Planning is an essential part of business success. However, when it comes to website planning, website owners often fall short of what is expected of them.
This guide is, therefore, meant to provide a broad overview of what it takes to successfully develop a website – starting from needs assessment to the actual launching of the site, and finally maintenance processes.
It will be beneficial for web designers, design/development firms, and developers; institutions; small and medium-size businesses; and organisations.
Recognising the purpose of your website
The aim of establishing a website for most businesses is to drive sales. It is the ultimate goal that is targeted while following the rules of a successful website which are to engage, educate, and inform. Through the right SEO strategies and tactics, businesses are able to turn visitors into leads, leads into customers, and customers into advocates.
Website designers and developers should keep the purpose of the site in mind while creating its features. If making sales is not the purpose, then you should figure out what it is and design the site accordingly. In certain cases, the purpose might be to incite your visitors to take an action, for instance to donate, volunteer, or request more information.
Be sure to plan for the growth of your website over time. A website should be seen as an organism with the potential for further possibilities.
Making plans for the website is as essential as planning for any other part of a business. Due to the demanding nature of running a business, or just negligence or underestimation, there is often a failure to allocate sufficient time, energy, skill, and expertise that are required for creating even the smallest of websites.
Building a website is not the responsibility of IT, it is the responsibility of marketing
Most businesses, especially those that do not recognise the potential for online marketing, often think that the task of creating the business website falls to the IT department, or IT resources outside the company. This is actually the wrong idea because website building is not purely a technical endeavour.
Communicators — specifically marketers — should drive the structure, design, and content of your website while the IT department should see to the successful execution of the plan and the subsequent maintenance of the site. The sole purpose of a website is to reach out to the public. This means that it is meant for marketers to lead the process.
If you happen not to have enough resources for marketing, you should be sure to find competent communicators to help in building your website. The right people for each task should be found and hired.
The “waterfall” method of website development
To avoid the possibility of miscommunication, mistakes and the unnecessary spending of time and resources, it is crucial to make plans that will guide every single part of the website-building process. However, there should also be a degree of flexibility to the building process. Since the website is bound to change over time, it might not be such a good idea to pre-plan every minute aspect of it. The waterfall method involves a downward flow of the phases of development toward the completion of the website, where each stage in the process is affected by the previous one. Although this is a good idea in theory, in practice it can lead to over-specification.
There is an approach called Agile Development, which is as simple as following a detailed plan, but should suit the temperament and skills of the development team. It is a way of creating a balance between detailed planning and flexibility that is necessary to allow the growth of the website over time. It can cost a little more and take a little longer than the traditional methods of website development, but it is a good method for complex projects. You should ensure to discuss with your team to be sure that they are at home with Agile because some web professionals are comfortable with the process while others are not.
Needs assessment, the value of investing in planning
To generate an accurate proposal and estimate for a site requires much more than simply having a general idea of what is to be done and generating a site map. It also requires more than an RFP (Request for Proposal). These might be enough to make a general estimate but definitely not if you wish to arrive at an accurate cost.
What is a needs assessment?
This involves evaluating where a business has been, where it is going, and how to reach the goal. Issuing RFPs to a designer is not a good idea because it doesn’t take into account the important needs assessment. It leads the web designer to blindly estimate timelines and numbers without having enough data.
A needs assessment is a vitally important step in the development of any website. It will greatly benefit every business. Every hour spent on it will yield multiple impacts and can help save time and resources. It is not advisable to discover business needs halfway into the project.
There are three important things to remember in a needs assessment:
A website is meant to serve the needs of its audience, and not its owners.
A website should be an extensible and flexible tool that reflects the image of the business. It should not be a one-time event.
Have every key internal stakeholder contribute to the website idea.
It is only right that your site should be in tandem with the established branding and marketing of your business. These should inform the design and structure of your site. A good website should be consistent across the marketing endeavours of the business.
What happens if you fail to plan?
As a hired developer or designer, you would fail to satisfy your client.
The designer or developer would be forced to work based on assumptions concerning how content should appear on the site. These assumptions may likely not be accurate.
There would be too much unnecessary and time-wasting back-and-forth communication, especially on trivial matters.
Missed deadlines and delays due to backtracking.
Cost overruns as a result of doing work that essentially falls outside what the scope of the project should be.
All these would lead to a finished website that fails to achieve its goals, disappoints the target audience, and produces poor returns on investment.
Cost and timeline
Proper needs assessment will take about 10 to 30 percent of the total time for the project, and cost around 5 to 15 percent of the total budget, assuming you have a realistic timeline and budget.
A series of questions should be addressed during the intake meeting. It should involve going into more detail after examining the core ideas, values, offerings, and messages of your business. The following should be addressed:
Why the company was created.
What is its mission statement?
How the business would like to be perceived
What is it that visitors seek when they visit your site?
Who makes up the target audience?
Who is your competition?
What makes your products better than those of your competitors?
How will you measure the success of the project?
There should be follow up questions that will emerge while your core questions are addressed. How much you are able to address will determine the level of your thoroughness.
The developer or designer should focus on learning as much as possible about the client, its audience, and message. Postpone the need to provide solutions during the intake meeting. Focus on getting all the information you need and schedule additional meetings until you obtain all the necessary details.
A business should have an established brand to be able to build a successful website. It should know what it is about and be able to distill the idea into a sentence or two, since the homepage of the site can only deal with so many points at once. If a business happens not to have a brand, they should hire a professional with branding experience to do this for them.
What is a brand?
A brand is the visual representation of your business; an expression of all its unique characteristics; and the idea that people think of when they hear the name of your business. A brand is important because it sets your business apart, is a reflection of all the things a business and its owner are, sets the stage for the products of the business, and is a consistent representation of your values.
Your brand manages the visual representation and feel of your website. Without having a brand, your designer would have to start from scratch and essentially create a brand identity for your business in the process which may or may not be consistent with your desired image. You, therefore, need to establish your brand before investing in a site.
Establish the brand but don’t provide design solutions
It might be tempting to start proffering design solutions while still in the process of needs assessment. This is especially true when a business has a weak or non-existent brand. However, a needs assessment will be more effective when it focuses on seeking out problems rather than solving them. You cannot provide solutions when you don’t yet know what the problems are.
Choosing a domain name
A good domain name should be short and easy to pronounce and remember. It is often the case that the good domain names are taken; however, you can still get creative and come up with an alternative. You should say the name out loud and see if it clear, brief, sounds good/catchy, and is easy to remember.