Benjamin Franklin once wrote
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Planning a website is no different to anything else in business.
I sometimes find it helpful to think of a website as a completely different business doing exactly the same thing as your primary business. The reason for this is that thinking of your website as different business means putting more time and energy into it.
If you think of a website as a tack-on afterthought to your main business then you are not likely to get a return from your online investment. Certainly you are not likely to get a return that is fulfilling the potential of an online investment.
13 Steps to Planning Your Website
- Identify your goals. What do you want your website to achieve?
- Identify your target market. Are you trying to reach the same demographics as your offline business or are you using the internet to reach new markets either by location or by other factors such as age or sex?
- Consult with an expert on how to reach your target market and achieve your online goals. This is a step that is often missed. Think about your offline marketing. Do you advertise in print media like the Irish Times because you think your target market read it or because you know they do? Do you want a facebook presence because other people have one or because it will actually help your business?
- Decide on the type of website you want. Is it to be an e-commerce site where you sell products, a brochure site that literally gives a few pages of information about what your company does, or do you want it to be a tool for communicating with your customers 24/7?
- Decide who is to be responsible for your online activities. This will probably happen at an earlier stage but it is important that one person takes command of and responsibility for your website and associated projects. This person must have a very clear knowledge of the companys’ marketing direction and target demographics. It would be helpful if they have an interest and/or ability surrounding internet technologies. As a rule of thumb, it is better that this person comes from a marketing background than a computer networking background. There is often an incorrect assumption that somebody who knows a lot about connecting computers to a central server will know about all that other “IT stuff” too. Online marketing shares more with traditional marketing than server technology. If your IT department / person happens to know a bit about web technologies too then that is a bonus, but your marketing department should be in the driving seat here. With your website you have the potential to reach many multiples of the people you reach at your actual place of business. Image is everything.
- Decide on what features you want your website to have. This will be based on your goals and target market. If the purpose of the website is simply to inform, then you will not need many features, but you will need good copy. If your purpose is to engage as many potential customers as possible then you will have to build in some form of interaction. Why would one of your customers or potential customers look up your site? What would they be looking for when they got there and what would make them come back again? Do you want to collect information like email addresses for mailing lists from them? Do they want you to collect information like that from them?
- Design your website. Depending on the sort of website you need you can decide to do it yourself (you can even do it for free using tools like Joomla or WordPress) or you can get your site professionally designed. Obviously I have a biased opinion here, but never the less, your own web surfing experience will tell you that professionally designed websites are less likely to look like your 9 year old created them. If you have the ability to create a website in line with your company image then do it yourself. If you don’t then it is time to get a professional web designer.
- Optimise your website for search engines internally (on-site Search Engine Optimisation). There are many factors that come into play for SEO. These are some of the more important ones for on-page optimisation:
- Site Copy. Well written and original copy using keywords that have been qualified as important for your website to rank for.
- Relevant Meta tags and page names. The Meta Title is particularly important. Your page names should ideally look like http://www.yoursite.com/what-i-want-to-rank-for.html when displayed in as a URL.
- Good heading tags. In particular no page should be without a h1 tag and the content must be relevant to the copy.
- No spamming. Do not stuff as many keywords into your text as you can. It may cause your site to suffer.
- Usability. It’s not only search engines you have to worry about. People are the primary cause of your site existing in the first place. Your site needs to be easy to navigate and self explanitory.
- Publish Your Website. Launch your website. Don’t forget to make a song and dance about it. A lot of effort will have gone into it at this stage.
- Start your off-page Search Engine Optimisation campaign. Really what I am talking about here is gaining links from other websites. This is hugely important. What is more important is the “quality” of those links. They should come from relevant websites and never ever come from a link farm. Google have only recently depreciated links from content farms too (article submission sites etc). Play by the rules and you will not get a nasty surprise down the road. You will need help and direction here. It is not easy.
- Consider a Pay Per Click campaign. Google Adwords or Facebook ads can drive visitors to your website. You only pay for people who actually reach your site. The bigger your budget the more people you can get through your virtual doors. Although PPC accounts for somewhere in the region of 80% of all online spend, only 15-25% of clicks come from this “non-organic” source. If you can have your site occurring at the top of the non-paid search results you will have a much better ROI. Plan to use PPC while you work on getting your site up the ranks. It can be a slow process sometimes.
- Manage your other online activities. Are you blogging, using flickr or youtube? Are your staff posting in industry forums or using Linkedin? Be clear to anybody promoting the business online on what the aims of their efforts are. Even a well intended post can turn into a PR nightmare.
- Measure your online success. Use Google Analytics or some other analytics software to measure your visitor numbers and track their usage of your website. The more information you have the easier it is to make alterations to your site that result in better user experiences.
Budgeting For a Website
It is impossible to plan a website properly without the word budget cropping up (usually often). I left it out of the 13 steps because there are several different approaches to budgeting for a website.
In my experience, a lot of smaller business’s will start with a budget figure in mind. The trouble with this is that it is like saying “I’m going to go out and buy 350 ducks. My budget for it is 1,000.” I have no idea how much ducks cost or what the associated costs for housing, feed and anything else might be.
At least with ducks I should be able to find out the market price. Websites range from a few hundred euros to thousands of euros depending on many factors. Like with buying a used car, a lot depends on what is going on “under the hood”. Since these differences may not be easy to see on the outside of a website, it is very hard to tell why you are getting quotes which could vary from between 500 and 5,000 for a website.
What I am getting at here is that pricing should not be the determining factor for your website. There has to be a cap on the budget. It would be foolish not to have one. What I would suggest is going through the planning stages above and then, once the needs have been established, getting quotes. If your current budget does not stretch to what you need to have done consult with experts in the field and ask what they think could be cut back with the least negative impact.
Lots of people can make a website and therefore legitimately call themselves web designers. What I have conveyed with my 13 point plan though is that the actual website design should only be a small part of the online process.
There are also the techniques used to consider. If I want a website that looks amazing I would probably use flash animation for it. If I did that though, I would have a very hard time getting the site to show up in Google because Google can’t read content that is in flash. Incidentally, flash design tends to be expensive because it is highly skilled work.
Is the person doing the website a web developer, hand coding your site, or somebody using a web design package like frontpage? In other words, what is their level of expertise. Going back to the car analogy, are they an experienced mechanic, or have they picked up a Haynes manual and decided to give it a go?
Ultimately when it comes to budgeting for your website it comes down to trying to find somebody who can deliver your goals at a price that is within your budget. The purpose of this post is to help give you a clearer picture of what those goals are. It is not enough in todays market to simply say “I want a website”. You will get one, but it is wasted money if it does not perform for you.
If you have any questions feel free to give me a call. My mobile number is 086 3817149.