Every so often, houses need to be renovated or gutted; the same goes for Websites. But without the right approach and planning, a Website overhaul is a waste of time, effort and money.
To take a Website to the next level, there are key steps that must happen, otherwise you’re simply flying by the seat of your pants.
1. Discovery. This is probably the most important part of a Website project. It’s when key questions are asked to establish a well-articulated roadmap for the project. The questions are basic but they are the pillars for success. They include:
What’s the goal of the Website? More leads, sales, users, downloads, contributions, education or purchases. What do you want visitors to do? How will you keep them engaged? While a pretty Website is great, a Website has a job to do so a key focus is how to drive its performance.
To determine the Website’s purpose, it helps to ask customers and key stakeholders for input and ideas. What do they think are the most important elements? At the same time, Websites can’t be all things to all people. It means making difficult decisions, which may not please everyone.
Armed with ideas, feedback and specific goals, you’re ready to move on to the next step: Planning.
At this point, you’re looking to get a better idea of how the Website will perform and, at a higher level, how it will function (aka meeting the needs of visitors). A good first step is creating mockups using tools such as Balsamiq or HotGloo.
Mockups provide a simple and tangible way to see the general shape of a Website without getting into the weeds. They make it easy to make decisions about what’s missing and what needs more emphasis to achieve key objectives.
From there, you can proceed to wireframes, which take mockups to a higher level. This is where a Website starts to come into view as the real deal. In some respects, it is kind of looking at blueprints before construction of a house begins. Wireframes lay the foundation for the Website’s design and development so the more planning done beforehand, the better.
The next step is design, which includes usability. This can the most challenging part of a Website project because it is a subjective process. It takes into account a brand’s colours, personality and target audiences, while also reflecting design trends and best practices.
A good Website designer will provide a few options to provide different perspectives on what the end product will look like. Deciding the “right” design is difficult as it involves feel as much as logic. The key is understanding the needs of target audiences to make it a place that works for them. An example of nice Website design is Bench (below).
So far, we’ve talked about the technical aspects of building a Website. Now, let’s talk about the front of the house.
1. Well-articulated messaging that quickly tells people what a company does and the key benefits. Most people spend seconds deciding if a company can meet their needs, so it is crucial to have messaging that is succinct and engaging. As important, it must be customer-centric. Most customers don’t care what your company does; they care about makes their lives easier, better, more profitable, etc. A good example of clear messaging is Squarespace’s home page (below)
2. Content that is educational, engaging or, perhaps, entertaining. This could involve videos, white papers, blog posts, case studies or media coveage. It also includes having an “About” page that tells people what your company does, who it serves and a taste of its people and history. Here’s somegood advice from Rachel MacDonald on creating an effective About page.
3. Strong calls to action. As I mentioned earlier, a Website has to perform so it is imperative that calls-to-action tell people what to do. If you want potential customers to see the product, you need an eye-catching button that says “Ask for a Demo”. If you want someone to download a white paper, tell them they can get a free download with lots of benefits.
4. Easy navigation. Most people are digitally lazy. They want everything to be simple and intuitive. It means making sure the navigation options are clear and it is a snap to quickly move around the Website so people can get what they need. For more guidance on navigation, Marvin Russell has a post on 17 big menu mistakes to avoid.
There is no doubt that refreshing or rebuilding a Website is a time-consuming and challenging exercise. There are always bumps in the road but they are quickly overcome if there is a clear plan in place, which is a good investment given Websites – like houses – constantly need work.
For other thoughts on effective Websites, Joyce Grace had a good post on the KissMetrics blog, which includes key questions to ask when setting goals. Jessica Hill offers up good perspective with a HubSpot post on the eight reasons to redesign your Websites.