When creating a business or personal project that you want on the web, Website Planning is the first step before actually building the site. To have a functioning, aesthetically pleasing website, you must define your brand the it’s persona.
There are many steps that go into creating brand identity for a small or medium sized business. So, let’s get started!
Finding Your Purpose
Different websites have different purposes- from driving sales to informing an audience, your websites purpose could be anywhere in between. So, the first step to Website Planning is finding out what that is for your site. If your brand sells merchandise, it may be sales; however, if it’s a non-profit, your website should focus on informing the public. The goal of your company may change, so allow it to grow and change over time!
Planning with a Point
Once you define the purpose of your website, the next step is to plan EVERYTHING. According to Smashing Magazine, “Planning for the web is just as important as everything else associated with their business.” Many websites struggle when they leave the entire website in the hands of IT when, in reality, the responsibility should land on marketing. If you don’t have a marketing team, hire one.
The Waterfall Method
If you struggle deciding what responsibilities to give each employee, try avoiding the waterfall method. The idea of this method is that the phases of development flow downward with through the stages of website creation. This would work great- if the world was perfect and nobody ever made a mistake. This method only works if everyone is completing their assigned tasks the right way without necessary change down the line.
The Agile Approach
Instead, you may consider the Agile Approach. This allows employees to:
- Collaborate on projects
- Ask individuals for assistance over tools
- Value working software over comprehensive documentation
- Respond to change within projects.
Before you use this method, be sure to talk it over with your team!
The Need for a Needs Assessment
According to Smashing Magazine, “Twenty hours spent on a needs assessment can save forty hours of developing time during the building of the website.” Without a proper needs assessment, many things can happen, including backtracking on projects, designers making incorrect assumptions about the website, communicating too much for small tasks, and client dissatisfaction.
Let’s Get Started
The first step in creating a needs assessment is doing needs intake. This can include asking questions like:
- What are the core values of the company?
- What do you want the viewer to feel when they load your site?
- Who is your brands competition?
- What makes your brand special, compared to the competition?
- Who is your target audience?
All of these questions define the brand and what they stand for. Next, you must create brand identity. Creating brand identity allows customers to see a logo, certain colors, or an aesthetic and immediately know that it is connected to your brand. Contrarily to some business owners’ belief, logos and brand identity should be reinvented in order to stay relevant.
One easy way to decide on a brand identity is to create a persona. Building a persona is like building a model that is your desired target market for the website. You can ask questions like:
- How old are they?
- What are their interests?
- What gender might they be?
- Where do they work?
- What might a day in their life look like?
Creating a persona for your brand to have a goal-directed design. According to Alan Cooper, “Goal-directed design combines new and old methodologies from ethnography, market research and strategic planning, among other fields, in a way to simultaneously address business needs, technological requirements (and limitations) and user goals.” This helps build empathy for consumers, develop a specific target market, communicate with that market effectively, and predict the actions of customers.
Once you have an ideal customer, you can create a brand identity they would identify with. This can be done by choosing colors, fonts, images, and a domain name (Hint: Mood boards are a great way to find inspiration!). Below you can see the difference between a brand with a distinct identity vs one that doesn’t stand out.
Creating a Design Proposal
Now that you have a plan for the branding in place, it’s time to move to the actual website design. This will focus more on the structure of the design and how to find the right people to build it.
First, you must create a plan for the design. This can include a background of the company, a site map with organizational tabs, specific design process details, and a list of features that will be on the website.
Figuring Out the Finances
Designing a website is not cheap, if done properly. Not only do you have to think about initial expenses, such as software, hardware, and your employees, but also the web professionals you bring in to design the site. Most won’t give a price until they know details about what the website requires, but finding a similar website and it’s price is an easy way to guesstimate.
Something many people forget to factor in to the price is website maintenance. Smashing Magazine states that, “Remember that successful sites are not built and forgotten, but maintained and improved.” The average fee for yearly upkeep may be between $2,000- $5,000. HTML Basic Tutor stresses the importance of knowing what your company is capable on it’s own, then hiring outside work when necessary.
Finding the Best Web Designer for You
It can be tricky to find the perfect match for your website. Here are some Dos and Don’ts on finding the best person for the job:
- Ask for referrals
- Consider their other projects
- Meet them
- Take the cheapest option
- Use your employee that has a different job title
- Only hire designers that have created websites in your field
How Many People Does it Really Take?
It may come as a surprise to many business owners that building a website isn’t a one person process. In fact, Smashing Magazine recommends roughly eight job titles to make the website the most successful it can be. (NOTE: this is NOT the perfect list for every company. It will depend on the resources and talent of every employee on the project.) They are:
- Internal Stakeholders: Employees that run the business
- Content Strategist: Organizes and prioritizes content
- Content Creators: Handles writing and other content
- Copywriter: Makes writing more appropriate and engaging
- Web Designer: Designs layout and chooses elements
- Front End Coder: Creates codes given by the web designer
- Back End Coder: Finalizes all codes
Choosing the Right CMS
Content Management Systems (CMS) is the software that allows you to control your websites content. This includes publishing, editing, and displaying your companies information. Choosing the right program can be difficult. Before you do, Smashing Magazine urges you to ask yourself these questions:
- Is it widely used and supported?
- Is it relatively stable? Are there known security or other stability issues?
- Does the person or team developing in it have the necessary expertise?
- Will it support the layout, features and functionality the site requires?
One key point to consider when choosing your CMS is that some companies create their own CMS. If the company were to go out of business, there is no way to support the software. This means there is no way to make improvements on the site. Because of this, many people chose the most popular software- WordPress; however, WordPress is not the right choice for all business.
Other factors that may influence your choice is the designer of the website. Many designers specialize in a few softwares and suggest you use one they’re familiar with. Your IT person may also want a say in what program you chose.
Creating the Best Content
If you’re creating a website that people will enjoy browsing, it will be multimodal, meaning it has text, photos, video, audio, and more.
The most eye catching feature on a website is the photographs. Hiring a quality photographer to create content for your website is one of the best investments you can make.
Reading on a screen can lead to serious screen fatigue, so keep things easy. Use a lot of bulleted lists, short sentences, and simple vocabulary. If you think your work is short enough, shorten it more. Detailed headings will guide your audience to the right part of your writing. You want to focus on the reader.
What are their needs, desires, and fears?
Organizing Your Site
Creating structure for your website can be scary! It’s broken down into 4 easy steps below!
1. Create a Site Map
Similar to a flowchart, a site map allows you to breakdown aspects of your website into difference categories. This will be how you divide tabs on the finalized site.
Creating a site map forces you to define what will be on your website and where it falls in relation to the other information. If your website has many different audiences, you will need to distinguish which information falls under each audience.
2. Separate Design from Content
Design is how the information is presented, whereas content is what is presented. Although these aspects go hand-in-hand, they must be separate for one reason: mobile devices. Mobile browsers and desktop browsers must be broken down with different layouts to advertise the most important information.
Mobile designs may showcase the content in a hamburger menu; however, the computer browser may feature a horizontal menu.
Content needs to be divided further and you may not have full control of how your content is shown. This is because websites may use meta data, the basic information associated with an article or site page (ex. author or publication date)
3. Integrate SEO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can increase the placement of your on a search engine (in simple terms: bump up your rating on Google). According to Smashing Magazine, the best way to optimize SEO is
- Quality writing
- Well-defined content, including proper use of header tags (h1, h2, etc.)
- Good meta data
- Logical URL structure
4. Create a Layout
A wireframe allows you to create a basic layout of what your website will look like. It allows you to focus solely on the structure before you add additional content. There are many great softwares to use, including Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator; however, you may skip this step. Instead, jump straight to a prototype that you can skip through.
To summarize responsive design, each device creates a different experience. Responsive design allows content to change size and place on the website to create a smoother viewing experience.
As technology enhances, breakpoints will too. Breakpoints are the code that change how a site is viewed on a different sized screen. They will change the navigation and sizing on your site.
The most important aspect of responsive design is content first. Don’t allow the design to control your website; instead, make sure your website is content focused.
Designing a website can be an overwhelming task, but these tips should make your overall experience a little bit easier. Good luck and Happy Creating!