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Building a website is a BIG undertaking for any person and/or business. It doesn’t matter if you’re building a 4-5 page website or a 15-20 page website, you want to make sure you put the time in to make the site the best it can possibly be. I liken a website to my online real estate. It’s your personal web property. When building a house it’s important to plan things out before you start hammering any nails. The same is true when building your website. This article is going to cover the importance of website planning and developing your very own website blueprint.
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Too many individuals and businesses simply start hammering nails without taking the time to create the proper plan. I like to say that anytime you undertake a task like building a website, building a house, or starting a marketing campaign, etc. it’s important to spend two-thirds of your time planning and one-third of your time executing. Far too often people skip the planning phase in order to “save time”. Unfortunately, what they come to find out once they get into their project is that without taking the time to plan for executing the project unforeseen obstacles pop up and the builders usually have to redo some of their work. When you take the time to think through your project prior to starting the build you can usually foresee some of these obstacles and come up with a plan for avoiding them. This will actually save your time (and money) in the long run.
When it comes to website planning there are at least five key items to consider when coming up with your website blueprint. If you make sure to take time to think through these five things your chances for creating a successful website increase exponentially.
There are obviously more things that you need to think through when developing your website, but many of those have to do with your own personal objectives. The five keys above are universal to all websites. If you take the time to think through these items you will definitely set yourself (or your business) up for success. Now let’s take a look at each of these five items individually.
Anytime you undertake a project of this magnitude it’s critical that you set goals prior to anything else. Without setting goals before building a website you are unable to determine what you’re looking to accomplish. Without knowing what you want to accomplish you will end up building a site that has either too much information, too little, or possibly even the wrong information. Setting goals for your website will allow you to be efficient in your website build. It will also allow you to come back periodically after the site is live and determine your return-on-investment. If you don’t set goals, how will you know if your website is successful? Setting goals doesn’t take that much time. Make sure you don’t skip this step. It’s important.
Who are you building your website for? What are their preferences for reviewing information? Do they like to read content? Would they rather watch videos? How do they like to receive content? Via a RSS feed? Via email? These are the types of audience-related questions that you need to ask before you can determine what shape your website will take. It’s important that you understand your audience, this way you can make sure you can tailor your site to jive with their preferences. Doing this will push your website to the top of their list of sites to visit when they want information on your topic. It will keep your target audience coming back to your site, as well as, entice them to share it with their friends. That’s what it’s all about, right?!
The most successful sites have a prominent call-to-action within their pages. If you don’t ask your audience to take action, how can you expect them to do what you want them to do. Without a call-to-action you cannot expect to accomplish your goals. If one of your goals for your site is to get an e-book in the hands of your website visitors then one of your calls-to-action must be “download our e-book”. If one of your goals is to grow your website traffic then perhaps another call-to-action is “share this page with a friend”. You cannot expect that your website visitors will know what you want them to do if you don’t ask. Be sure to include one or a few calls-to-action within the pages of your website. Having clear CTAs will help you accomplish your goals for your website.
Too many sites are created without thinking through their navigation. Far too often you land on a web page and have no clue how to get access to the information you’re looking for. Why do so many people love Apple products? It’s because they are intuitive. Users can look at an Apple product for the first time and quickly understand how to use the product. If you take time to think through your navigation before putting your website together you will find that your website visitors will navigate to the pages you want them too. Let’s go back to the e-book example. If your call-to-action is “download our e-book” you need to make sure that you make it very apparent how visitors can find the e-book and download it. Be sure that you don’t include too many different pathways all leading to the same page. This can confuse people. Usually a top, left, or right navigation bar for your main pages is sufficient. You can then interlink pages within the content of your site. If you want visitors to go from your blog to your ‘Services’ page, then be sure to use the content within that blog post to link it to your ‘Services’ page. When choosing the words to hyperlink to your ‘Services’ page, it would be smart to use the keywords from your keyword list.
Search Engine Optimization is critical in attracting quality website traffic. I say quality website traffic because who cares if you have 10,000 visitors to your site per month if none of them follow your call-to-action. You are creating a website to accomplish specific goals. You can only accomplish those goals if you attract the right kind of traffic (ie. your target audience). In order to attract quality traffic to your site, it’s important to put together a keyword list. There are a lot of great tools out there to help you determine what keywords to use. Google Keyword Tool is one of the best tools out there. You can enter words or phrases that represent the content/theme of your site. You can find other similar websites and enter those URLs. Google will then provide you with a list of the most relevant keywords and how many sites are using them. It’s important to select the keywords that make the most sense for your website and your audience, but also choose keywords that aren’t being 100% used by a bunch of your competitors. By carefully choosing the right keywords you will set your website up for success in driving quality website traffic to it.
In the next installment of this ‘Website Planning’ series we will review how you can take all of this “pre-work” and turn it into a functioning website blueprint, a document we refer to as your ‘Content, Design, and Architecture Document”.
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Ryan Taft is a twenty-something entrepreneur with a passion for helping small businesses use online marketing tools to reach more customers and prospects, build relationships with those folks, and ultimately grow sales.