Our favorite part about working in the web design and development industry is the diversity of clients we are fortunate to work with. Our clients’ businesses cover a wide variety of industries and range in size or scope from small, large, local, national, web-based, brick-and-mortar, service, product, enterprise to you-name-it. For us, this means that we get to learn, contribute, and thrive in all types of industries outside of our own and we get to design solutions tailored to their service or product offerings and the unique audiences that will receive them. While all our clients are different, they can all benefit from the same approach when tasked to develop a new website. This article’s goal is to discuss some of the broader considerations for developing a new website and to provide a starting point for your business.
If your business has been around for a while or if you are starting a new business, even if the website itself is the new business, chances are that you have given a great deal of thought about your audience. When developing a new website, the process starts by assessing, or reassessing your business’s audience and the more information you can gather about your audience in the beginning stages, the more effective your website will be in generating conversions. More on conversions in the next section, but for now it’s time to look at your audience and imagine what kind of website is going to best serve your service or product.
The relationship of your website to your audience is one that is going to develop over time. As you track your website’s performance using tools such as Google Analytics or even more advanced mechanisms such as marketing tools from Hubspot, Marketo, or Hatch Buck, you’ll soon discover that your audience will take on shapes and demographics that aren’t always immediately obvious. You’ll gain insight on what types of devices your customers use to browse the web, where they are coming from, how long you have to sell them something, and you will see if they keep coming back for more. If your website targets the right type of client, you’ll see a return on investment from your website. If not, you’ll have valuable information that will help you determine the correct audience for your website. What this means is the more you can get right about your target web audience in the beginning, the more money you will save in building a website that is successful.
Important things to ask yourself about your target web audience
- How are people going to visit my new website? Think about what devices your audiences are using and what device do you imagine facilitates most of their internet interaction.
- How much experience do your users have with the web? Are they casual users or power users? Is the internet used mostly for entertainment purposes, or do they have a more integrated lifestyle?
- What are their demographics? Chances are you’ll already have these figured out when you are developing a business plan, but important demographic information includes age, sex, income brackets, education level, etc.
- What are some personality types in your audience? It’s a good idea to take a moment to sample a population from your audience and try to paint a picture of who these people are that are going to visit your website. A good exercise is to take a writer’s approach and create characters much like writing a novel. These types of personality profiles are very useful for generating content, especially when a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy is employed down the road.
- Is your audience local, regional, or global? Are you serving your neighborhood, or anyone who shows up from around the world? If your business is brick-and-mortar for example, you’ll have an easier time generating content with specific locales in mind.
- Is your audience B2B (Business to Business) or B2C (Business to Consumer)? Will company executives be visiting your website, or consumers looking to buy a specific product?
- What languages do they speak? Are they multi-lingual? Will your website benefit from serving content translated into different languages? Do people with different languages require a variation of your product or service?
To have a successful website you need to be able to define a measurement of success. In the web world, this is referred to as a conversion. A conversion on a website is defined as anything you want a user to do while visiting your website. This can take many forms. Example conversions can include (but not limited to): a sale, an appointment, a form being filled out, a lead capture, an email, a phone call, a download, a video play, or simply a visit to a specific page. How these conversions can be tracked and measured can vary. You can use analytic tools, or marketing software to track conversions directly on the website itself, but also real world conversions can be tracked by sales numbers, phone calls received, or the inbox of your email client.
Besides conversions, the other benefit a website will bring for your business is simply brand awareness. The site will be a billboard on the world wide web for your business. Unfortunately all too often, this is the only role that many websites will end up fulfilling during their lifespan. There’s nothing wrong with simply having a web presence, but the more the web grows the more difficult it is to be seen. The internet is not a field of dreams and if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Fortunately, there’s a lot of tools and techniques available for your site to use and it’s important to partner with a web design team that understand these tools and have the knowledge to build work-horses for the web.
Important things to consider when defining goals for your website
- What types of behavior do you wish to see from your audience when they visit your website? What do you want them to do while they are there?
- What types of existing systems do you use to track real-world conversions like sales or appointments? If you identify a conversion, do you have the necessary tools to keep track of the number of conversions?
- Can you prioritize your conversions? In an ideal world, what would you like to see your website users convert in order of first to last?
- Do you have a unique value proposition? This is defined as something about your business offerings that sets you apart from the competition. If you have one of these for your business, your website will have an advantage.
- Are you selling a product, service, or both? Whatever you are selling, each of these will be its own conversion.
- How do you want to be seen on the web? What type of business image will your website convey and maintain?
Content, content, content! Every web designer building successful websites will echo the importance of good, unique, and valuable content. Content will be your most valuable asset on your website. The measure of how good your website performs is reflected by the quality of your website’s content. Quality content starts with a good Content Strategy, rests on valuable information, graphics, and downloadable assets, and then ends with a unified voice structure. It’s important to consider the value of professional writing services as a way to increase your return on investment. Many writers out there offer affordable services and can contribute a lot to the success of your website. In terms of graphics or images, a graphic designer with a speciality in web design will be an important asset to your web development team. Keep in mind that not all graphic designers are created equal. A specialized designer with a web based skill set is necessary to be able to provide visuals that are tailored for the web and the many devices that are used to peruse it.
Important things to consider when providing content for your website
- Do you have a voice established for your business already? Check out any existing materials you have produced and determine if they share a common voice that appeals to you and your audience, or if you need to create a new one. Building a website presents a perfect time to assess any other collateral you might have.
- Do you have a tagline for your business? A tagline for your business is not a website requirement, but it’s a good exercise to try to sum up your mission statement in 5 words or less. This exercise is valuable in helping you to determine your overall voice structure.
- What is your mission statement? If you made a business plan, this is probably already included in it. If not, you will need to summarize your business’s mission and include any unique value proposition you might have. Typically this messaging will be used, or elements from this messaging, to capture a website visitor’s attention front and center.
- Do you have a content strategy? A content strategy is a course of action which allows for content to be created that is accessible, meaningful, and useful. This a wide topic with a whole industry of its own. A full content strategy discussion is out of scope of this article, but a great place to find information about developing a content strategy is at gathercontent.com’s blog or a quick search on Google. Gathercontent.com has an excellent downloadable library of content strategy .pdfs at gathercontent.com/resources
- Can you prioritize content in order of importance? Despite popular belief, a website does not have time to ‘tell a story’. Your website will have roughly 30 seconds to capture a visitor’s engagement before they decide to move on. Because of this short period of time, it’s important to serve them the most important content first. Similar to the process of writing a news article, where the most important information starts from the headline and gets less important as the article goes on, a webpage will benefit from following a similar structure. Webpages are typically read in an F shape, so it’s a good strategy to prioritize content placement according to this pattern.
After you’ve identified your audience, determined how you are going to measure your website’s success with conversions, and put some thought into the kind of content you are going to use, you’ll have a good idea if the website is worth making and how it could help your business. The next step is to assess the resources you have available to make the website and determine how much ‘raw materials’ you have to use or need to generate.
The most important resource to devote to a website is time. You can put together a tool belt, but the barn will never be built until you put the tool belt on. How much time will you be able to allocate in updating and marketing your website? The more time you put into your website the higher the return on investment the website will provide. If your business has you already stretched thin, operating a website will become an additional financial burden when you have to hire additional staff to do it. Fortunately, there are many tools and techniques available that makes running a profitable website accessible for all but the busiest person. For as little as 20 min per week you could have a website, follow a solid Search Engine Optimization Strategy and watch your conversions go up. If the time needed for management is a concern, identify this with your web development team in the very beginning. They can incorporate tools and provide advice on how to manage the site in any time constraints you present. You’ll be amazed at how useful this type of knowledge can be when designing and developing a website.
Regarding putting together a budget; part of a good design team’s job is to design solutions that fit within a provided budget. There are two ways to do this: your team provides you with a cost associated to all the bells and whistles your project needs and you pick away at it, or you provide them with a budget and they design the best solution within that constraint. In our experience at Be Better, the latter method consistently produces better results. Customizing a project to a budget constraint sets agreeable expectations, and creates more accurate timelines for the construction of the website. Design proposals and selective ordering, can be more expensive and sets expectations that aren’t near as clear. You’ll often end up with features your business doesn’t really need. Putting the time in developing a specific budget for your website based on your resources and any time constraints, will produce a better website for your business.
Important resources needed to make a website
- Have you got the time? How much time will you be able to devote to using your website? This includes both updating content and employing a marketing strategy. Factor this into any web development decision and when you are creating a budget for your website.
- What kind of staff do you have available and what are their skill-sets? If you already have a team of people available to you, you can attempt to source some of the work internally. The truth is websites are fun, and employees are often willing to contribute their creative skill-sets. You may have a great writer or photographer already working for you.
- What kind of visual assets do have available? You’ll need to factor in additional costs if you will need to purchase graphics, photos or illustrations.
- What kind of promotional materials or collateral does your business already have? These assets will be useful for your web designer so they can ensure a consistent brand experience.
- Do you have a budget? Creating a budget for your website is surprisingly simple. The goal is to have the website produce enough conversions to have a good return on investment. Don’t forget to factor in time as well as money to determine the real cost of your website.
- Will you be able to update the content yourself or will you require assistance? If you are willing and able to update content on your website, a Content Management System will be necessary. More on that in the following section.
- Do you need help writing text? For some, writing comes naturally. For the rest of us, we don’t have to settle for poor writing. There are many professional content writers out there who do great work for a good price. Chances are your web development team will know a few.
There are a prerequisites associated with running a website. You’ll need a domain name (i.e. www.mydomain.com) and a hosting plan. Often hosting plans offer a domain name included in a package deal. It’s good to do some research to find reputable providers for both these items. Your web development team will usually be able to recommend providers for these services and sometimes will even have discounts. One important thing to watch out for is if a party other than your business registers your domain name or hosting plan. You are essentially allowing them to hold your website hostage. It’s a common practice for many web development firms to collect their client’s domain registrations, so you have to watch out for any firm doing that. The absolute best policy is for you to purchase your own domain with your own account at a domain register and the same goes for hosting. It’s much better to own and have access to your own hosting plan.
Important Infrastructure to have when building your website:
- What domain name will you use? Make sure you purchase your domain name yourself with your own account at a domain register. Many hosting plans include a free domain name as part of a package deal. Register for as many years ahead as your domain register allows. Registration length of your domain may be a debatable benefit to your search engine rankings, but it’s definitely not a deterrent.
- What hosting service will you use? Make sure you own your own hosting solution under your own account with the hosting provider. Your hosting needs will vary depending on the size of your website. Disk space in Gigabytes (GB) will determine the amount of files you can upload and Bandwidth will determine the amount of simultaneous users can be on your site at the same time. Determine how much you can afford and consult with your web development team to determine how much you actually need. Somewhere in between will give you some room to grow. When purchasing a hosting plan, also make sure the upgrade path is easy in case your website becomes popular and needs more resources.
- What sort of software licensing fees will you need? If your website is not open source, there will be license fees associated with the software used to build your website. Open source solutions are so good, you will need to be provided good reasons why you need to pay for software that has license fees.
- Will your website be selling goods directly from its webpages? Ecommerce is a huge topic that is out of scope of this article, but at this stage it’s good to know that it requires a payment gateway service and has its own costs. There are many payment gateway solutions available. Work with your web developer to determine the best one for you. Also, if you are planning on storing credit cards information as a service to your customers, there will be a long and arduous journey to become PCI compliant. PCI compliancy is a set of standards that credit card companies employ to make it as safe as possible for people to use their credit cards on your website. Storing credit cards as a feature on your website needs to be taken very seriously. Here are two services that you can consult for PCI compliance: Security Metrics and Trustwave. The popular payment gateway Authorize.net also has great information on this topic here.
Great design has value. Many people have various definitions of what good design is, and entire books have been written on the subject. One thing that is certain is that great design is a result of a good process. At Be Better Studios, you can read about our philosophy and process in this article. There are many different specialist fields within the world of web design and you can find or assemble a team of specialists to suit the needs of your business. At the very least you’ll want to hire a graphic designer with experience in web design and one who places an emphasis on usability. A particular field on the user experience is referred to as UX design. It is a valuable expertise that has grown popular in recent years and places an extremely thorough emphasis on research and information gathering. However, know that every good web designer is a UX designer on some level, but not all UX designers are web designers. You’ll have to determine early on if you have the budget or if there is enough need for a specialized UX designer within your business.
Since the majority of a web user’s interaction with the internet is done via a phone, tablet, or other mobile device, it’s more important now than ever to have a website that can best serve these users. For this reason, responsive design is the way to go. Responsive web design is a technique for building websites that flex to optimize the viewing space they are allowed on any given device. While building a site to be responsive is more work than the traditional fixed width method, this increases usability and the user experience substantially. Responsive web design makes your website accessible to the widest margin of internet users available. An alternative to responsive design is to create a separate website for mobile use that gets served in place of a desktop version when a user visits your site on a mobile device. Our take on this subject is that if there is need to serve mobile users a different experience or set of information than available on a desktop, it would be better to develop a mobile app native for those devices just for that purpose. Be sure to work with a web design team that does responsive design to ensure that you don’t end up developing and maintaining two different websites.
Important considerations for the design of your website:
- Do you have brand standards? If your business has specific fonts or color palettes, your website will most likely need to reflect these standards. If you do not have these, your new website presents a great opportunity to develop them and they can be used for other materials and collateral in the future.
- Do you have a logo? Often design firms will include a logo refresh with your website, check with your team if you need a logo or need a logo to be refreshed.
- Do you have color preferences? For some it’s difficult to think about color choices. Your designer will be able to take colors that you like and assemble color palette options to choose from that are best for your business.
- Do you have preferences for type styles? Like color, font selection is an important design element that your designer will be able to help you with.
- Are there existing site designs that you find appealing? What do you find appealing about these websites? Spend some time on the web searching on any topic that interests you. Look for other websites in your industry or businesses targeting a similar audience to yours. Make a list of any websites that you find appealing.
- Are there existing websites that you visit regularly and why do you keep going back? There is a difference between websites that you find appealing and websites that you find appealing and keep going back to. The latter are the ones that function. They are the work-horses of the web. Spend some time thinking about what works about them and narrow down specific features you like.
- What are your competitors’ websites like? By providing your designer a list of your competitors’ websites, it provides targets to out perform. We don’t know of any designers who don’t like competition.
Many web design firms outsource the actual development. While the quality can be good and you can save money outsourcing the development of your website, long term maintenance and support concerns will need to be addressed before development begins. You’ll be at a distinct advantage if you work with a firm that designs websites and develops them in house. Often firms that develop in house have better communication and can scale sites painlessly when needed. Partnering with a design firm that does it all in house fosters growth for your business and creates lasting professional relationships.
Scalability of your website is a big concern. What you want in the beginning is a solid bedrock of a website that can grow as your business grows. You also want a website that is going to be as future proof as possible in terms of technology. When working with your development team, it’s good to ensure that they follow all current web standards when programming your website. Current web standards are governed by W3C and are kept up to date on the W3C website. While reading about web standards can be intense, it’s good to at least skim through them so you can have an idea of what to discuss with your development team and ensure they follow them.
Important considerations for developing your website:
- How scalable will your website be as your business grows? To ensure scalability of your website make sure that your development team follows W3C web standards.
- What sort of relationship are you looking for with your developer? If you are looking for a vested partnership, look for development teams that design and program in house. You may save money by outsourcing development, or having your designer contract out development, but you may not receive the same level of service or turn around times as an in house team.
- Should I worry about off-shore development? Most likely no as work quality can be high and you can save money in development costs. It’s more difficult to foster a working relationship with your developers overseas; but really, the biggest concern is that when something does go wrong, a fix or support request may take longer to resolve. More often than not, this will cut into your cost savings or, even worse, exceed them. Carefully screen your designer’s past work and ask for references if they outsource their development overseas.
- Can I use pre-made templates or off the shelve solutions for my website? Yes you can, and there are many good money saving off-the-shelf solutions. However, scalability and support is a huge concern when using something pre-made. Its typically much more laborious for a programmer to retrofit an off-the-shelf solution to include a new feature. Your business needs are most likely unique and will benefit from a more customized solution. Regarding support, you will want to make sure the solution is current and it has a healthy version release history.
- What are the benefits of having a custom website built? A custom website has the benefit of being tailored specifically to your business needs and should not include ‘bloat’, which a term referring to features you don’t need. If you plan on using your website as an effective marketing tool, a customized solution will allow for the most power and flexibility in achieving your marketing goals. When building a custom site, you’ll want to make sure there are support arrangements in place for any future issues which might come up and you’ll want to make sure your developer’s code is well documented. Find out if your website is using technology that is common enough for someone else to take over should your developer leave the game for some reason in the future.
Everyone has a friend of a friend, someone they know, or someone they work with that will suggest features to add to your website. Feedback is always a good thing, but thankfully, if you’ve gone through all the sections above, you’ll have a strong grasp on what makes up your website, a way to measure your website’s success, and a web development team you can consult with. You are going to know if a new feature is worth your time and money, and you’ll be able to notice any new performance gains these features will add. Always consult with your web design team to determine if a feature is worth adding to your website.
At Be Better, we recommend starting as small and efficient as possible and to grow your website over time. Amazon.com started in the 1990’s and now is a behemoth of a web machine with countless features. Some of these features have become industry standards. The thing to note about Amazon is it is the result of many years of evolution, countless dollars, research, and testing; all resulting in the feature-packed wonder of a marketplace we can visit today. In the beginning their unique value proposition was simply selling books in a cost efficient manner. These days they are an authority in Ecommerce and sell all sorts of items other than books. The lesson is to start with a focus on your unique value proposition if you have one, or a streamlined user experience if not. Below is a few notes on some of the many features available to you for incorporating into your website.
Important considerations for some various features available for your website:
- Mailing list signup – A basic way to qualify potential leads from visitors to your website is to collect interested visitor’s emails into a mailing list. MailChimp is a great service for this, and you can embed a simple signup form on your website. With your mailing list you can send announcements about your business as you have them, or develop a periodic newsletter.
- Blogs – A blog is a great way to regularly publish writing, but for a business it can be used as a powerful marketing tool. A blog enables you to create syndicated content. People can subscribe to your blog to keep up to date with news and announcements, but more effectively, blog articles are the perfect vehicles to publish content that otherwise has no natural place on the rest of your website. This is the perfect tool for attracting new visitors with good content for search engines and to employ various Search Engine Optimization strategies.
- Social media integration – It’s good to think of social media is an alternative platform for attracting visitors to your website to search engines. You can integrate various Social Media services into your website in a number of ways, but it’s important to remember that building a Social Media presence can be a time sink. You’ll have to decide if your time can be better used in other areas that may produce more conversions, like blogging for instance.
- Maps – If your business is brick-and-mortar shop, or if your audience is specific to an area or locale. Integration of Google maps can be a useful tool for your customers. You can embed a Google map, or you can get more creative and create a unique map for your business like this article describes.
- Slideshows and Carousels – This feature can be a nice visual component when used in the proper context. If a website user is already engaged, a carousel can be useful when viewing a sequence of content. If a carousel is used as a means to deliver unknown content to the user, it can fail miserably. The rule of thumb is: if you have content you absolutely want your visitors to read, don’t put it in a carousel. Here is a popular example that illustrates this and a good interview with this website’s author is available from .Net magazine. Read the interview here.
Our hope is that this article informs you of the essentials of building a new website with some useful tips in between. The principles described in this article assumes nothing about your business, but attempts to inspire you with what is possible for your website. A good web development team will assist you through many of the points discussed. Be Better Studios is happy to be your team, send us an email as we’d love to hear from you. Above all, a new website is an exciting part of building any business and can be a fun experience with the right information and outlook.