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The 9 questions you need to consider when planning a new website for your business
Your website is an integral part of your business. With it, you can reach vast audiences worldwide and create an online shop window that promotes your products and services. It may also be crucial to your marketing operations, especially if you carry out e-commerce or use your website to attract new customers.
Therefore, it’s essential that any website you create is effective, fit for purpose, and showcases your brand in the best light. Consider that it takes only 0.05 seconds for a user to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they will continue or leave, and this takes even more precedence.
Crafting a great website begins in the planning process. You need to make the appropriate considerations about your audience and business so you can finish with a platform that suits your needs and wows your customers. This will also help you create a specific brief to pass on to any website designer you work with.
This guide lists nine of the most critical questions you should ask when planning so you can tick all the boxes and get the most from your website.
What do you need your website to do?
The first and most crucial question to ask is, “what do I want my website to achieve for my business?”. This will encompass the various goals and purposes you need to fulfil.
Most websites will have overarching objectives that need to be met, such as providing business information, promoting products and services and educating customers about the brand. Most of these will be addressed through an effective website with engaging and relevant content.
However, you may have additional requirements. If you plan to sell products online, this will need to be incorporated into the design. There may be other factors you need to consider, depending on what you want out of your website, including member areas, forms, downloads, videos and so on.
By understanding your overall business targets and how your online platform fits into these, you can define the objectives you need to reach. From here, you’ll get a better sense of what your website should look like. This will shape the format and design of the website, providing some much-needed scope to the project.
Who is your website for?
A website needs to work for the users as much as the business. That’s why it’s essential to consider who you are trying to target and what they want.
In most cases, the intended audience for your website will be your customers (including prospective leads). Depending on what your goals are, there may be some other audiences to think about, such as your staff, job seekers, investors, and other stakeholders.
Start by developing an understanding of your customers, including their requirements, how they behave online and what will draw them to a brand. This will enable you to tailor your plans and design to their preferences, making it easier to attract them.
It’s also worth contemplating how you expect your customers to reach your website. For example, if you want customers to find you through search engines, you must ensure your website is SEO-friendly. If they’re coming from social media or email, you need to focus on creating consistent experiences that prolong their journey.
Similarly, you need to account for how users will consume your website – including the devices and domains they use. This will typically mean making sure your website is mobile-optimised (also known as ‘responsive’ because the layout of the site adapts to the specific device being used) as consumers increasingly use smartphones. 57% of users wouldn’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site, showing how essential it is to tailor to your audience’s behaviour.
How will your website reflect your brand?
Your website is an extension of your brand – and with a vast audience available online, you want to make sure you leave a favourable and lasting impression. 75% of consumers will judge a business’s credibility based on their web design, so getting this wrong will harm your reputation.
When planning a website, you need to ensure your brand personality is embodied at every stage, from copy and tone of voice to visuals and layout. This also means having consistent branding in line with your other customer touchpoints and reflecting your values. Having a page or area dedicated to your brand story can support this.
By doing so, you will make it abundantly clear who you are as a business and what your customers should expect from you. This will empower brand recognition while allowing people to reach a promising conclusion about you that encourages them to find out more, engage with you and create long-lasting relationships.
How can you beat your competitors?
Your competitors will each have their own website, vying for the same traffic as you. You need to make sure yours wins the battle, encouraging customers to buy from you rather than someone else.
Review the websites of businesses like yours and assess. For example, what are the elements you like the most? What needs improving? What could you add to your website that they don’t have on theirs?
By making these comparisons, you can develop what you want from your website and what you believe your customers need. It will also help you to differentiate yourself in the market and provide a better experience, giving you the edge over the competition.
What functionality do you need?
Once you have pinned down the objectives your website needs to fulfil, you will be well-placed to understand what functionality is required.
For example, if you have decided to use your websites for sales, you will need an e-commerce function that enables people to buy online, linked to your internal operations so you can meet order levels.
Some other examples of website functionality could include:
- Customer or staff portals – an area for specific people to log in and access ‘private’ information
- Forms – such as to enable users to register interest for a service
- Blog section – required if content marketing is part of your plan
- Video hosting – to post/share videos directly onto your website
- Photo galleries – to share product or event images
- Event calendars – to highlight key dates
- Search bars – enable people to search for specific topics on your website
- Social sharing buttons – link to your social media pages
The functions you require will vary depending on your business and what you want to achieve. However, the elements you choose are likely to impact the design of your website and the labour required to build it, so it’s crucial to consider it early on.
Do not be tempted to throw everything in, as it often creates a complex and confusing experience – instead, emphasise those that will have an impact.
When selecting your functionality, it’s worth creating a list of ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’. This will help you prioritise specific tasks and keep focus, especially if you have limited time or money to work with and need to streamline the process.
What is the timeline?
Next, you need to think about the time you have to complete your website. You may have a specific deadline for completion, especially if the website is tying in with the launch of your brand or a new product/service.
Websites take time to plan and build, especially if you want a polished end product that has been thoroughly tested. Understanding the timeframe available will enable you to get a sense of what is possible and place a priority on specific tasks.
This will also help the planning process. For example, if you have a quick turnaround target, you may do a ‘light’ version of your website that focuses on the most vital information and functionality. In the future, when you have more time, you may choose to build this out for a more comprehensive experience.
What is the budget?
Like a timeframe, you may also have a designated budget to create your website. Once again, this could place constraints on what you can achieve.
When you have planned your website and created a brief, it’s worth discussing it with the designer to see if it’s possible to achieve everything you want within your budget. If not, you will need to prioritise certain features or seek further funds.
Even if you have a limited budget, you must balance the financial requirements against the user experience. It’s common for someone to place a figure on a website and expect the world, when in fact that sum might get you nowhere near the website you envision. And even if you do get a low-cost website, it will become expensive in the long run if it does not satisfy your customers or generate custom.
So, make sure getting it right is your priority and fitting your budget is secondary.
How can you ensure a great user experience?
Whatever the purpose is of your website, providing a great user experience is key to success. This will enable users to navigate quickly, with no barriers to finding information and engaging with your business.
Part of providing a great user experience is understanding your audience and catering to their needs, as we’ve already discussed. However, it also encompasses the technical elements that make your website easy to use and prevents adverse reactions.
When creating an excellent user experience, think fast load times, clear menu structures, easy-to-follow calls-to-action (that tell a user where to go next), readable content and a logical linking hierarchy. 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout are unattractive, so this also factors into the overall experience.
Essentially, you want to enable users to complete any tasks they may need to without obstacles and avoid frustration or confusion.
A helpful way to monitor the user experience is to conduct usability tests. This is where you give test users specific tasks to include (such as to find a particular page or fill in a form) and assess how simple it is to complete or any issues that emerge.
Alongside these tests, it’s advisable to consider the journey a customer could take to get to your website and navigate around it and mimic these to highlight any problems.
By doing so, you can ensure your website works as good as it looks while effectively engaging your customers and leaving them with an experience that meets their expectations.
How will you track performance?
Once your website is completed, it doesn’t mean your job is done. You will want to track its performance over time to ensure it meets your objectives. This will also likely have a role in your other sales and marketing monitoring, such as understanding sources of traffic acquisition and where you are successfully converting users to customers through your website.
While this may seem far off when you begin the planning stage, thinking about it will help to set up a website that facilitates your data collection needs. This includes ensuring the appropriate code (for example, Google Analytics tags) and functionality is built in.
There may be other technical elements you need to consider in the long-term, such as security features, data handling, SEO mark-up, automation, and so on. Though they may seem less fun than the excitement of choosing bold designs and content, they serve a vital role in the success of any website – so you need to make sure they are planned in.
Websites are incredibly powerful, but you will only harness the rewards if yours is effective. This means spending time to ensure every need is catered for during the planning process.
To understand what your website should contain, you need to consider your audience and their preferences, your brand personality, your business goals and the project criteria you need to abide by. From here, you can determine the look, feel and functionality of your website, leaving with you a strong brief for the build process.
The pay-off of your careful planning will be the culmination of an outstandingly well-designed website, which exceeds the expectations of your customers and drives forward your objectives.