that you engage a professional web development company. Before you start those discussion though, it’s a good idea to have in mind a budget range for your project.
7. Make sure you have sufficient time allocated to create your website content
As I noted in the first paragraph, underestimating the time taken for this task is common, but it’s a task that you really can’t skimp on.
If you are building an ecommerce website, you need to write not only your homepage and internal page text, but you need to write unique descriptions for every product that you will have on your site (this blog discusses the importance of product descriptions). So if you have hundreds of products, the sheer volume of writing is significant.
You will also need a good range of images; you might source those from a manufacturer but frequently the quality or availability of images from that source isn’t good. So you need to budget for the time and cost of professional photography.
While we’re on the subject of budgeting time, the most successful web projects are those where the site owner is actively engaged in the project, so be prepared to meet with your developers (or video conference etc) on a very regular basis.
8. Other Checklist items:
- Register your domain name
- If it’s an ecommerce website, decide on your payment method, bank internet merchant account, Paypal etc. Bank merchant accounts can take sometime to be approved so don’t leave this task until the last minute.
- Decide on your shipping methods
- Write your standard terms and conditions, returns policy
- Create a Google Analytics account to monitor your website’s performance.
- Discuss your online marketing plan with your web development partner; search engine optimisation (SEO) will be vital, “pay per click” campaigns on various search campaigns might be appropriate,
- Plan to start writing regular blogs, and research social media to decide what is most appropriate for your business (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc)
- Plan how your offline marketing activity will integrate with your website activity. Don’t rely purely on your website, especially in the startup phase, networking, using traditional media etc are extremely important.
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