One of the most valuable skills I have ever learnt has been how to plan and oversee a site design. Being very much at the creative end of the marketing spectrum, it’s all too often a process without a process. Designers like to approach these things with an open mind to see where their creative instincts take them. Fine. Fill your arty boots. But please keep in mind that the site actually needs to function at the end of it all.
The trouble is, they won’t keep it in mind. And why should they? You’re employing them as designers, not internet marketers, so if you want the bigger picture to get a look in then I’m afraid you’re going to have to take the reigns.
This is not intended to be a complicated technical document. It should be a simple, step by step guide to planning a site design, that anyone, no matter how technically clueless, can use to ensure their website is built on rock-solid foundations.
1. Research the market
Always, always, always begin by checking out other sites for inspiration. Sounds obvious right? Well it should be. It’s complete madness to try and better the competition without first looking at what they’re doing. Here are a couple of pointers:
1. Break it down into all the different things that make up a great brand in your market as you’ll find some sites may do a brilliant job in one area but be completely hopeless in another. So this could include best design, best user experience, best Facebook community, best email marketing campaign, best calls to action, best sales copy, etc. Break it down and make a note of the best site for each one.
2. You want to go as broad as possible to maximise the chance of finding sites that are doing a seriously remarkable job. For example, if you only operate regionally then look at the market nationally, or if you only operate within a certain segment of the market then look at the more general market. So if you sell business insurance in Birmingham, look at the national market for the term “insurance”. That will return a much more competitive set of results from which you can learn infinitely more about the strategies that work best for your audience.
2. Ask to see the CMS (Content Management System)
Your website is a living, breathing thing, and it needs to grow. Ask the designer to give you a demonstration of the CMS to ensure you will be able to add new pages, edit existing ones, upload images, video, etc. If they weren’t intending to use a CMS then find a new designer.
3. Keyword sitemap and landing page key features
You should now sketch out a sitemap for all the big keywords you want to target. Based on your market research, you should have some thoughts on the kind of content you want on each of these landing pages. What features did the landing pages have that were ranking well? Did they have client testimonials, an address, dynamic search content, links to other relevant pages, images, videos, etc? You shouldn’t do this purely for SEO purposes but it is important to consider what content Google might consider to be particularly useful to searchers in this market.
4. Identifying your USP
Being good isn’t enough. Your site needs to have something unique; a reason for people to link to it, share your information, return again in the future and buy from you rather than the competition. It could be anything. Here are a few ideas:
- Resources/whitepapers/tips/instructional videos
- A more active blog/news section than any other site in the industry
- Hi-resolution imagery that other sites in the market can use if they credit you with a link
- An active forum in which users can interact with other people with shared interests
Now’s the time to decide what’s going to make your site stand out so that it can be incorporated prominently within the site design.
5. Integrating your social side
No matter how anti-social you think your market might be, at the very least you need a blog and a Twitter account. The other should be based on your target audience; just don’t get carried away! Every social call to action that you add to the site dilutes the attention of the user so be selective. Here’s a great post by the great Rand Fishkin on improving social calls to action –http://www.seomoz.org/blog/improving-social-subscription-calls-to-action-whiteboard-friday
6. Your main navigation
This is where you need to be a little delicate with your designer as chances are they think this is a part of the creative process. It really shouldn’t be. When you get in a car you know where to find the handbrake, when you pick up a phone you know where to speak when you use a computer mouse you know what to expect when you click the right button or the left, and when you visit a website you should know where to click in order to navigate through all the core pages. If you click on the logo you expect it to take you to the home page. You expect the About Us page and Products (or Services) on the left of the nav, and the News (or Blog) and contact on the right. You expect the search box to be in the top right corner and the terms and conditions to be in the footer.
Keep it simple. Keep it intuitive.
7. Write the foundation content
Your website will be an ongoing work in progress but there are a number of key pages that need to be ready from day 1. Actually, they need to be ready a couple of months before day 1. They are the base of your website and are probably determined by the navigation you’ve drawn above. Your designer should have this content before they begin designing so that they can structure the pages accordingly. Delay this content and you are giving your designer an excuse to slip the deadline. Book a day out of the office and get it done.
8. Design feel
You need to be very careful here as if your designer thinks you now want to dictate the design too, you’re going to have a seriously angry nerd on your hands. The design is up to them, but the message being communicated through the design is absolutely down to you. Provide them with a short description of the kind of feel you want – clean and professional, warm and inviting, fun and vibrant – this information will then determine the colour scheme and style that the designer chooses.
9. Give them space
Provide all the above to the designer, request a specific due date (if there’s a date you need it by them make sure their due date is at least 1 month before this as there will always be delays) and then give them the widest of berths. You’re paying them on the basis that they have the expertise and you don’t, so no interfering!
10. The technical stuff
I owe you an apology. I began by insisting this wouldn’t get technical and yet here we are with a section dedicated to technical stuff. It’s fine. This is for your designer’s eyes only – you do not need to know how the below happens; only that it does.
Redirects – if the URL’s have changed then you need to ensure the old authority isn’t lost. Request that your designer set up redirects for all old URL’s to point to the most relevant new URL.
Install webmaster tools – you need webmaster tools to monitor the health and performance of your site. Ask the designer to set it up for you.
Install Google Analytics – you need analytics to monitor the sources, composition and behaviour of your visitors. Ask the designer to install it for you.
Set up goal tracking – what is the key goal of the site? Is it to receive email enquiries? Is it to sell products? Request that your designer sets up goal/event/eCommerce tracking (whichever is appropriate)
Final audit – once the site goes live you should ask that the developer performs one final check to ensure nothing has been missed. Are your new URL’s being crawled by the search engines? Are there any issues with load times? They should be able to check all of this through various free tools such as http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html or http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/ and, most importantly, Google Webmaster Tools.
11. The finishing touches
Register on Google + Local – If you operate on a local basis then you need to set up on Google + Local (formerly Google Places) –
Create a plan for new content, the blog and social activity – your website may be live but these are merely great foundations. Now you need to build the 57 story skyscraper your brand deserves. What further resources will you be adding? If it’s an eCommerce site, how many new products a month will you need to upload? How frequently will you update the blog? How will you (or a colleague) find time to update Twitter daily? You need a plan. Make it specific and realistic.
That’s it. Ten steps to ensure your new site functions every bit as well as it looks. Planning so meticulously may seem like a headache you could do without but keep in mind that this is going to make or break everything that follows. Get it right, and you’ll never go far wrong.
To find out more about Boss Digital, get in touch with our team today.