Planning out your website is like taking a grand road trip.
In this case, imagine deciding you want to drive to Florida from New York.
You know that you’ll start in New York and end up in Florida, but if you also don’t plan out where you’ll get gas, eat and stay, your trip will quickly turn into a disaster.
The same is true of your website. Just like a major road trip, developing a new website is a major undertaking that deserves proper planning.
As a small business owner, you may hire someone to design and develop your website for you. However, understanding the process helps ensure you can make good decisions and guide your team of expert web developers.
Think of yourself as the air traffic controller and your web developer as the airplane pilot. You don’t have to know how to fly the plane to give good direction.
Here are a few steps you can take immediately to get you on the right path to planning your website redesign.
First, do your due diligence
There is a surprising amount of stuff you need to consider before you start to build. If you haven’t yet done so, perform a mini audit on your existing site.
The first thing is to understand your needs. Before you even talk to a web developer, you really need to ask yourself what is a ‘must have’ and what is a ‘nice to have.’
This might seem like a simple question, but answering it properly will require some research and some soul searching. Think about your present and long-term plans and make decisions now that will impact scalability down the line.
For example, are you planning to add functionality to your site down the line that you don’t need yet, but hope to someday, like e-commerce? At first glance, the e-commerce capability may seem like a “nice to have” element, but on closer inspection, you realize if you don’t build it in now, it will be costly to try and add it later. Therefore, it becomes a “must have.”
Take the time to sit down and really consider where you are and where you want to be.
Make your list of website basics
Once you’ve gotten that all figured out, list all the things your website needs to do to get you where you want to go. This list will become your website set up basics.
Once you know what your “must haves” are and what the website is supposed to do, you can have a conversation with your web developer about the technical options. (Unless you’re trying to DIY your site, in which case you can answer these questions yourself.)
A few of the questions you might ask include things like:
- Do I know what I want my domain name to be and have I registered it?
- What are the different platform options for building my website, and what are the pros and cons of each?
- What are the options for hosting my website, and what is the difference between host providers?
Not only will these decisions affect what you can do with your site in the future, but much of it will dictate how you set your site up now.
What will your site look like? What will be on it?
There are SO. MANY. QUESTIONS you should be asking yourself and considering.
The good thing? Answering them will force you to take stock of your business goals.
It’s a blank slate! What are you going to put on it?
For most of us, when we think ‘website,’ our minds automatically go to the content on it. What does it say? What is the messaging? What images are there? What are the offerings and the prices and what is the value and proof of professionalism? That’s why planning your content and navigation is key.
I could go on and on and on about how to decide on, and create content based on your unique needs. For now, I’ll give you the vital things you need to remember when deciding what your site will say to your visitors.
Start with your homepage.
Make sure your homepage has the most vital information you want people to know.
- Who are you and what do you do?
- What value will clients get working with you?
- What have you done and what proof do you have that you’re any good?
- What do you want them to do next?
- How the heck do they reach you?
Consider hiring a content writer.
I realize that’s a million questions to answer in a small space. The right content writer will be able to show you how to use that space effectively and check all the boxes to make sure your content is speaking to the right people in the right way, telling them what they need to know to make the decision to hire you!
Pay attention to your navigation and site map.
I won’t go deep into the weeds about proper site navigation here, but you need to sit down and create a site map – a visual representation of all the pages on your website and their relationship with each other.
By doing this, you can better understand where each page will live within your website’s hierarchy. Think of your website as a Choose Your Own Adventure. The map will help you lay out your site, and the content on it, in a way that makes the most sense for you, your business, and your clientele.
Gather your assets.
Finally, you’ll have to start organizing the actual content that you or your website developer will need. That includes things like website and third-party logins, brand assets and images, social media links and any other files that will need to find a home on your website.
Once you have a vision, a plan, and the things you need to execute it, you can start building your website!
Planning for launch
Once you’re all good to go, it’s time to test and launch that bad boy. But not before a few final steps.
Ensure you have backups and security.
These are VITAL to your website’s integrity. The last thing you want to do is invest time and money into your site only to lose it all. I will scream it from the hilltops until the cows come home.
BACK IT UP!
Ensure you protect your website from being hacked, and that you have the the ability to bounce back if it does get hacked. This is not a corner you want to cut.
Read and click everything.
Read every last word on your site. You will find a spelling error on your 35th review. Trust me. There is always one.
While you’re at it, click every single link to make sure they’re active and working properly.
Planning made a bit easier
I’m a big fan of online tools that help make the process easier. Here are a couple of my favourite web planning tools to use when planning for a website.
Google Drive is a great tool for sharing and editing online documents, which is why I use it practically daily and love it. Plus, it’s free. For websites, I use it for creating and organizing client website content and sharing it with team members for their input so we can work on the same document simultaneously.
Asana is a fantastic project management and team communication tool. I use it to organize website projects for both myself and all of our clients. You can create tasks and assign them to members of your team, set priorities and deadlines, create subtasks for each task. It’s an effective way of keeping all your website tasks organized in one place. They have both free and paid options.