The most valuable skill of a successful entrepreneur … isn’t “vision” or “passion” or a steadfast insistence on destroying every barrier between yourself and some prize you’re obsessed with. Rather, it’s the ability to adopt an unconventional approach to learning: an improvisational flexibility not merely about which route to take towards some predetermined objective, but also a willingness to change the destination itself. This is a flexibility that might be squelched by rigid focus on any one goal.
Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (public library)
Planning for the web is one of the most important stages in designing a website for your business or clients. I’ve seen many websites fail due to lack of planning and on-the-go solutions that send mixed messages and don’t reach their goals. (You’d be amazed at the amount of websites I’ve worked on who were so desperate to be online they failed to set up any goals.)
In my years as a designer and brand strategist, I’ve created my own method. The way I work is to expect the unexpected. I assume that the business I’m working with won’t have anything figured out or ready to be created. Remember, there are no rules that can’t be broken!
When starting to work on your website by taking the DIY approach, or by working with a designer and developer, there are basic steps to take to help your website deliver your brand message.
Experience for your Audience
Our business websites are not for us. (Really!) They’re meant to communicate and connect with our audience, make them understand what we have to offer, how we can solve their problems and how they can take action when they’re ready to do so (tweet this!). This is the ultimate goal for any website, along with building a community of followers and positioning itself as an expert in their field.
Normally, new visitors will land to our site from different and surprising sources (e.g. a link on Twitter or a Facebook post that a friend or colleague shared). So, if they’re first experience with your business is a blog post for example, what do you want them to do first? I like to create at least three scenarios, so we can plan what actions we want our visitor to take from there, how to tell them who we are and what we have to offer and ultimately make them sign up for our updates/bookmark our page. Remember that at this point, they don’t know you or your business and can easily be distracted and leave your site without coming back.
Content is more than just copy and images. That is, if you really want to engage and pursue a long term relationship with your visitors and get them to trust and share your business with their friends and colleagues.
Content and design will help amplify your brand’s message and shut down any noise or distraction that will work against your business. Photography and the words you’ll use to describe your business will help your audience understand where are you coming from, what you have to offer and why you are the best resource for their particular pain point.
When I say photography I don’t mean you have to hire a professional, you can decide to create your own images or work with a set of visual assets with your designer. No matter what you choose, make it relevant to the content and the message you’re trying to deliver. It’s better to move on without images than using a default stock photo.
“Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.”
Take advantage of the flexibility of the web
You might not be the person that will be creating content or updating the website, but thinking of scalability is always a great card to have under your sleeve. It doesn’t matter how simple your beta version of the website is (maybe it’s only 2 pages!), think of its growing potential. Using a framework and technology that will allow you to grow without frustration will save you a lot of time (and money) in the future.
I always recommend that my clients and students go for a Content Management System (CMS). What’s that? Before panicking with an industry term, lets just think of it as a platform that will help you manage content (as its name states), making it easy and simple to update your site and share it with the online world. There are several of these out there and they all have their pros and cons. Thinking of your website’s needs, future plans and budget might help you choose from the variety of options.
Testing will be your best resource
Testing will be a process that you’ll need to embrace and see as short term experiments where you can observe how your audience interacts with your website (think: logo placement, buttons, images, subscribe email boxes). Test everything and ask your audience about their experience. You can also gather a group of followers or customers and make your own user testing session where you observe how they navigate your website, how they buy a product, if the steps are easy to follow and if there’s any action you’d like them to take on a specific page.
We tend to assume what our customers and audience expect from our websites instead of reaching out for some external feedback, which will give us great hints on how to improve that experience and create an easier interaction. The great news is that the web is very flexible in that way; letting us write and re-write content, create several versions of the same page and always go back to a previous version if we want to. (this is a guilty pleasure of mine, for small changes in Candelita’s site).
Iteration is good. Really.
Your business will grow. Your audience will grow. Your website will evolve. This is inevitable and it is a good thing. It means that we are understanding new needs and features that our business needs to use in order to better serve our community.
We can iterate after testing with a group of users. We can iterate after launching a new product. We can also iterate once we have established our brand and have a better understanding of the strength of our message and what people expect once they visit our website.