How to Plan a Website Successfully. Guide to Saving Time & Money

by | Jul 8, 2019

Being in business you’ll probably be constantly making plans. Whether it’s finances, staffing, marketing, events or stock levels, planning will always play a major role.

When it comes to websites however, planning sometimes takes a back seat or goes out of the window altogether.

Our guide will show you tips on how to plan a website that should save you time and money and who doesn’t want to do that?

We’ve been working in the web design industry for many years and on countless projects. We often see common issues arise, many of these are down to failing to plan properly.   

This being the case, we thought it time to put a short guide together. It will minimise as many of these issues,  helping you build a successful website – first time.

Who is the guide for?

This guide is aimed at anyone that is involved in the web development process. 

If you’re an owner of an SME, a marketing manager or web designer, there will be information that you will find invaluable.

It’s written using the least amount of technical language possible, easy to understand regardless of skill level or knowledge of web terms.

With that in mind, let’s crack on!

Understand the purpose of a website

Now we know this sounds like a simple statement and it is.

The purpose of most websites are to grow and drive sales.

Of course, all great websites will be able to educate, inform and delight a visitor.

However, the main reason is to convert a visitor into a lead and a lead into becoming a customer.

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, whether you sell online or use the website as an online ‘brochure’ for your business.

The main goal is normally the same, to increase enquiries and ultimately sales.

There are exceptions to this, even if your website isn’t there to generate a sale (99% of cases it will be), think about what the role of your website is?

For instance, if you’re building a site for a charity, the main aim would be to inform people of your cause and to grow donations.

Or if you are building a website for a school as another example. You may not necessarily want to make a ‘sale’. You may want the site to be used by students to gather information on the subjects taught in lessons.

Whatever the reason for your website, get a clear picture in your head of what it needs to achieve and document this down.

With this clear, you’ll have an end goal what the site needs to do for you as a business and the elements needed by the visitor to help you reach this.

Image showing a person buying online from an ecommerce store

Why plan a website?

Building a website is no different than any other aspect in your business.

You plan for most things you do, why should your website be any different?

It’s essential that you plan your website carefully, many don’t and that’s where problems can creep in.

Sometimes this is due to time constraints of normal daily business. For others it can be that they didn’t anticipate the work involved.

The other main reason we hear a lot, is that some people think they don’t have the skills or knowledge to plan a site. Not knowing where to start.

Trust us, it’s much better to spend as much time as needed to plan the site carefully to reduce future problems.

Work with your web developer they should help with this. Make sure everything is documented and agreed.

Without a clear plan, this is where costs of web development can increase significantly.

If the ‘goal posts’ move and at the eleventh hour, needing the site to do something else, it could mean rebuilding much of the site again.

Think of it this way, if you were to build an extension to your home and added two new bedrooms.

Half way through the build you decided they both needed to be en-suite. You can imagine costs would start to sky rocket. New architects plans, fixtures and fittings, plumbing work and labour are all affected, not to mention the time impact.

It’s the same with designing a website.

If your web developer is already building your website. Then you decide on new functions, although they may sound minor to you, in reality it could be starting from scratch or redoing much of the work again.

Our message would be, plan it as best as possible to begin with and build it once. Obviously projects can change but this should be minimal if the website plan is near perfect.

Without a proper plan and without your web designer or developer asking critical questions, a lot is left open to assumption.

Problems when you fail to plan a website properly.

Without a proper plan and without your web designer or developer asking critical questions, a lot is left open to assumption. 

If left open they could do something you’re simply not happy with. This can lead to frustration by both parties and the start of a relationship breakdown.

If a proper plan isn’t in place, expect to have a lot of back and forth with your web company.

Again this can lead to frustration and a delay in the project being delivered on time.

For instance, your web company calls you asking a question, you’re not available. They await a call back to finish. You take a few days, you are really busy, again delaying everything.

Redesigning and rebuilding a elements is also another issue that occurs with the lack of a proper website plan.

If you plan a website in detail to begin with, hopefully everything will be more or less spot on first time. Yes, there will be tweaks and amends, but these are expected and should be minimal.

Budgets vs the cost you end up paying. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t plan the website correctly, costs can spiral. As with all professional services, many web design companies charge based on time. The less planning the more time it will take, the more it will cost.

An example of poor website planning

For instance, if wanted a reservation system on your website to book a table at your restaurant, you give your designer all the fields and information they need.

They then produce this in the style of the website and everything looks great.

A few days later you now ask that a payment gateway needs adding to take a deposit that wasn’t in the original plan when a booking is made. The reservation system will need redoing to allow for this.

More time and more money for this.

The payment gateway was successfully added, tested and everything is great!

You then decide that the booking system should allow a notification email to be sent to all that will be attending the restaurant with the dates and times as an automated confirmation. Again the booking system will need redesigning.

You can probably see that working with your web designer and ironing out everything is key to getting it right first time, on budget and on schedule.

Without it, you’re heading for delays, over spends and perhaps a website you’re not overjoyed with that has a low ROI (return on investment).

Building a website can be complex in terms of technology and build stages, however this is something that you will probably be working with an external web development company or a local web designer that will take care of those elements.

Websites fall under marketing tasks

Building a website can be complex in terms of technology and build stages, however this is something that you will probably be working with an external web development company or a local web designer that will take care of those elements.

The reason we mention this is so you understand that the correct person or people are allocated to the task of helping plan and build the site.

A website, is like any other marketing you do, yes technically it needs to work perfectly, however you wouldn’t ask the head of finance to produce a sales catalogue would you?

The content, design input and function ideas may be something better suited to someone who works in marketing currently.

They will probably work in sync with the sales team, understand the role that a website needs to play in your business and already know how your brand and message needs to get out to the masses.  

The other reason that a marketing type of person is best is they will know how a website and it’s promotion, SEO, social media, ranking and analytics will all play a part in its success.

If you’re a sole trader that will be you, if you’re part of a bigger organisation then maybe your marketing manager would be the best person to liaise with.  

Of course, depending on the size of your organisation, it may require that more than one department may need to get involved, however it’s also better that someone with a marketing background that is capable manages the project from your side.

We’ve had previous experience working with very large organisations, where different people have all ‘chipped in’ with feedback and instructions.

It’s never a good idea, ‘too many cooks’ and all that!

Plan a website – Discovery session

Now this is something that really isn’t that difficult and I’d suggest that you only consider working with a web designer if they do this. Otherwise how can they give you a firm web design estimate as they won’t know much about you, the project or the goal of the website.

So what is a discovery session?

Simply put, it’s you and your website designer sitting down and asking questions and understanding the project and expectations.

With all clients that we work with, before we produce an estimate we always have at least one or two discovery sessions, depending on the size of the project. These sessions are either in person or over the phone and normally with all that people that will be involved.

They will allow your web designer to understand more about you, but more importantly they will ask relevant questions and prompt you for input, possibly on things you’ve never thought about before.

By doing this, they will get a better understanding of what will be involved and you can also get a sense whether they are the right company to work with you or not.

It’s your chance to tell your web designer as much as you can. Don’t worry if you think something is trivial, mention it, it could spark a new train of thought.

Some of the type questions you’ll probably be asked when you plan a website by a web design agency

Now, a point to mention here is that the below isn’t a comprehensive list of all questions, they are a guide.

Depending on your organisation and what you do, the list will be much longer and more in depth. Usually each question will raise more questions from your web designer.

When you come to plan your website, write down some of the answers to give you a headstart.

  1. Do you have a mission statement for the business? It will include details about who you are and what you do
  2. What is the main goal of the website?
  3. Have you prepared any type of website design brief?
  4. Do you have any realistic targets to achieve such as ranking, visitor numbers or sales etc?
  5. Do you know your current website analytics data?
  6. Will the website be focused on a local, national or international level?
  7. Who is the target market or buyer persona and can you describe them?
  8. In an ideal world, what is the number one thing you would want a new website visitor to do on your website (e.g. buy a product, ask for a quote, subscribe to a mailing list etc.)?
  9. Do you know who your main competitors are?
  10. What makes you different (USPs) or why would someone choose you over company B?

Some other questions, you’ll probably be asked

  1. Do you have any brand guides or previous design to work to?
  2. Have you seen any websites that you love the look and functionality of? If so, supply
  3. Are there any websites that you hate the design of? If so, supply
  4. What functions will the website need to include (e.g. email signup, blog, image gallery etc.)?
  5. How do you intend to market the website?
  6. Will you be actively doing SEO or any techniques to bolster ranking positions?
  7. Will you be looking to fully manage the site or require input from us?
  8. Are there any external systems that need to be integrated such as accounting software?
  9. What level of input and how often will you be able to keep on top of the website and marketing?
  10. Post website launch will you have any future or stage two plan for the site (e.g. you sell products now, but want to integrate Amazon and eBay in the future)?
  11. Do you have a realistic budget for completing the project and any significant deadlines?

The main goal here is to answer as many questions as you can, as fully as you can. It’s your chance to tell your web designer as much as you can. Don’t worry if you think something is trivial, mention it, it could spark a new train of thought.

Next step to plan a website –  the proposal.

Once the initial discovery session is over (it’s key that you also make notes throughout), it’s your web design company’s task to document all of the given information and produce you a project scope or report on key elements of the talks.

This should include a breakdown of pages, functions and key targets of the proposed new website. It should be fairly detailed and cover everything discussed.

Alongside this you should also receive a sitemap (blueprint of the website) and a website design estimate.

Carefully go through everything that is covered in these documents, read them over a few times.

Although web design is very flexible and can be changed, this is your opportunity to really ‘dot the i’s and cross the t’s’. Ensure that everything you need your website to do is included.

If something is missing or unclear, go back to website design agency and ask them to revise the document or provide more clarity.

By doing this, you’re starting to get a clear plan together of everything that needs and should be included in your new website.

It will help alleviate any nasty surprises once the project gets started.   

What should a website proposal include?

As mentioned previously, a website design proposal is produced by the web design agency and supplied to you ‘the client’ and should cover the below points. It’s worth mentioning that a website design proposal can have many many pages as it should cover everything about the project.

  1. Background of the project and a summary of the reasons for the new website
  2. Amount and types of pages the website will have, usually also shown on the website sitemap
  3. A list of features that the website will have and a clear description, e.g.
    1. A carousel or slider at the top of the main homepage
    2. Live chat feature, supplied by xxx third party company
    3. Map on the contact page
    4. A blog broken down in x, y and z categories
  4. Any costs outside the estimate such as images, video or graphics that need creating
  5. Roles of people involved and any specific tasks
  6. The design process, costs and anticipated time lines for production

In essence, the proposal will be a detailed guide over every aspect of the website and processes involved to achieve it.

Depending on the design agency that you use, it will probably come with a contract to sign (especially on larger sites) and include the terms and conditions for moving forward.

If you’re interested in finding out who should build your website and the costs involved we have a post about this

Elements to get ready for your website – it’s part of the planning!

There are numerous parts to all websites, it’s a good idea to get as many of these ready as you can at the planning stage. It will allow you to understand if anything is missing and needs to additional work or resourcing.

Your brand

Your company brand is the visual representation of your organisation. It’s a difficult one to describe as it’s more than just a logo. How people feel about your business when they hear your company name is part of your brand.

It should convey the right message about your business characteristics and what you stand for.

What can your brand include?

The minimum would be a professional logo, colours that you use (colour palette), the fonts that you use, photography guidelines or images, information on copywriting and supporting material like icons, graphics or textures.

In essence everything that your business produces from a simple quote, a sales brochure to the website itself should all look coherent and contain the same look and feel.

If they don’t something has gone wrong.

Why is a brand important when building a website?

One of the first steps when building a website is to create and design the visual look and feel of it.

Without any branding or brand guides your website designer will be starting from scratch. It’s not the best way forward as your brand identity will direct the website design.

For many businesses though they probably won’t have an ‘official brand guides’ or anywhere near this amount of detail to hand to help the design process along.

When planning your website, if this is the case, make a note of this and also collate as much other material as you can. This can include anything like flyers you’ve had created, any brochures, social media posts, any adverts and any other documents.

At least this way you can give them to your website designer and they will get an idea of the styles and direction that you use in any out or inbound marketing.

It’s not ideal but at least it gives something to use as a guide.

Images

Websites are visual, images are critical to making the right first impression and helping a visitor either choose your company or go elsewhere.

Make sure that you have high quality images that look great. Regardless of the design of your website, bad images can turn a truly awesome site into a monstrosity.

Ensure you have great images ready for the website build or a budget in place to secure them. If budget is an issue there are some sites to get free images for your website.

Testimonials

A good idea is to have testimonials or reviews on your website as they really do help convert visitors into customers.

Ensure that you have real testimonials to hand to begin with to help the process along.

Login details and integrations

Some websites will want to integrate with third parties such as email newsletter subscription services or live chat facilities.

Whatever the reason, try and get all your login usernames and passwords together as your web designer will need them.

Countless times, we’ve been asked to do something and no one has this information to allow us to ‘get in’ and do it.

Getting the right domain name

If you currently have a website for your business then you already have a domain name. For those that are unsure, a domain name is a website address, the part that starts www.

Should you be a new business or never had a website before then you’ll need to secure the right domain name for your business.

As you can probably appreciate, there are millions of websites, many of the best domain names are already been used or reserved by someone else.

So you’ll have to find the best one that fits with your business. Try and keep them short and easy to remember.

Purchasing a domain name sooner rather than later is a good tip, again this all part of the web design process and one less thing to worry about

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Telephone: 01623 454440

Midas Creative
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Oakham Business Park, Mansfield,
Nottinghamshire NG18 5BR

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