A quick guide to defining, designing and delivering your website
A website is your most powerful and effective marketing tool. It’s accessible 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world. It allows your audience to access information, contact you, subscribe to your services or buy your products directly. And it’s easy to keep your content fresh and updated, respond to user feedback and adapt to changing needs.
The query “Why do we need a website?” has become “Why haven’t we got one yet?”
The next question is often: “How much will it cost?”
Building or upgrading your site can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. No matter how simple or elaborate your site, the important thing is that you lay a solid foundation before you begin to build. Investing time in some basic planning stages will keep your costs down and deliver a site that suits your requirements now, and grows when you need it to.
The cost of building your site depends, of course, on its complexity and function. Some websites sell products or services, others display images, share information or connect thousands of people. However complex or straightforward your site may be, invest your time early in the planning stages and you’ll save in the long run.
DEFINE. DESIGN. DEVELOP.
In order to provide you with time and cost estimates, we look at the three key phases of the job: Define. Design. Develop.
EXAMINING YOUR STRATEGY, MARKETING, COMMUNICATIONS, CORE MESSAGES, VISUAL IDENTITY
STRATEGY, MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS
Before you can define what your online presence will be, you need to step back and consider your big picture. That means looking at your mission, strategic plan and branding, plus your marketing and communications strategy. You will also need to assess your existing tools (print materials, logo, retail presence, social media) and determine how your web presence fits into the mix.
If you’re just starting up, you may be only beginning to develop your strategies. If you’re an individual or small business, your mission and strategic plan may be just a few sentences or paragraphs long. Or you may only need a simple site that informs users about your services, displays your work, or uses an e.commerce function to create an online store.
But if you are a mature organization looking at a first or second website, your history and experience will point the way to the rebranding opportunity your new site offers. Your large organization may require a comprehensive site aimed at diverse users. This site would feature wide-ranging content and functions including news, archives, downloadable documents, password protected areas for internal use, discussion forums, dynamic calendar listings, audio and video, fillable forms, and more.
WHO IS YOUR ONLINE AUDIENCE? You might assume that the audience for your website is the same one that receives all your other materials. But a website can reach a new sector: a portion of your membership or potential clients who are not as receptive to — or easily reached by — your existing marketing.
Defining your primary and secondary audiences is the single biggest factor in determining the purpose of your site.
SITE PURPOSE When your audience is visiting your site, what do you want them to do? Should users buy a product, learn more about you, sign a petition, answer a survey, subscribe to your newsletter, call you, email you, download materials, or read and comment on your blog? You should be able to answer these questions before you build or upgrade your website.
Assessing your site’s success How will you assess if your site is meeting its goals? Visits, clicks, sales, subscriptions, comments and downloads are all ways of measuring user interaction, growth and satisfaction. Considering these metrics in the beginning lets you build in flexible tools to help identify, service and track your audience.
CORE MESSAGES What are the most important things your audience needs to know about you or your organization? These core messages are the talking points and phrases you will repeat in your marketing, whether it’s an elevator pitch or an information package. They describe the essence of your story and what you want your audience to know, remember and act on.
VISUAL IDENTITY Do you have an eye-catching logo, colours that suggest who you are and a distinctive typographic identity that makes you stand out? If your answer is ‘yes’, you know the value of good design in shaping your brand. If you don’t, get busy! Your website should reflect and expand on your look, so it’s best to make those decisions before you build.
DEVELOPING A CONTENT OUTLINE, WIREFRAMING, VISUAL INTERFACE DESIGN
THE CONTENT OUTLINE The next step is to think about the content of your site so that it meets, attracts and maintains your audience by steering them to the desired actions.
Here’s what we have established so far:
– your mission and strategic plan
– your marketing strategy and communications plan
– your communications tools and how they all fit together to support your overall goals
– your core messages
– your visual identity
– your audience
– the purpose of your site
At this stage you’re ready to write a content outline identifying the different kinds of information your site needs to include.
Two broad points of entry for considering the outline are:
1) the site reflects your organizational structure and
2) it reflects what you want users to learn and do.
If your site is going to be small, writing the outline will be a quick exercise. If your site serves a larger organization and a wider audience, the content outline will take into consideration different content types and methods of presentation that the web offers.
The content outline serves as a map of the site. It assigns content to various pages, and shows how the site will be organized, and how the user will navigate between pages. It also shows which pages will have additional functions such as shopping, video, password protected areas or databases.
All of these functions and features need to be considered and indicated in the outline to understand the full range of the project. The content outline serves as the basis for the next step, the wireframe.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO EVALUATE AND REVIEW THE CONTENT OUTLINE Alterations to the structure, sections, products or services in your site as it’s being built can result in blown timelines and unanticipated costs. Since the site map is your blueprint, it’s vital that all members of the project team have considered, thoroughly reviewed and signed off on the map because…
…THIS IS HOW WE ESTIMATE THE COST OF DEVELOPING THE SITE With all of the above elements in place we’ll estimate how much work, time and money it takes to build and launch your website.
The wireframe is a simple visual plan of the pages of the site. We will generally create one for the homepage, and one for each unique page template on the site. It shows all the types of content that will be on each page (such as navigation menus, text, images, video, blogs, image carousels or data archives) and blocks out the general placement of and relationship between this content. We’ll also clarify how the user will navigate between pages and other content.
The wireframe will not show you any graphic design, such as colours, logos, or images. It is like a blueprint on which we then build the visual interface design.
VISUAL INTERFACE DESIGN
The visual interface design builds out the wireframe with graphics, colours, and styles, based on your existing visual identity and the discovery done in the Define phase. We’ll use some representative sample content to show type and image treatment, navigation menus and buttons. The visual mockup are usually presented as a PDF or JPG, and must be finalized and approved before coding begins.
CONTENT, USABILITY, SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION, TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS, SITE BUILD (CODING), LAUNCH
Creating content It’s time to start writing, and finding or commissioning photos and illustration.
The key theme for web writing is: be brief. Most readers scan web text instead of reading it all. You want to write about half of what you would for a print piece. You need clear, active heads and subheads – more than in regular writing – to guide the reader through the page and site. We recommend that all content be written and edited by someone familiar with writing web copy.
Special attention needs to be paid to keywords. These are the words and terms that best describe who you are and what you do. You’ll have identified them in your core messages. They’re especially important for your site since search engines use them to determine your rankings among related websites
Usability Your site should make the content easy to find and get to. The navigation and structure should be intuitive and clearly marked.
Search engine optimization Your site needs to be easy to find on major search engines. It’s important that your potential audience can find YOU when it searches the web for your kind of services or organization. There are many ways to achieve this, but the most important way is to write your site’s content with SEO in mind.
Google searches reward authentic content on the page, consistency across a site, fresh updated content, and site traffic and linking activity. If you can update your site regularly with news posts or added page content, and get users linking to you from their own sites, from search results, or from social media, your rankings will rise. A unique URL (domain name) helps too!
Check out our blog on “Five Ways to get Website Visits.”
TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS Websites exist in a technically complex environment. A detailed inventory of the requirements from both your side and the user’s side is required. Things to consider include: browser compatibility, search engine optimization (SEO), the amount of data on your site, making your site mobile device-friendly, finding a reliable web host, and backing up your data.
TEST SITE During the development and coding phase we mount a test site accessible only to the project team for review and feedback. During this phase and just prior to launching we test the site on all the main browsers like Firefox, Chrome and IE and, if the site is responsive, a range of mobile devices.
LAUNCH Once all the programming is complete, reviewed and approved, the files are transferred to the host site, and the domain name is directed to it. Now, you’re live and online!
A STRONG FOUNDATION Having your site up and available is the first step. Your online marketing strategy — developed during the “define and design” phases identifying your audience and how to reach it — needs ongoing attention. Using programs like Google Analytics, you will want to measure the traffic to your site and activity that takes place on it. As you assess what works and what doesn’t, you’ll need to adapt site content and your online marketing outreach accordingly.
KEEPING YOUR SITE CONTENT FRESH One of the big advantages of a website is that material can be constantly changed, updated and added. Deciding who will do this and how it will be done will help determine the software used during site construction. Open source content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress and Drupal make it increasingly easy for you to make changes on your own if you want.
KEEPING YOUR WEBSITE SECURE Websites are under constant attack from hackers and spammers. You need to monitor your site regularly for unusual activity or content, and pay attention to security warnings from your host server. Choose a reliable hosting company with a solid track record. Create unique, strong usernames and passwords and change them regularly. And if you are using a Content Management System like WordPress, you need to keep the software updated. The CMS developer supplies updates for free, but it takes some technical knowledge to install them correctly, so never do it without some IT consultation.
WE’RE HERE TO HELP Working Design is ready and able to assist you with any phase of defining, designing and delivering your website, from discussing your communications strategy to getting you launched. Call us for a free consultation.
“A Short Guide to Defining, Designing and Delivering your Website” is one in an occasional series of discussion papers about communication and design from Working Design, a Vancouver, B.C.-based company. www.workingdesign.net