Website planning

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Business clichés sometimes turn people off but the phrase “If you don’t plan, you’re planning to fail” applies in web design and web development. The website planning process encompasses both technical issues and business objectives and should be assigned equal weight. For example your marketing people may have all sorts of elaborate plans for how the website processes enquiries, but the complexity of their schemes could lead to higher development costs that can’t be justified. Your PR people may specify that they need the ability to update the website with news and links to their latest campaigns and technically that is perfectly doable and justified in terms of cost and business considerations.

So what are keys steps in website planning?

What is your website about?

A nice simple question but one that will impact upon everything else you do. Even the biggest of sites can be summarised easily and ideally you can describe what your site is about in one simple sentence.

As you build your site you will be tempted by shiny new widgets or flashy graphics you stumble across which can easily lead to you going off topic or creating a confused site.slide-web-design

The answer to this question is essentially your mission statement and will help you to maintain focus throughout the development process. Here are some examples:

“Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google mission statement

“To provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything.” Ebay mission statement

Our vision is to be Earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online. Amazon mission statement

This is an important step in website planning.

Segment, target & position

Every  market,  no  matter  how  small,  has  multiple  segments  with  one  or  more  unifying characteristics.  The  art  is  to  identify  those  you  want  to  target  and  then  position  your site in such as way that they respond to it positively.

Segmenting your market

The  categories  below  are  not  mutually  exclusive  and  you  can  mix  and  match  to  your
heart’s content:

  • Demographic: Age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, occupation, etc
  • Geographic: Country, County, city, town, size of population, etc
  • Behavioural: Benefits  sought,  Occasions  (e.g.  Christmas),  usage  rate,  price sensitivity, etc
    • Tone of voice
    • Where you advertise
    • Navigation
    • Services offered
    • Prices
    • Products Sold
    • Method of Contact
    • Colours used
    • How you advertise
    • Your logo
    • Depth of content
    • Everything!

It is likely you will do a lot of this unconsciously and you don’t have to sit down and draw up a business plan General Motors would be proud of, but make sure you always keep your audience in the back of your mind whenever you make a decision.

It is likely you will do a lot of this unconsciously and you don’t have to sit down and draw up a business plan General Motors would be proud of, but make sure you always keep your audience in the back of your mind whenever you make a decision.

Market research

Unless you are first to market you will be competing with other websites for people’s eyeballs and loyalty. To avoid reinventing the wheel take advantage of their hard work and have a look at what they have done and sign up to any newsletters / marketing emails they have.

  • How have they structured their website?
  • What tone of voice do they use?
  • What services / extras do they offer?
  • What can you do differently / better?
  • What are their product features / prices?

How do they promote themselves (new and existing visitors / customers)?

Note: This isn’t to suggest you should copy any design work or web copy just take inspiration from what is good and fill any gaps you see.

To see how active they are marketing themselves and gaining brand exposure use Google’s web search, news search and blog search. To find out which sites are linking to them use tools like Google Analytics or Link Diagnosis.

It is also worth looking at their meta-description and meta-keywords. To do this Right Click on the page and ‘View Page Source’ or similar. The meta tags are found at the top of the page between the <head> and </head> tags.

Search results

Conduct a series of searches using your market’s core search terms:

  • Which sites are ranked highest organically?
  • Which sites are advertising using PPC?
  • Are any user feedback / comments ranked highly and what do they say?
  • Who are the big directories / forums / blogs in your market?

Forums, blogs & niche social networks

Have a look around the social media sites that cater for your target audience and see what people are saying about their current providers, both positive and negative (e.g. “I wish they gave me xyz as well” or “Mine has been so quick in responding to me”). From this you can see where the gaps are and what people consider to be important.

Choosing a domain name & hosting

Picking a domain name

You’ll find a warehouse’s worth of content online offering advice and guidance about choosing a domain name, but to be frank it’s not that hard. The difficulty lies in finding one that is actually available!

A good domain name should be 3 things:

1. Easy to remember
2. Easy to type
3. Relevant to your service or brand

Ideally  it  should  also  still  have  the  .com,  co.uk  &  .net  available  to  prevent  you  losing traffic and anyone cyber-squatting on one of the big three domain extensions in the UK.

You  will  find  that  a  lot  of  descriptive  domain  names  already  have  the  .com  taken  and possibly the co.uk as well. An alternative to both options described above is to create a name  that  could  not  possibly  have been  taken  and  build  your  brand  around  that. Existing examples include Ning.com, Meebo.com & Flickr.com.

See our page giving advice on choosing a domain name plus our earlier blog articles on choosing a domain name.

Shared or dedicated hosting?

If you want to start small and build your site or you have limited experience with managing a web hosting account choose shared hosting. Most shared hosting packages will have more than enough space and traffic allowance to get you going with the added benefit of everything on the server being set up and ready for you (software, databases, email etc). All you have to do is upload your site’s files and fill the databases with data.

Technically way beyond Shared hosting, dedicated servers are the preserve of large and/ or data intensive websites whose owners have an advanced knowledge of the technical/ back end aspects of running a site. If you choose a hosting package today, that shouldn’t mean you are stuck with it unless you cancel. Your web host should offer a clear no-fuss upgrade path. You will be amazed at how many don’t so if you have ambitions of growth ask about this before you commit to them.

Draw a site map

One of the most frustrating experiences is to hand code your navigation’s menu and copy that across the entire site only to find you need to add another page and link. After updating all the menu’s you find yet another page is required and you have to go back through it all again (and again…).

A little bit of planning up front will become a major time save further down the line so before you dive in to coding your site sit down with a pen and a paper and draw out how each page links to the others.

If you are using a good quality Content Management System like WordPress then menu management and moving content to different parts of the website is very straightforward.

Wire framing

Once you have done this the next step is to ‘wire frame’ your pages. Here you forgo any thoughts about the design (colour, icons, font formatting etc.) and piece together the basic layout and purpose of each page.

Following this process may seem a bit boring and tedious but because you have already visualised how the page elements sit together you can prevent any unnecessary (and painful) changes further down the line where you hit a brick wall and have to come back to start again.

Get in touch with us using our enquiry form to enquire about any aspect of website planning.