Have you ever visited a website and wondered “what in the heck is this mess!” You land on a page full of confusing ads, text and pictures that make no sense. After about 10 seconds you click out of this site and continue on your search for what you’re actually looking for.
Quite often the mess you see is the result of little or no planning of the site. An author does not just sit down and throw together a best-selling novel. A football team doesn’t just show up and play a game without a plan or a strategy about how they can win. Your website is no different.
3 Crucial Steps in the Planning Process Needed in Building a Website
1. Answer your site visitor’s immediate needs
Your website has to provide information that fulfills the immediate needs of your site visitors. This is the fundamental principal behind a usable website design.
To illustrate the problem and its solution for just about any business, consider this. The immediate need of any business is to get visitors to contact them and ultimately purchase their products and services. Their site visitors are probably interested in what this business has to offer (if not, why are they on this website?), but it’s unlikely that this is their immediate need when they arrive at the website.
The immediate needs of the site visitors are probably to answer questions like:
- Can I trust them?
- Are they any good at what they do?
- Will they get the job done?
Before the website begins to sell to its site visitors, it has to answer their questions and put their fears to rest. This is fundamentally important and the first step in keeping a visitor at your website. In the case of most businesses they could provide:
- Client testimonials with photos or video
- Photos and descriptions of the people involved in the company
- Examples of successful projects and products
- Create an information flow
Now that you’ve worked out what your site visitor’s immediate needs are, you need to create an information flow, a path (or paths) that your site visitors will follow while on your website. The path(s) will initially address their concerns and needs and gradually take them towards completing your goal for them.
2. To create this plan you’ll need to:
- Identify the different types of people who’ll use your website
- Decide what you want each type of person to learn at your website
- Identify the information you’ll need to provide for them to achieve this (and in what order)
- Determine what might distract them from achieving this
- Define what you have to do to keep them from being distracted
With this information you’ll be able to create a list of the website pages you’ll need and how this information might flow together. You’ll then be able to decide on the pages you’ll need for your site.
Keep in mind that some visitors will need more information than others, so you’ll have to provide them with a choice of continuing on the information flow or jumping off so they can achieve their goal.
Depending on what type of business you have, the pages you need may vary greatly. For many the information flow could look something like this:
- Home page
- Product portfolio or projects
- Client testimonials
- Company background
- Team member bios
- Tips related to your type of business/clients
- Terms and conditions
- Contact Us
The ultimate goal is for site visitors to contact you and request your products or services. Wherever users are in the flow of your site, they must be able to easily and immediately jump straight to your contact page at any point.
You’ve probably seen this in action on a website. You arrive at the homepage and there are two or three prominent links (often in the form of boxes or pictures) telling you some basic information and requesting that you click on them and take you to some other part of the website. You go to that page on the website, read the information and then choose where to go next. And this keeps going on, until you either quit or complete the desired goal of the website.
You homepage layout may look something like this:
The three boxes in the middle answer some immediate questions that your visitors may have and proactively address their concerns. The Contact Us information in the top left can remain in that position on every page, so users always have the opportunity to jump to the contact page.
3. Usability Testing when Building a Website
Once your website is built, it’s time to start testing it. This is really important because as you create your website it’s easy to get lost in the information overload (you can’t see the forest through the trees.)
It’s easy to call what you’ve done “good enough” but this attitude can hurt your chances at having a website that does what you’ve set out to do – Get more business! You must have feedback about your website against the goals you set out to achieve.
A few methods you can use for a usability study are:
- Take a few days away from your site then go though it like your prospects would.
- Have your friends and family view your site. Let them know what your main goals are and ask them if you achieved that when they visit your site.
- Hire an experienced web designer to review your site and offer suggestions.
Have five people you know access your site and ask them:
- What’s the point of this website?
- If you were on the homepage, where would you click first, and where after that?
- Does the site meet your needs? (You may have to tell them what their needs are as if they were a prospect you’re trying to reach.)
That’s it! With the information and feedback you get from these five people you’ll be able to make the necessary changes to get the optimal results from your website.