Creating a Thorough and Efficient Website Plan

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

This well-known adage has been credited to some of the most significant figures and thinkers in world history, including Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and even Taylor Swift. No matter who you give the credit to, you’d do well to heed this advice, especially when it comes to planning website development.

Why You Should Plan A Website

It’s important to create a website plan because it will be the catalyst and reference point for everything you do during the website creation process. Website planning allows organizations to define their goals and purposes for their website, and it helps you, as a developer, to understand the problems an organization faces so that you can come up with innovative and effective web-based solutions to these problems.

Additionally, the planning process helps to prevent unforeseen delays and dilemmas. Spelling things out in detail before any work has begun gives organizations and developers a roadmap to follow and helps ensure that both parties are on the same page. Having a website plan reduces the likelihood that you’ll have extensive questions to ask clients during the development process, and it also reduces the chance that a you’ll have to make design decisions that could turn out to be wrong or unsatisfactory by the end of the project. If as many decisions as possible are made at the front-end of development, less guesswork and less backtracking will be necessary to complete the project. This saves all parties involved time, money, and headache.

Where You Should Start

A thorough website plan starts with a Needs Assessment.

A needs assessment is the process of figuring out where a business has been, where its going, and how to get it there.

Ben Seigel, “A Comprehensive Website Planning Guide (Part 1)”, SmashingMagazine.com

In practical terms, a developer conducts a Needs Assessment to understand the problems their client faces so they can eventually generate solutions for the client in the form of a usable website. A Needs Assessment is primarily about asking questions and listening to understand, digging deep into the issues a client faces and developing a clear picture of what the client needs. At this phase, it is important to keep any possible solutions to yourself until you understand the full scope of the client’s problems and needs.

It is important to ask questions about the client’s core organizational ideas and values, messages, and business offerings. This should be a thought-provoking conversation, with surface questions leading to deeper probes until a client and its goals have been looked at from all sides. Read Ben Seigel’s Needs Assessment Intake sample questions for ideas.

In addition to the Needs Assessment, a developer also needs to consider a client’s Brand Identity, which is how an organization or business presents itself to the world. Many organizations and businesses have created brand guides that contain information about logos, color schemes, font choices, and a driving purpose statement. If a client does not have a brand guide prepared or available, you’ll want to determine at least the logo and color scheme your client would like to use for their site. Any other branding choices you make during the web development process should be communicated to the client with room for revision, and these choices should also be documented in the website plan.

Writing the Website Plan

After the intake process and preliminary research are complete, you can start to plan.

What should be included in a website plan?

  • A summary of the client’s background and the problems they identified during their Needs Assessment
  • A Site Map showing the overall organization scheme of the proposed website, as well as the approximate number of pages the site will contain
  • An outline of the design process, including what kind of tools will be used and how website prototypes will be delivered
  • A list of Site Features, including detailed definitions of each feature and where they will appear on the site
  • A list or schedule of Milestones defining key benchmarks in the project and what the deliverables will be at the time each Milestone is reached

A Site Map can be created as a flow chart or a bulleted list using indentation to indicate varying page and content levels within a site. A popular method of website planning is to brainstorm as many elements of a site as you can think of, group the elements into themes, create an outline, and then fill in the gaps.

A Site Feature is a component of a website that has a specific purpose, display, and functionality.

Managing the Project

Once a website plan is created and agreed upon by both the web developer and the client, it is time to assemble a team.

It’s important to define roles and distribute work among team members, but remember that someones a single team member can play more than one role. According to Ben Seigel’s “A Comprehensive Website Planning Guide (Part 2),” the following roles are essential to define for a website development project:

  • Internal stakeholders: most often, the client or organization the site is being developed for
  • Project manager: keeps the project moving and on schedule; keeps track of who is working on what
  • Content strategist/information architect: helps organize the site’s plan and structure
  • Content creators: generates the content that will be available on the site
  • Copywriter and copyeditor: makes sure the content is web-user-friendly.
  • Web-design: manages the visual display of the site and user experience, including user interface elements
  • Front-end coder: translates visuals given by web-design into web code (HTML, CSS, etc..)
  • Web/CMS developer (back-end coder): manages the content management system, makes sure all parts of design and code work together

Building the Site

The following sections will detail continuing steps in the process of web development, and particularly those steps that are critical to actually building your website.

Choosing a CMS

A CMS is a content management system where a website can be built and content for that site can be managed. WordPress is the most popular CMS by far; however, it does not work for all projects. It’s important to investigate all the available options to find the CMS that is the best fit for any given project.

Ben Seigel suggests four essential questions to ask when choosing a CMS:

  1. Is the chosen CMS reputable, widely used and supported?
  2. Is it stable? Are there any known security issues?
  3. Does the developer or development team know how to use the chosen CMS?
  4. Will the chosen CMS support the function and features desired?

Determining Site Content

Content is more than just text: it includes photos, PDFs, audio files, podcasts, playlists, social media feeds, and more. Content is anything available for site users to consume or use on a website.

It’s important to determine who is creating content for the site, and to coordinate those efforts for consistency and clarity.

Be generous in planning the amount of time it will take to create, edit, and organize web content.

Determining Site Structure

Review your site map from your proposal and refine it; flesh it out. Try to define content in as much detail as possible. This detailed planning will eliminate guesswork for the client and for the development team.

At this phase it is also important to define relationships between content and to map these relationships out. The same information may come up at more than one place on a site; it’s important to have a reference for where linked information appears on a site so that it can all be updated as the information changes over time.

Additionally, Meta Data should be considered at this point in the development process. Meta data is additional information about the content posted on a site. Collecting meta data assists with organizational efforts as more content is created and more data is accumulated.

Finally, URL structure should be determined. URL structure denotes how various pages of a site appear in URL format:

www.samplesite.com

www.samplesite.com/about-us

www.samplesite.com/blog

www.samplesite.com/blog/blog-article-title-goes-here

When In Doubt, Plan It Out

By now, you should see the importance of website planning, and all of the time, thought, and detail that goes into creating a successful website plan and executing that plan well.

For further information, check out these additional resources:

How to plan a website in 7 steps

What Is Metadata?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Hi Maggie,

    Your blog post was really well done. It has a clear purpose to inform and persuade individuals to start the website development process with research and a plan. Your use of hyperlinks are effective, especially the one inserted under the “Where You Should Start” section. Reading through your blog post, I took note of what I should consider when starting our group project. I found the “Managing the Project” section helpful. Choosing roles for team members is something I have overlooked in past projects, and I think it would be helpful and effective to do it for this project. Separating tasks by role, not only holds individuals accountable, but it also ensures the content gets done, because it breaks the project up into manageable pieces. One resource I found discussed how to decide on necessary team roles needed for a project, and what those role titles are. I will use your post, as well as this resource when starting the project with my group.

    Link: https://resourceguruapp.com/blog/project-team-roles-and-responsibilities#:~:text=How%20do%20you%20decide%20what,and%20assign%20team%20members%20accordingly.

  2. Hi Maggie! Your blog post was very well thought out and well organized. I thought that this topic was particularly helpful for me because I have gotten into the habit of starting projects without doing much planning ahead of time. This usually results in me having to backtrack later and redo certain things once I get a better idea of what I want to do, which is time that could have been saved if I had taken the time to plan at the start, so I’ll make sure to remember this post in the future. I especially took notice of the section on brand identity, because each brand does have their own sense of self, and their websites should represent that. I think it’s important to always keep that in mind when creating a website for an existing brand, so that their company values are expressed and their goals are met. I found a post talking about how to create a strong brand identity, and I thought it gave some good examples of sites that do it well. Thanks for your blog post!
    Link: https://www.marq.com/blog/the-7-key-elements-of-brand-identity-design

  3. Hi, Maggie! I really appreciate the amount of information you included in your blog post. Obviously, you couldn’t cover every topic in-depth, but it was interesting to learn about how to make and how to manage a website plan. I only wish you explained what a website plan actually is (no matter how obvious the meaning is on name alone) instead of immediately jumping into why it’s important. You talked about why URL structure should be considered, but as you didn’t bring up the domain-choosing aspect, I decided to see for myself how to pick one. GoDaddy wrote an article with 10 points to consider. Something I never would’ve thought about was purchasing multiple domains to cover user-end misspellings. It’s usually extremely cheap to buy a domain, so I’m not surprised this is a step most website owners could follow.

    Link: https://www.godaddy.com/resources/skills/10-tips-for-choosing-the-perfect-domain-name

  4. Maggie, I enjoyed reading your post! The use of headers added an easy-to-follow structure, and your embedded links were descriptive and relevant. I also appreciated the bolding throughout the text because it made it really easy to keep track of the different terminology you used. I found the part about assessing your client’s needs from the start particularly interesting; I’m currently helping redesign the website of the company that I work for, and we’ve mostly been focused on re-working the content that is there, instead of re-assessing what content actually needs to be there. I found a WordPress article that goes a little more in depth on the website planning, including questions to ask in order to evaluate the client’s needs (like target audience, key features, and overall goals).
    Link to the article: https://wordpress.com/go/website-building/website-planning-template/

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