Are you thinking about creating a website for your business or re-doing your existing website? If so, consider the following BEFORE you interview web design vendors or task your all-star in-house team with the project.
- What is the overall purpose of the website?
- Do you have specific measurable goals?
- Who is your audience?
- How often do you need to update website information?
- What resources do you have available to create and maintain your website?
What is the overall purpose or business need for the website?
Are you trying to inform, sell, or both? If you don’t know then you need to stop imagining a beautiful, tech-savvy site and start thinking about your marketing or communication strategy. Contrary to popular belief, not every business needs a traditional website. With some businesses, a social presence is enough. A website is simply a marketing tactic that should be part of an overall Strategic Marketing or Communication Plan. This plan should outline:
- Who – Who does your business need to communicate with?
- What – What message(s) do you need to deliver to your audience?
- When – How often do you need to communicate these messages?
- Why – What is the expected outcome of this communication?
- How – What tactics or tools do you need to meet the goals outlined above?
If you don’t already have a plan, I highly recommend stepping back and creating the plan first and then proceed with building a website if it serves the goals outlined in your plan. If you do not have the expertise in-house, then hire a marketing consultant. Otherwise, you could end up with an expensive, pretty website which may or may not help your business.
Do you have measurable goals?
When setting a goal, you must set a goal that can actually be measured or else you will not know if you have achieved it. In terms of a website, the goals you set will depend on the overall purpose of the site. If you are selling your widgets online, then you can easily track how many orders are placed. However, if you have a service business or a more complex sales process, it’s not as simple. Success may be the number of inquiries, or leads, collected from the site. If your phone number is published, you may need a separate phone number or extension on the site different from any other publications so that you can track the number of phone calls generated by the website. If your main focus is to inform or brand awareness, then the number of visitors to the site is important.
Who are you trying to reach?
Are your core audience children, teens, adults? Are they professionals, managers, or executives? Are they single, married, parents? An audience can be defined in numerous ways, like demographics, industry, job type, technology habits, lifestyle, etc. but it must be defined. Once defined, every aspect of your website will need to be designed with the end user in mind to ensure your core audience gets the message you are trying to deliver and persuade them to take the actions you want taken.
What information do you need to keep updated and how often do you need to update it?
We have all come across a site with last year’s event still listed on it. While some messages are evergreen, invariably there is going to be some content that needs to be updated. Identifying what content needs to be updated regularly and what content is evergreen can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Why? Because many small businesses don’t have web administrators on staff and will need to rely on a vendor for updates. Websites can be designed with user-friendly sections for updating frequent content (i.e. blogs, events, etc.). However, more complex elements, which might be necessary for visual appeal or smooth navigation, can be more time intensive and require a higher level of skill to change.
What resources do you have to commit to the maintenance of your site?
When designing your site, it’s easy to be swayed by the latest technologically features and gadgets. However, the more complex your site is, generally the more expensive it is to maintain and update. If you determine upfront what personnel and budget you can commit to the maintenance of your site, then you can require your project manager or vendor to build a site that can be updated and managed within your resource constraints. If you don’t have the resources to maintain your site – think twice before building it. ALL websites require some form of maintenance.
Carefully considering all of the above will help ensure you create a website that supports your business goals, is attractive and user-friendly to your target audience is maintainable and within budget. Best of all, you’ll be able to measure the impact of your site to determine if it’s successfully meeting your goals. If it isn’t, you will be able to make measured adjustments until you are achieving your goals.