Are you planning a new website? The purpose of this article is to help you understand what’s involved in the website design process and to help you be prepared in advance of starting discussions with potential designers.
Website planning can be a daunting task. It takes research, consideration and strategy. However, it doesn’t have to be a terrible experience… if you know what lies ahead and choose the right designer/developer, and service providers. I want to help you be informed!
I am going present to you the nine most important things to consider or at least be aware of before you make appointments with designers.
Strategy sessions should be an expected part of the process and will help to flesh out most of these considerations, but knowing what the conversations will include should put you in a better position to make decisions when the time comes.
We will also look at the differences between an agency vs. a freelancer and how they might approach these different aspects.
First, let’s acknowledge that your situation is unique so how you arrive at defining or obtaining solutions for each of these nine items will often be custom tailored to your business or website goals and who you decide to work with.
Let’s dive in and if any questions come up for you, please feel free to either comment below or email me directly if you need a more detailed response.
1. Market Identification
The first thing you need to do is identify exactly who your ideal client is in detail, where and how you can best reach out to them, what problems they’re experiencing for which they are willing to pay for a solution, and how you are uniquely able to provide the solution.
Market Identification is critical in creating the best possible results-oriented website solution, no matter what your situation is or the type of website you may need.
Whether you are a small business owner, entrepreneur, blogger, author, speaker, public personality, etc., this is the most important step and the best starting point for your work in creating a website.
The customer persona that you will create from this research is what should inform all of your marketing efforts so please don’t skip this important step! Having this information ready before you begin planning for your website will make the entire process much more pleasant and produce better results.
I recommend taking a look at the Market Research Blueprint from DigitalMarketer if you want to do this work alone. It’s worth the very small investment!
If you have already done market research or have years of experience with your customer base to pull from, then you may have already done the heavy lifting on this part. However, you may want to revisit this step if it’s been a while to ensure that you take full advantage of the new design or redesign process.
2. Brand Identity Message
Being recognizable to your market will go a long way when it comes to building lasting relationships with your customer base. It will set the stage for your customers to think of you or your product when they think of the problem they have or the product they need… that you have.
This is achieved through visual recognition, storytelling, consistent messaging and engagement with your community. The goal is to capture your ideal customer’s attention and keep it so they think of you when it’s time to look for a resource or make a purchase.
You can achieve this by developing a visual brand, identifying your vision for your market and your business, and creating stories and messaging with which your target market can identify. To craft all of this, you can go back to your market research and explore your personal or company goals. When working with a branding agent, you can pull all this together into a strategy you will use every time you communicate, and of course all over your website. This is invaluable to the design and content creation process for a new website.
If you are considering a redesign and haven’t done this work before, then now is a good time. You can either work with an individual branding agent with a good track record, or if you go with a website design or marketing agency, they will be able to assist you in developing your brand identity.
For those who want to go it alone or just do some research, I like The Brand Stylist website as a go to resource.
3. Goals and Purpose of the Website in Your Business or Project
This is another part that is integral to the planning process. The following should be included: stating your business goals; the prescribed purpose of having an online presence; being clear on the information you want customers and potential customers to find; and the actions you want them to take while they are there (hint: actions that help you achieve your goals).
You likely already know your business or personal goals but I find that people often pause when I ask them what the purpose of their website is, or the goals of the website. The most common answer I get is to generate revenue or build a platform. That’s not a wrong answer but being more specific is what’s needed here. In other words, how is your website going to help you increase revenue and gain recognition? How will it help you become that unforgettable resource?
I often find the best place to start coming up with these answers is to put yourself in the place of your ideal customer.
Imagine coming to your website for the first time, and for return visits. What would you expect to find? What information would you want to find quickly? What common questions would you have that the answers to need to be easy to find? How can you communicate with the company or person if need be? What would satisfy your curiosity? If you decide to come back again later, what would you be looking for? What would make you want to come back again for a third or fourth time?
As Mark Leiberman at Square2Marketing points out, ‘People make purchase decisions ONLY when their pain becomes acute.’ What this means is that your company needs to be fresh in their mind when it comes time to ease their pain or shop for options! Think about creating return paths and raving fans. They are way more valuable than one-shot visitors. This is especially true if your business thrives on long-term relationships.
Now, put your own hat back on and think about what you need from your ideal customer to be able to stay in touch or understand them better. Do you want them to share their experience with your company or your products with friends or colleagues? Do you want them to sign up for an upcoming event? Do you want them to watch a video where you can demonstrate your knowledge or your product, or maybe an important message about a mission? If they are a returning visitor, maybe there is a second step or commitment you want them to take?
You don’t have to go down a rabbit hole here in most cases, but you can make a list of everything you can think of that will help you achieve your overall goals with this website and be ready to give those to the designer prior to getting a proposal. If some items are ‘want to’ but not ‘must have’, indicate that and ask for optional pricing. Or better yet, talk it out with them and get advice on what is realistic for your budget. Yes, we’ll talk about budget too!
A website is a constant work in progress so if you can’t have everything you want now that’s ok, you can add it later. Don’t stress or break down and work with a super low priced person who says, “I’ll do it all for $800, the sky’s the limit.” I promise you will regret it!
If you have a major list of ‘must haves’, then you might want to consider rolling them out in phases to avoid overwhelm, budget explosion and deadline extensions.
4. Content and Copy Writing
This is the big scary piece in most website projects. It can be a huge bottle neck and most designers prefer to have this part done before beginning the design process. At the same time, website owners tend to want to put this off as much as possible.
Since you will (hopefully) have done the market research, brand identity and website goals, these pieces will help greatly with the content. You will be able to roughly map out the pages and other content pieces you will need. Of course, if you do this work with your professional designer or agency, you will have guidance to ensure you don’t miss anything important and can create a content plan for your website.
If you’ve got this far with a website designer or team, you’ve likely come to an agreement and begun the planning stage, so once your content strategy is ready, you can either hire a professional copywriter or use an in-house member of the design team. Whatever route you go, I do recommend hiring a pro and if at all possible, someone who specializes in your industry.
This is also the time to get keywords established for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you’re going to optimize your website for search engines (yes, you should), then get that done first so that you can hand it over to the copywriter BEFORE they begin writing. SEO is another area that you should hire out to an expert if you’re not working with an agency. Do your research and get references.
Depending on your budget and/or stage of business, hiring a copywriter may not be possible and if you don’t need a lot of content to start out, you can try your hand at writing the copy yourself or delegate to a team member who has some experience or knowledge of your business, products or project.
If you do want to go it alone on this part, check out these great tips.
Don’t forget to have it edited before sending it off to the design team though! This is not expensive and it will allow a fresh set of eyes to catch spelling and grammar errors. I often use Fiverr.com for editing and it’s pretty easy to find a good and inexpensive editor there.
Whatever you decide to do, plan to get this under way as soon as you are able because it generally takes a lot of time. It needs assessment, reviews, edits and often it can take 2-3 rounds of edits before its ready!
Yes, I told you it was big and scary, but you can’t have a website without content now can you?
5. Website Technology
The technology that will go into your website is not something you necessarily need to put a lot of thought into by yourself because this is an aspect that needs to be decided after careful consideration with your designer or developer. However, being aware of potential options can help you be better prepared to give your input or respond to questions that come up in the process.
There are basically two types of websites. Those that are static and those that are dynamic, and I’ll explain the difference in as non-techie language as possible.
Warning… at first this part might make you think… ‘Why should I care about this? Isn’t it the designer’s job to decide?’ And in some cases, you would be correct, but I prefer to think of it as being guided by the designer to help you make the decision that’s best for you or your business, now and beyond the creation of your website. I’ll list pros and cons for each to help make the purposes more clear.
A static website is where the website consists of individual pages that are uploaded to a website server. Let’s think of a website server as your computer, where you store files in a folder. So, you will have a group of files (1 for each page) that have to be manually updated by someone with coding knowledge to make ALL changes to the website.
When someone visits your site, the page they open is served up individually for you to view from the corresponding file on the server. Make sense? If this is too technical and is causing some head scratching, then don’t worry about understanding completely. Just take a look at the pros and cons I have listed here to get an idea of which might be better for your situation.
Less Expensive to Create: Static sites tend to be easier to create which means they take less time and resources so they are generally cost less to develop. In fact, I recommend them for starter businesses that won’t have a blogging module and don’t need regular content updates.
Cheaper Hosting: Hosting a static website comes with less security risks and less required software updates, so can usually get by with the cheaper hosting companies or package options.
No Training Required: Having the peace of mind that you don’t need to worry about the learning curve of doing the updates yourself is exactly what some business owners are looking for. If that’s you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that static is the best option but it is a plus! (Check out the pros and cons of dynamic to see what I mean.)
Requires a Developer to Update: Because you need someone with coding knowledge to make edits to your website, you may have to wait 24-48 hours and in some cases, longer to get something changed on your site. If you only do quarterly updates or rare contact info changes, those can be scheduled but if there is an emergency, you MIGHT have to wait. I stress might because I do know some developers who are very prompt and responsive to emergencies. Then there are those that have a backlog of requests.
Batch Updates: Because each page needs to be manually updated, that means that if you need to change something in the navigation, for example, you will need it done on every page for it be changed site-wide. Not a problem if you have a small website with under a dozen pages, but it becomes costly when you have a large site with 100s or 1,000s of pages. There are workarounds for this so if this is the only con that concerns you, you can work it out with your designer.
The dynamic website uses page template(s) with the look and structure of the site and a database of files that contain the content. The page templates also contain commands to retrieve those content files from the database to pull in all the different sections on any given ‘page’ of the website. So, it is not one file per page but rather a combination of different files that are displayed as instructed to construct the page each time a new visitor shows up.
These page views that are created are ‘cached’ or saved in the visitor’s browser, so that if they come back, it all appears faster and requires less demands on the server. The saved views expire so that changes to the website can be seen. If you’ve ever been asked to refresh your browser, this is to force the server to deliver the most recent version of the page or to try to flush out any bugs that may have happened due to all these pieces working hard behind the scenes.
Dynamic websites are created using Content Management Systems, often referred to as CMS platforms. The most common ones are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. I personally prefer WordPress. These are all free platforms that can be uploaded to your server so the only investment is the development of the platform into the resulting website.
Functionality can be expanded by the use of plugins or add-ons, which is basically mini programs that you add to the platform. For example, you can add a form module to make the creation and processing of contact or other required forms much simpler. Other plugin examples would be membership or eCommerce software and the best of those are not free so you’ll have to get advice and shop around. Actually, if you need either of those, it’s best to work with a designer that specializes in eCommerce.
Ok, sorry for the tech talk. I did try to simplify it but what’s most important is the pros and cons.
Easy Content and Batch Updates: Let’s use an example of the copyright date you often see at the bottom of websites. If you want to change that date, all you have to do is change it one time in that section of the administrative back end.
The ability to make updates in-house: This of course requires a learning curve, but with a well-structured user course and regular use, it becomes quite easy. This is also a plus in the case of emergency edits that need to be made because you don’t need to wait for your webmaster to get it done when you can login and do a quick edit yourself.
Blogging Module: WordPress was originally created for blogging but has grown into a full-blown CMS and the combination is really great for business websites.
Built-in Login Areas: This is great if you have a situation where you need customers or clients to be able to access protected content or files (membership or training sites), or you have a team of content managers.
More Expensive: Dynamic sites have a lot more moving parts, require a more sophisticated development atmosphere, and more patience to resolve conflicts that arise from all those moving parts. Therefore, it costs more to develop and maintain.
You may also spend more money on hosting. While you could purchase the same type of hosting account as for a static site, I rather recommend that you pay a little more for hosting accounts that are designed for this type of site, provide automatic software updates and improved the security that’s needed. You can find WordPress hosting with all the big hosting companies these days.
Potential long loading times: Because of the nature of pulling in lots of smaller bits of content and the plugins and add-ons that also have to be processed, a dynamic site can take longer to load for a visitor. If the site is well optimized and monitored on a regular basis to find and fix issues, then this can be avoided. It doesn’t happen with all dynamic sites but the potential is there, especially with the use of a lot of plugins or large images.
Requires Regular Maintenance: Dynamic sites require software updates and in the case of WordPress, those updates are critical. Software that is not updated becomes a security risk. I offer packages to my clients to keep these updates done weekly and the packages also include minor website fixes or content updates.
More of a Security Risk: As mentioned above, there are security risks if software is not up to date and because WordPress is so popular, hackers like to attack these sites for different reasons. However, it’s very easy to avoid being hacked by implementing security plugins, updating regularly and using appropriate hosting that supports the platform. My monthly website care clients don’t have security risks because I take care of this for them so it’s not something that is forgotten and neglected.
Situations where I recommend CMS solutions (dynamic websites) are eCommerce sites, membership sites, blogs, a content management team that needs access to the site, real estate, portfolios, and content marketers.
Hopefully, all of this information gives you a fair understanding of the differences between static and dynamic websites and you’ll be able to ask informed questions of potential designers when this comes up!
6. Service Providers Needed
Now I’m going to give you a list of service providers you will eventually need to secure for your website. You don’t need to go and get them right away but at least you’ll have an idea of what to expect.
Purchase these items yourself so that they are in your name or your company’s name and you have total access and control of them.
- Hosting – make sure they have free 24/7 support with a toll-free number, cPanel access, and unlimited bandwidth. Expect to pay around $160/year. The toll-free number is not near as important as phone support of some kind. If you go with WordPress, then a WordPress hosting account is recommended.
- Domain registration – this is where you reserve and ‘rent’ the right to use the name of your website. This service may come with your hosting account, but if it doesn’t shop around. You can find domain registration for about $10-20/year. I’ve found NameCheap to be an excellent service for domain registrations.
- Email marketing service – starting out you can use a free service like MailChimp and Aweber is a good step up from there, starting at approx. $20/mo. If you need a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) then you could go with one like Infusionsoft that will combine email marketing and customer management. This one costs quite a bit more per month and there will likely be a setup fee. There are some that are a step up from there but again, this is something you can discuss with you website designer or developer to make sure you’re getting a good fit for your needs.
- Payment gateway account – if you need to collect payments on your site or will have an eCommerce site of some kind, you can get a merchant account with your bank or a simple payment gateway like PayPal.com or Stripe.com for more simple payments.
Know your budget ahead of time and add a little more to it than you might expect. I find that business owners don’t always have a good idea of the cost involved in website design and development. Come up with a price you think is reasonable and if most of the designers quote much more than that, this is a sign that you are expecting too much for too little.
I’ve seen a lot of advice out in the Internet marketing industry that you don’t need to spend more than $300-500 on a website. That old saying that you get what you pay for applies here!
It always shocks me when I see that but I suppose there are some instances where you don’t need a lot of work done and a template can be used, and a turnkey solution would be appropriate but if you are looking to grow your business the people that do $500 websites are just not in a position to help you with that.
You need to be realistic about what the goals of the website are and how to get it done by a reputable professional. If you find that you just don’t have the full amount required at the moment, you may be able to make payment arrangements with your designer and almost certainly can if you work with an agency. Just be aware that agencies are generally going to be on the higher end with their estimates. That’s because they have teams of experts and if your website needs a team of experts then that’s where you should be.
Another option is to work in phases. Start with the bare minimum required and add other features in phases. However, you really need to get guidance from the developers about a plan and timeline for each phase that is realistic or even possible. When working in phases, the phases should be planned upfront to make sure things are being done in the proper order.
Know what you want, communicate it, budget for it and make sure the designer understands what your goals are.
If you have a very small budget, then make sure you share that with the designer so you don’t waste your time getting a quote that is out of your budget. Most of the time, the designer will let you know what he or she can do for that price, or if they can’t touch it. So, don’t be afraid to be honest about your budget! At the same time, be prepared to be flexible if you find the right designer for the job. Ask for a payment arrangement if you need it.
Be prepared to pay a down payment before the work begins. 25-50% is a normal good faith deposit that works to the benefit of both parties. You should ask at what stages other payments will be expected so you are prepared for that as well.
8. Time Frame
Come prepared with a time frame. Most designers have a tight schedule and the good ones have a waiting list so you need to let them know upfront your desired time frame and if it is flexible or not.
Freelance designers/developers and agencies will ALL have different availability and turn around quotes so this isn’t something that will indicate skill set or customer service. It’s just a matter of the work load they have at the time.
If you find a designer that you feel good about and their quote is right but the timing is a little off, my advice is to reconsider if you can be flexible and wait to work with them. However, get on their waiting list so you secure your spot. Otherwise, you’ll come back later and availability will have changed. This seems like it should go without saying but I see it often… someone wants to do the work but they hesitate and come back a few months later and then my calendar is full so they have to wait even longer.
9. Management of Completed Website
I referred earlier to the fact that a website is rarely a ‘set it and forget it’ solution. One thing that will need attention after the website is complete is at the very least an annual, or better yet quarterly checkup to keep the site information up to date and ‘healthy’.
If your website turns out to be dynamic or built on a CMS platform, then it will require weekly or at the very least monthly updates to keep the site secure.
Then you have regular content updates. Of course, this depends on what information you have available on your website but if you have an event calendar or other dated information, a blog, or a membership site for example, this will required regular attention.
You might also have the occasional technical issue that needs to be addressed but those will be things you’ll need professional help with and whenever possible, you’ll be best served by the original designer or developer since they’ll know your website and can diagnose and resolve the issue easier and faster.
Now, do you want to be able to make minor content edits yourself or would you rather have someone else do it for you?
If you want to do it yourself, make sure you make that known and be prepared to go through a training process.
Likewise, if you want the site managed and edited by the designer or someone else, let the designer know during the planning stage.
We offer website care plans to all of our website clients where we take care of these items on a weekly and monthly basis so if you want to see what that looks like you can do that here.
This turned out to be a little longer than I expected but hopefully you’ve gained some helpful insights into the website planning process.
If you have questions or comments, leave them below and I’ll be checking in.