Sometimes I look at websites and wonder “what were they thinking?” The websites are often not designed in a way that is aligned with their purpose, target audience or with scalability in mind.
Was there even a website plan?
It seems that some people and businesses just decide one day that they need a website, almost with an attitude of everybody else is doing it, so we need to. Hire the cheapest designer who can create a page or two from a graphics tool and up goes their website into the infinity we call the Internet.
Saying this, there are a lot of well designed websites that miss the point, too. An example would be a mass retailer putting up a pretty flash site (which doesn’t score any SEO points) with beautiful images and a store locator (which makes it a brochure-ware site instead of an e-commerce one). And I have seen this.
To help avoid these pitfalls, here is a list of pre-planning exercises that I believe should be done before you even think design and content of your website:
1. Decide on the website’s purpose
A website can serve a number of purposes and really is not ‘just’ a website. It is more of an internet tool. Once you start to think of the many things it can do for you as a tool the more you will expand its purpose. It can and should be used more as a portal for your business rather than just an advert.
2. Decide on the reason people will visit
People need a reason to come to your website and if you are not giving them this reason, they won’t arrive there. And then they need a reason to revisit and keep coming back. You need to know these reasons before you start designing your site. These reasons need to be aligned to your purpose.
I will give an example from a company I worked for 10 years ago. I was head of marketing and redoing the whole website. We were an IT company who had a wide range of products and services. The CMO was quite a technical guy for a marketer, but a brilliant man. The way people used websites then was less advanced compared to today. When we first spoke about redoing the website he kept saying to me that there was no point in redoing it if there wasn’t a reason for people to visit. Every time I saw him he asked me what the reason was that people would visit. This is where my grounding started in thinking strategically about using and developing websites. Fortunately, I had a whole software and web development team at my disposal and with his continued nudging we came up with some really innovative ideas and philosophies for that time that lead to a successful website and generated a lot of new web development business for the company. So I say to you “What is the reason people will visit and keep visiting your website?”
3. Think about your target audience
This is something where I see the biggest flaws. Some business sites look like they are designed by children for children, but not targeting children. Children love bright colours and flashing animations and crazy stuff. Okay, that is the extreme, but you get my point.
If you are a professional business you need to think about your image, usability of your website and professionalism of the content. If you are an online store make it easy to find and buy products, make it easy to navigate back and forth. If you are a brand site, be consistent with the brand. If people will be reading articles make it easy to read.
Often designers think in design terms and not business terms, you need to clearly outline what you want to achieve from the design and usability aspect to be in line with how your target audience uses a website and a design that appeals to them. If you don’t know, you can’t expect the designers to know or guess and you could end up with a bad result.
If your website is going to be an important business or Internet tool you need to try and make decisions that won’t limit you in the future. Ensure the company you host with can accommodate upgrades and changes, can your web designers cater for future needs and think SEO. I think this is something to keep at the back of your mind as good choices can really save you money in the long run. Talk to an expert and get advice on what issues could affect the scalability of your website.
So really what I am suggesting is that you should just jump into a website project feet first and hit the ground running. It is important to the long-term success and evolution of your website to sit down and really think about it and plan it properly.
A short Bio for Lee-Ann Bedford, of Aqua Pebble
Marketing professional, consultant, coach, writer and speaker with a wealth of knowledge from over 20 years marketing experience across B2B, B2C and Channel.
Lee-Ann has worked with clients from Africa, Europe, UK and US. She specialises in helping senior management, medium and small business owners to strategically develop and implement strategies in marketing, various specialised marketing disciplines, communication and marketing projects.
Lee-Ann also runs one-to-one or online workshops and coaching sessions and offers various writing services. Her outlet for expression is her blog Aqua Pebble, where she provides opinion and advice across a number of various marketing issues. Her motto is to make a difference, by helping people through knowledge.