Website Planning Guide: 8 Steps for an Effective Website

by Hunter Liptrap   Last Updated Last Updated on Nov 19, 2014
Hunter Liptrap

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Creating a website is a complex endeavor to embark on. Every change, every added functionality, every addition of content increases the work load, time and expense of a website, but all that can be managed with a website plan. Creating a website plan will save you those headaches down the road. In this website planning guide, you will learn the planning process needed to launch a website smoothly.

Purpose

The reason behind your website should be established from the beginning. You should be defining your unique value proposition and outlining SMART goals among other important items. For the sake of time, answer simple questions about what you want your website to accomplish to get your website started. Then, base your SMART goals around the purpose of your website. Are you attempting to build an online e-commerce website? Are you building awareness about your brand or another cause? Are you trying to put up a website to make your business look more professional? These are the types of quick questions you can answer yourself that will give you the main purpose of your website.

Creating SMART goals are an important part of the website planning process. In order to create a SMART goal, the goal must be all of the following:

S.pecific. The goal is singular, focused and well-defined, answering the “5 Ws.”

M.easureable. The goal states where you want to go in terms of numbers. How much? How many?

A.ttainable. The goal is within reach and realistic for your industry and market conditions.

R.elevant. The goal considers current business, challenges and events that affect progress.

T.ime-Based. The goal has a deadline that presents a sense of urgency to the plan.

The reason you want to have SMART goals is to have a way to determine the success of your website. By having a goal that is measurable and time-based, you will find more focus and results than if you just set a general goal, for example, to "expand awareness" for your brand. This is an example of a broad goal that will likely have little success and is open to interpretation.

If, instead, your goal is: "To reach 10,000 monthly visitors with in the first calendar year of launching the website," then you have something you can measure and work with.

Budget

A serious, but surprisingly overlooked, part of the website-creation process is budget. Most businesses will be able to come up with a budget for the initial production of the website. However, making changes after the fact can be expensive and is something many clients are not ready for. It is important to know the initial budget, but also to know what your organization can afford to spend on website development, maintenance and marketing.

The price of your website is likely to depend on factors such as the complexity and quantity of features, content and whatever other "fancy" tricks you would like on your website.

Domain

Part of the budget that you should be prepared for is the purchase of a domain name as well as hosting. These fees are typically charged annually and don't amount to much money in the grand scheme of things. However, they are items you need to include in your budget.

A domain name will vary in price, based on popularity of the word you want to use, but you will certainly want to have a ".com". Basic hosting fees can be as low as $42 a year, which is $3.49 a month, but the speed of your website may suffer. A more realistic number, and better option for page speed, would be around $60 a year.

Resources

Beyond creating a realistic budget, website planning and development requires a team. The resources that you need will be determined by what functionality, content and features need to be on the website. Roles that are needed for developing a website may include:

  • Web Designer
  • HTML Coder
  • Web Developer
  • Project Manager
  • Writer and Editor
  • Stakeholders (The owner, for instance)

Marketing members will be a key part of this team as well. It's typically their efforts that determine the outcome of your website, as they will contribute to the coherent message and feel of your website, as well as your brand's social media presence.

Dividing the work load between essential roles will increase efficiency and effectiveness. A web designer is not likely to create great content, just as a writer is unlikely to write the code necessary to make your website look professional and function.

Content Strategy

Content creation requires time. The more defined you can make your strategy, the better off you will be when it comes to laying out web pages with a unified feel. Content includes everything that a visitor can take in as information, which is more than just the copy on the page. Examples of the other types on content that exist on a webpage include:

  • Blog Posts
  • Documents
  • Videos
  • Images
  • Slideshows
  • Embedded Feeds

All of this content should be planned and compiled at this point in time, before any design work is started. Any changes to this content after this point can cause a massive overhaul of your website layout and development. It is imperative that you do not discredit any of these forms of content either, featured image backgrounds are a growing trend even for everyday businesses that increase shares and likes on social media.

Structure

Decide what pages your website needs and lay them out in a flow chart or another visual medium. We recommend no more than five or six options at the top level for simplicity's sake and for user experience.

When laying out the site map, you will also be creating conversion paths to generate leads and close sales. Clean and simple direction with one option on each page is the best way to make this happen. However, you should focus on the content of each page because that is what will determine the structure, not the design, which will come later.

Once you have determined the site map and the content that belongs on each page, wireframes and mock-ups can be created for the website.

Designing

The combining of content and structure will finally yield a design for your well-planned dream website. A well-designed website will be composed of multiple elements, while a poorly-designed website will create mistrust with visitors and drive them away. A well optimized website is important, just take a look at this infographic.

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Test

Before launching a website you need to test it. Testing includes how it renders across devices, whether mobile, tablet or desktop, as well as across browsers, such as Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer or Firefox. However, a website should also be tested for user experience. Making sure that the website is easy to use before launch is important. Have your colleagues, or peers, that were not working on the website take it for a test drive. Make sure that they perceive your website in the way you had intended for them to.

From there, you can make the necessary revisions before giving the go-ahead to launch.

Conclusion to the Website Planning GUide

This post has presented a general overview of the process of website planning. With this guide, I hope that you know what to expect from the website planning process and now have a glimpse at the complexity of building a website. Enough can't be said for the importance of having a plan for your website, so I won't try. The point is that creating a website without a plan in place for the budget, content, structure and design is a disaster waiting to happen. Do yourself a favor that will increase your chances of success: pre-plan your website approach.

Image Credit: Grand Canyon National Park

 

Author
Hunter Liptrap

Hunter Liptrap

Creative Director at Modgility
Hunter is Certified Inbound Marketing, Growth Driven Design, and HubSpot Design. He has a passion for the conversion rate optimization process. With 3 years of experience he has designed and built multiple websites across various industries.

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