Website Planning: The Ultimate Guide
A simple learn-by-doing, step-by-step guide how to plan for your website before you actually start building it.
Before you start
Let me guess. You want to make a website but you have no idea where to start?
To be honest with, you are not the first one. I was in your shoes before I built my first website about 6 years ago.
Since then I started 200+ successful websites and blogs for clients all over the world but I have to admit that when I first decided to go down this path I was very confused.
The way you feel right now is perfectly normal.
The good news is that in 2017 you don’t have to be a tech guru or a web designer to create a professional-looking website from scratch! You don’t need to write a single line of code, manage servers or even spend a lot of money to get your website up and running in an hour or so.
The Internet has expanded at a rapid pace and in today’s digital world more and more people are building their own websites and blogs to express themselves or to reach potential clients for the businesses they run.
Technology has made tremendous progress over the past few years. Making a website is just a drag-and-drop process now and I’m not kidding. It takes less than an hour.
It’s never been easier, faster, and cheaper to do it yourself !
But building the actual website is not the biggest problem most people face.
As I said, everyone who can use an email such as Yahoo or Gmail can do it. But do you know why most websites fail to get more than 5-10 visitors per day ( 3 of them are family and friends) ?
It’s because their creators never planned ahead before starting. Without a clear idea in their mind, most people just jump right in and never reach the point when they are happy with the website they have created.
Then they decide to start all over and then again and again… until their motivation wears off and they give up.
And all their efforts go in vain.
Simply because they didn’t have a plan. And trust me, planning is what makes a huge difference between just trying and getting things done the right way.
This Website Planning Guide is a preparation before you start building an actual website. It's meant to give you some basic directions and make sure you have a clear vision before you move forward.
I won’t use any technical terms in this tutorial. But I will require your full attention and some serious efforts to be creative.
Let’s dive in!
The easiest (and the hardest ) way to come up with new ideas is brainstorming. If you have never used this method before it may be just the right time to start.
At the very basis of the brainstorming technique is one very simple thing...asking yourself the right questions !
Don’t worry if you don’t know what these questions are. In the sections below I’ve prepared them for you. The only thing you’re going to need for now is a pen and paper.
Let’s start with the first (and maybe the most important!) question you need to answer.
What Is Your Mission?
Every business, service or website needs a reason to be, and this is most often wrapped up in a short mission statement. It shouldn’t be a lengthy document but rather something that will remind you why you have embarked on building a website at all.
Just a few words.
According to Peter Drucker, the father of the modern management science "the effective mission statement is short and sharply focused. It should fit on a T-shirt. The mission says why you do what you do, not the means by which you do it.”
Here are some examples :
- TED: “Spreading Ideas.” (2 words)
- The Humane Society: “Celebrating Animals, Confronting Cruelty.” (4 words)
- Boy Scouts of America: “To prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” (25)
- American Express: "We work hard every day to make American Express the world's most respected service brand." (16 words)
- Website Setup Kit: “Spiral out. Keep going !” (4 words)
Once you clarify what your mission is, you can start with some serious planning. Let’s go deeper into how actual website planning works.
STEP #1: Define your goals
What are you trying to accomplish? What’s the purpose of your website?
It’s extremely important to have a good understanding of the main goal of the website when building it. Like everything else that you do with the long-term in mind you have to know exactly why you’re doing it.
You don’t just buy a car to simply buy a car. You have in mind who is going to drive it and what its specific characteristics are and for what are you going to use it.
You want to make sure you plan on your website in the same way you plan on buying a car or building a house.You need to create your website with the right intentions and audience in mind.
Whether you are doing it in order to increase the publicity of your small business, teach people how to become photographers or simply publish about your favorite hobbies, you need to set these goals at the very beginning so you know what to aim for throughout the process.
STEP #2: Determine your target audience
What are the demographics of the visitors you are trying to target? By demographics, I mean things like their:
- Computer literacy
- Blogs they read
The more you know about your visitors’ background the better you are going to interact with them.
What are their needs and what are the problems they try to solve? How do these needs affect them and their daily lives? And most importantly, how will you solve their problems and fulfill their needs with your website?
What information are they looking for? Does your website provide them with all the answers to their questions / Google queries?
Understanding your potential visitors’ needs is vital to plan for a website that they will like. This is the key to provide better solutions to their problems than the other websites out there.
The easiest way to get the answer to the last question is to perform a keyword research.
What will you offer to solve the ideal visitor 's problems and fulfill their needs?
Whether it is going to be a service, online course or just an article you have to put yourself in your visitors’ shoes and know their perspective.
STEP #3: Analyze your competition
Where do your potential visitors go for information now? Are they doing online research or read newspapers and magazines? Do they use social media?
A great idea is to visit other websites that your target audience might visit. Explore your competitors and make notes what are they doing wrong and you can do better than them.
Write down all the things that you like in your competitor websites and things that you don’t like. Try to figure out how your website is going to differentiate from them. Keep your target group in mind during this process.
STEP #4: Plan for your content.
One of the most important things nowadays is the content on your website. You have to make sure that you convey your message in a way that is engaging for your target audience. The content you add must be educational and concise at the same time.
That’s why people have said for decades that “Content is King”…you can’t have a successful website without it. Just think how many times per week you click on a link and then backspace out of it a few seconds later; that happens because the content just didn’t impress you.
A website can be well structured and beautiful but without the right content, the visitors will click on the “Back” button almost immediately.
What percentage of the visitors leave after a one-page session is called bounce rate. If a website has a 70% bounce rate this means that 70% of its visitors leave after only viewing the page they landed on, whether it be the home page or an internal one.
You can check what bounce rate a website has by using free online tools like similarweb.com
Having a low bounce rate is crucial to your success.
Think about what type of content is the most appropriate for your potential visitors. Do you need a blog? Are you going to embed videos? Is there going to be any advertisements or banners?
These are all important decisions you have to take before you start building your website.
After you’ve got the answers to the questions above and have some good understanding of the direction where you’re heading to, take a short break before you move on to the next step.
STEP #5: Do some free-writing
Free writing is definitely the most creative of all the steps up to this moment. You basically just start writing and make some free associations.
Start with a simple sentence related to the main topic of your website, its purpose or mission. Just follow the course of your thoughts and don’t stop writing down everything that comes to your mind. You have no idea how beneficial this can be. Some of the best ideas I’ve ever had came up by just writing down my internal dialogue.
Give it a try. You never know where it might lead you !
Business Model Canvas | Canvanizer*
This extra step is for those of you who really want to push themselves in order to master the essence of planning not only for websites but for almost any project or even business.
The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management template which I use for everything I undertake. It is a great tool that can help you organize your thoughts and keep track of the progress of your ideas.
It will help you expand your creative thinking and show you some thought pitfalls that even experienced web developers fall into.
You can try it for free here https://canvanizer.com/new/business-model-canvas
As you already probably know, website planning is a crucial part of every successful website you have ever visited. I hope that these 6+1 steps will help you understand better your visitors and their needs, your competitors and their current strategies and gives you the opportunity to evaluate your own ideas from a new, more exciting perspective.
Planning in the early stages will get some of the potential problems out of the way now, freeing you up to concentrate on what you do best.
If you now want to start building your website I suggest you check out our next tutorial.
If you do need any further assistance with planning your website, I’d love to hear from you.