Is it the design? Making sure it looks attractive and credible? Is it the development? Making sure it’s built for speed and easy to use?
Or is it the planning?
The truth is that all these are important factors. But the planning stage is – without a doubt – the most underappreciated part of a website build.
And this is a problem. Why? Because the planning stage helps inform and nurture how the design and build stages of a website should be done.
Without a thorough planning process, the design and build become a kind of “a shot in the dark”. There’s no purpose, meaning or logic behind it.
Because of this, we thought it’d be a good idea to shine a light on the website planning process that happens here at Epix Media. Hopefully, this will give some insight into why this stage is so vital.
1. Customer Journey
The first part of planning a website falls into two areas:
- What’s the business purpose of the website
- Who do we want to use the website
We’ve talked previously about the purpose of websites. Typically, there are three main purposes to choose from:
- Credibility – a website that is designed to support other sales & marketing activities. Typically used to provide a business with an online presence where traffic will come from direct sources (i.e. they will purposefully type in the domain name or search the brand name).
- Lead Generation – a website that is used as a conversion tool to generate leads. Generally, a website of this nature will have heavier focus on call-to-action.
- eCommerce – a website that focuses on obtaining direct sales through an online platform. Here the focus needs to be on selling products and the ease-of-use to encourage transactions.
It is preferable to choose one single purpose. This makes user experience more coherent and allows the website to have clear, well prompted aims and objectives – and these are our next ingredient in building the platform for your customer journey.
Your aims and objectives include anything that supports the purpose. For example, some potential aims around our three top purposes could be:
- Credibility – to increase the average read time on the page and to decrease the bounce rate on the website
- Lead Generation – to generate X amount of leads every month
- eCommerce – to have a conversion rate of X%
Now that you have the purpose and aims for the website tied up, it is time to start exploring who we want to use your website.
To achieve this, we need to understand the user. For this, we turn to the old faithful marketing tool: customer personas.
Customer personas are a great tool for understanding who your ideal user is. There are a few key features we like to look at when designing customer personas for websites:
- Their preferred device – would they most likely be viewing the website on a desktop or mobile device
- How they got to the website – will it be direct traffic, organic/paid search traffic or will they be coming from referrals like social media
- What websites do they visit for digital consumption – i.e. do they tend to use social media mainly, news sites, research
- What are the pains and gains of the user – what problems will you be solving and what would they like to see to make their experience easier
- What do they want to achieve and how does that match the business aim – ideally, we want to make sure the user’s aim and the business aim are in line with one another
All of this feeds into the design stage, creating a design with meaning that will work once built.
2. Site planning
Piecing together a customer journey starts with drafting a site plan.
What is a site plan? A site plan is a document that shows the overall structure of a website. It explains how different webpages relate to each other, where they sit within a hierarchy and how the layout of the entire website will work.
At Epix, this stage blends User Experience (UX), marketing and technical expertise to build a website structure that works for the user and considers the technical requirements to build a website that fulfils the purpose.
Creating a site plan starts by identifying all the various pages that will be required on the website to meet the sites purpose, aims and objectives.
Once all the various pages are identified they may need grouping together to enable them to be broken down using menus and sub menus. Planning the navigation is a key part of the site planning stage.
We’ve mentioned previously how vital the navigation bar is for getting the user journey right. A navigation bar not only helps users get to certain pages; it also helps ‘set the tone’ for a website.
What do I mean by this? Studies have shown that the navigation bar is the second most looked at thing on a website. Second only to the logo.
Having the right page titles or categories on your navigation can instantly tell your users what you do.
For example, a solicitor’s website could have ‘Personal Law’ and ‘Commercial Law’ in their navigation. An events venue could have ‘Your Event’ and ‘Our Venues’ in their navigation. A tech ecommerce website could have “Computers & Laptops” and “TVs”.
As you can see, adding these titles can help the user intuitively know where they are, if they’re in the right place and what they can expect to find in the shortest amount of information possible.
3. Content Planning
Once the site plan is complete, it’s time to start looking at the pages themselves.
At Epix Media, we go through a process of Content Blocking. This is a precursor to writing the content and building a wireframe – it’s the process of understanding what content would be required on a page to meet the purpose, aims and objectives.
For example, for a standard services page, we might identify that we need the following on the page:
- 4x USPs
- Service description
Once we know the type of content we need, we can start deciding where it should sit on the page. Should reviews be before or after the features? Does the call-to-action need to sit at the top of the page?
This process allows us to explore how the user will see and use the page, and how the order of the elements impacts the user’s ability to reach the end goal.
Rough wireframes begin to be drawn up at this stage. Wireframes are rough sketches of how the page will look.
From the wireframes, we are then able to achieve two things.
Firstly, we can estimate a word count for each section on each page.
Secondly, the wireframes can be passed onto the design team where they can start working their magic!
These steps are just a brief highlight of some of the processes that go into the planning stages of a website. Each website is different though and requires its own unique version of these planning stages.
Regardless, most websites can – and should – be broken into these three steps:
- Understanding your customer
- Identifying the structure of the website
- Pinpointing what content is needed to reach your goals
With this, you will find that your website has a much more logical structure that allows users to more easily explore and discover information that inspires them to action.