Are You Building the Right Website?

By Ida Cheinman posted 12-06-2017 08:38

Are You Building the Right Website?

We live in an age of constantly shifting market conditions, evolving audience expectations, and emerging trends and technologies that continually disrupt the way we do business. Unfortunately, most companies’ chief digital platforms – their websites – fail to keep up.

How to Make Your Website Matter

Today, companies need to take a different approach to website design to keep up with audiences’ needs and the ways they use the internet; current and emerging technologies that are designed to increase visibility, impact, and audience engagement; and online branding and marketing best practices.

This means understanding the expectations of both today’s website visitor and your specific target audiences – all key stakeholders, including prospects, clients, staff, industry  and community.

  • The website visitor of today  relevance, personalized communications, a self-directed path to action, an exceptional experience
  • The marketing environment of today  a seamless experience, use of data and analytics, a lead generation strategy, contextually relevant content, brand alignment

An effective website must:

  • Guide visitors along a strategically architected path that provides evidence and reassurance that your company is the right choice
  • Drive engagement and conversions by making the right content available to the right audiences at the right time in their decision-making process
  • Create a strong connection to the brand through design and message

Even so, many companies continue to create websites using yesterday’s blueprint and thus end up with an online brochure rather than a dynamic audience touch point.

It’s a trap easy to fall into, but it can be avoided if you ask the right questions at the onset of the project.

A Practical Guide to Building the Right Website

It’s true that your website is not your entire marketing effort or the only place where your target audiences interact with your company online. However, it’s still the command center for your digital marketing and one of your most prominent brand ambassadors – the principal means through which many of your prospective customers, future employees, media,  and partners make their initial contact with your company.

Use these guidelines to take control of your next website redesign and make sure you are building a website that matters.

Develop a Website Strategy First

Before any aspect of the website itself is defined, the single most important question to ask is this: What is the website’s purpose?

It’s easy to assume the purpose of a website is to give information and/or drive conversions, but those goals may or may not be primary. Maybe the most effective website for your company is one focused on education or building visibility for specific areas of your company’s expertise and its unique offerings.

Determining your website’s purpose and goals up front will enable you to design specifically for those goals, rather than designing a website that’s great for any company but yours.

Do Your Homework

Whether you plan to redesign in-house or engage an outside agency, it pays to do some homework first. During preplanning, you should:
  • Evaluate your current website to learn what’s working and what areas need improvement
  • Identify your main visitor types, their  and expectations and what you would like them to do and take away
  • Build consensus around the goals for the new website and define how you will measure success
  • Define a wish list of features and functionality and prioritize them in case you need to streamline your budget later
  • Identify any technologies and systems that will need to be integrated with the new website – these will affect development time and costs and may influence your choice of a content management system
  • Determine your budget, which should be based on your goals and your vision for the new website – are you building a Tiny House or a McMansion?
  • Establish a realistic timeline, taking into consideration any significant events or company milestones and how much time your internal team can dedicate to the project

Assemble a Team of Experts

There was a time when a full library of web design how-to guides could fit on a single shelf in your office. Today, there are many more advanced tools, specialized skills,  and opportunities.

You don’t have to do it all internally, but it helps to understand what’s involved in the website redesign process so that you can bring together experts (in-house and/or outsourced) in all required disciplines, including information architecture, user experience, content strategy and copywriting, interface design, technical  and digital marketing.

Whether you have the capacity and skills to handle the website redesign internally or need to outsource, you need to choose your internal project leader and a decision-making team.

Tip: Including too many people will always increase the cost and length of the project.

Create a Road Map

Your website’s user experience (UX) guides visitor behavior, directly affecting the actions website visitors do or don’t take.

Much of the user experience is defined by your website’s information architecture – its structure, navigation, and functionally. Or, in human terms: where things are, how people get where they need to go, and what they can do once they’re there.

Your website’s blueprint must be informed by your website’s goals and visitors’ needs, as well as what can be realistically accomplished within the established budget and timeline.

Tip: Study your current web analytics to better understand what visitors are looking for on your website and how they move through it.

Get Clear About Content

Content – technical and marketing copy, images, media, PDFs, and more – affects every aspect of your website, from information architecture, design, and functionality to SEO,  and ongoing website management.

Inventory your existing assets to determine how much content can be repurposed from your current website or other company materials and how much you will need to create from scratch, as this will affect your budget and timeline.

Tip: This is one area that tends to cause major project delays and bring to light other issues, such as the lack of a clear message strategy or professional quality photography.

Create Value Through Design

Beyond resonating with your audiences and being a direct reflection of your brand, great design is what creates a rewarding visitor experience – the key measure of a website’s success – and is the most important driver of action.

Tip: Images should be professional and on-brand. Poor quality of photography translates in the visitor’s mind to  quality of work. Avoid using marketing clichés and make sure to showcase your people and your clients.

A content management system (CMS) is a must! Invest in setting up the back-end administrative functionality with your specific site management process in mind. This will make a huge difference post-launch when you have to make updates.

Tip: Unless deemed necessary, avoid a proprietary CMS that ties you to a particular developer or agency, and always make sure you are in control of your domain registration and web hosting accounts.

Remember It’s Marketing

Valuable (and free) content is the hottest marketing currency, and many companies invest heavily in finding new ways to engage their audiences. Yet the question remains: How do we leverage this value and engagement to convert prospects to clients, or at least speed them along their decision-making path?

Here’s how your website can help:

  • Include contextually relevant calls to action on all pages where visitors are most likely to engage or make decisions
  • Use your website as a platform for guiding prospects through their decision-making process: publish valuable-to-your-audiences content to showcase your company’s expertise, promote thought leadership and add credibility before the first person-to-person interaction ever occurs
  • Use data analytics to track customer actions and obtain insight into customer behavior
  • Use content from your website to help with email and social media marketing – and use those platforms to drive traffic back to your website

Navigating your company through a website redesign is not an easy task, but it doesn’t have to be an ordeal. For more detailed information on the entire process from planning through post-launch,  and tips on avoiding common mistakes, download this free e-guide.