In this day and age, not having a website is kind of like not existing. Ok, that’s probably a bit dramatic, and there are definitely businesses out there that exist and don’t have websites. BUT I’m willing to bet my life that they’re all brick and mortar AND they’d probably do better if they DID have some sort of site.
With that said, I get that pulling together a site isn’t a complete no brainer, especially if you’re going for a site that actually works for you. It’s not rocket science, but it does take some time, thought and effort.
I know this from designing my own site along with client sites. More than once I’ve had a super psyched client who thought they were all ready to get started disappear for weeks after I sent them my website workbook.
The plain truth is that there’s a bit of work for you, the client, to do before your designer can even get started. And the more work you do up front, the smoother your project will be.
Planning the structure and content of your site in advance will do wonders for keeping your project on budget and on schedule. Realizing half way through the process that you need additional pages or that the flow of the site needs to be changed up or even that content has to be rewritten adds to the work your designer needs to do, which adds to the cost of the site and the time it requires to complete.
So, take my advice and sit down and take these actionable steps before you hire that snazzy designer (note: you can also hire a strategist to help you do this), so when she gives you her questionnaire or planner or whatever she uses, you’re all set to go.
Because, let me tell you, the last thing you want to do is hire a designer, pay the deposit and then have to go back to her with your tail between your legs because you’re gonna need at least a month to get your shit together. Believe me – it’s no fun for you or the designer.
Step 1 – Determine the Site Goal
Think about the WHY behind this website. What exactly do you want to accomplish it, and how does it fit into your overall marketing plan? Are you building a new site because your old one didn’t cut the mustard? If not, why didn’t it work for you? What do you need this new site to do? Build your overall brand presence? Sell products? Sell services? Generate leads? Book clients? Share information? Connect people?
Step 2 – Get to Know Your Target Audience
WHO is this site targeting? Dig deep into the demographics of your target audience. Write out why are they coming to your site, what they’re looking for and how you can help them. Consider their usage preferences – reading, viewing, taking quizzes, etc?
Step 3 – Map Out Site Usage and Flow
Map out HOW you want visitors to move through your site and what actions you want them to take on each page. How will you get them to take those actions? What Calls to Action need to be on each page? Where do you want them to go from each page?
How you want visitors to move through your site will affect your navigation. You should think now about how you’d like your navigation to function and where it should be. Look at other sites that are in your industry for examples of what you like. This will help you determine what you want and don’t want your site to do.
Some navigation options include:
- Full-screen navigation – the navigation IS the design of the home page
- Bottom of screen – this bucks the norm; be careful with placement
- Vertical stack – this works with long menus that don’t fit horizontally and uses the webpage canvas in a new way
- Hamburger icon – keeps your page very simple
- Card style – think Pinterest
- Text only – no buttons or bars
Step 4 – Determine Your Content Needs
WHAT PAGES will you need? Most service-based businesses can get away with:
But you might also want:
- Client Portal
- Resource Library
- Sales Pages
As an e-commerce site, you might need:
- Product Pages
- Product Category Pages
- Shopping Cart
- Store Locator Page
- FAQ Page
- Shipping Info Page
- And much more
WHAT COPY do you need on each page to achieve your goals and instigate the actions you want visitors to take? Make an outline now of how you're going to tell your story and what information is most important to get across to your visitors.
WHAT IMAGERY do you need on each page? Will you use photos or illustrations? How will you use them and what exactly do you need? Photos of yourself? Photos of your projects for your portfolio? Photos of your products? Photos to accompany blog posts?
Would you like to use icons on your site? If so, how would you like to use them? You can use them to break up long copy, guide readers through your services, highlight headers, enhance lists, etc.
WHAT OTHER CONTENT & FUNCTIONALITY do you need?
- Contact Form - What questions do you want included?
- Social Media integration - Which ones? Gather URLs.
- Email Marketing - Do you have an email marketing provider? Who and what's your login info?
This is the time to think about HOW can you best TELL YOUR STORY and engage with your visitors. What tone will you use in your copy? What will encourage your visitors to move through your site the way you want them to?
You should also write down WHAT ELEMENTS you want on every page of your site. Consider where you want opt-ins, links to other content, enewsletter signups, forms, contact information, etc.
Step 5 – Consider SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Make sure that each page of your site targets one primary SEARCH KEYWORD and think about how you’ll integrate that keyword into your content.
Every page should be CONTENT RICH, with keywords included when relevant but not "stuffed" into your pages. Use your header tags (H1, H2, H3 etc) to include both primary and secondary keywords.
Use page TITLE TAGS that are optimized for SEO keywords. Title tags are the text that Google displays as your page title and in the user’s browser when on your pages. Good title tags describe your page content accurately and include main keywords. Try to keep your title tags short and simple, with your target keyword as close to the beginning as possible. Google crops title tags that are longer than 60 characters, so try to make that your max.
Give each page of your site a relevant, keyword focused META DESCRIPTION. Meta descriptions are the short bits of info that appear below your site’s title and URL in Google’s search engine results., detailed meta descriptions encourage visitors to click your page instead of another website, which will affect your site’s click through rate. Each page should have its own, unique meta description that provides more detail about the page and encourages visitors to click.
Compile all of this information now, so you can give it to your designer.
Step 6 – Create Your Content
Now that you know what content you need it’s time to CREATE YOUR CONTENT. It's time to gather the photos/images you want to use and write your copy and calls to action for every single page of your new site. Or, you can hire someone to do this!
If you're going to use stock photos, I'd recommend you make a list of the kinds of photos you're looking for, what pages they'll go on and what purposes they will serve.
Some of my favorite resources for free (and paid) photos are:
- Death to Stock
There are always new sites popping up, so a search is a good idea.
HIRING A PHOTOGRAPHER
If you decide to hire a photographer and have photos of yourself taken, think carefully about what kind of photos you’ll need and what settings will work. For instance, you might want a photo of yourself with a client or working at your desk. Think about what will work best on each page of your site and make a shot list for your photographer to be sure you end up with what you need. Also think about your clothing, makeup and hair to be sure you present yourself in the way you want to be seen by visitors to your site.
You might also need photos of your work if you're an interior designer, architect or stylist, so now's the time to make sure you've got what you need to build out your portfolio page.
WRITE YOUR COPY
When you’re writing copy for your website, you want to keep in mind that website readers are not the same as print readers. Web readers are looking for specific information and products, and they want to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. They scan and glance instead of reading, so you need to write copy that's to the point and persuasive.
- Put your most important information first.
- Keep it straightforward and simple (leave the creativity for your novel).
- Communicate through headers, subheaders, image captions and bullet lists.
- Make your copy easy to read with short paragraphs and short sentences.
- Leave out unnecessary words, jargon, passive tense, and unnecessary repetition.
- Address your visitors directly by using the word “you.”
- Keep it short.
- Remember that each page could be an entry page, so readers need to quickly know where they are, what your site’s about and where to go next.
- Don’t rely too heavily on text. Remember that humans are super visual, so use imagery wherever you can.
This might not be exactly what your designer will ask for, but I guarantee you that if you do all of this before your project start date, you'll win client of the year!