Website planning

Your website should be at the heart of your overall digital plan. As the online “home” for your brand, it’s where you have the most freedom to interact with your target audience. Your website plan needs to cover core website experiences like content, style and functionality. Read our guide on website planning to learn more. 

Website planning

How this guide raises your game

1. Learn about blogging, the easiest way to start a website. 

2. Learn the 8 key steps of how a website actually works.

3. Build your knowledge of website content, style and functionality to run a more professional and advanced website.

 

As we share in our digital business model guide, there are three basic actions you want to drive from your overall digital marking plan. There are reach, engage and sell.

And while reach is primarily supported by digital media, your website plays a key role when it comes to both engage and sell. 

 

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The challenge of digital media

When you advertise on digital media channels like search, social and display, your content has to work within the ‘rules’ of those channels.

These rules can relate to how, when and where your content appears.

For example, your content needs to fit within the editorial guidelines of the platform. These rules also govern the formats and sizes you can use. How big your images or how long your videos play. And you do all this with competitor advertising sitting in the same channels which creates more noise. 

In short, you do not have full control from a creative point of view.  When you have your own website, you do have control over the experience.  

The role of your website in digital marketing

So, this is why your website and your website planning is so important to grow your business. Because all of those challenges in digital media – lack of control, cost and the amount of competitor noise – do not apply when it is your website. 

No-one is forced to visit a website. But every time you persuade someone to visit your website, you are able to influence and shape their experience directly.

You control the content and their experience. You capture data about the interaction. And you have the opportunity to meet a customer need directly 

Think of your website as your online ‘home’ for your brand. When you want to attract consumers and make them think better of your brand, your website acts like an open house for your brand.

Target audience and customer experience

When you identify your target audience, part of the customer experience persona or profile you build up should include their online behaviours. What are typical websites they look at for example? What search terms do they commonly use? And what needs do they have when they go online?

Websites are a great way to share information, experiences and drive interactions with consumers.

You can develop a customer experience that helps satisfy their needs. Whether that is to answer a question, provide a service or drive a sale. 

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

Your website is part of your brand identity

When you built your brand identity, are there brand assets – either tangible and intangible – that can be brought to life online? That can be used to create a connection with the target audience?

Maybe it’s your origin or sourcing story behind the brand? Maybe it’s educational or entertaining content that can meet a consumer need? Or maybe it’s just the ability to deliver your service but aided or delivered through a website. 

It is a great way to show consumers who you are, what you stand for and why they should be interested in your brand.  Your website planning needs to have a strong connection back to your brand identity. Your website essentially makes your brand and your brand story accessible globally. And at any time of day or night. That opens up huge potential for people to connect with your brand. 

Your website is an interactive part of your customer experience

And here’s the final kicker. And this is where websites really tend to win out over any other digital channel.  

Websites are interactive.

They can be set up to serve your target audience directly. They can provide information, experiences and services that the consumer controls themselves.

Consumers can press buttons or input data and “things” happen. They can access videos, photos and written content. They can download resources. And most importantly for your business growth they can order products and services directly. There’s an endless list of two-way experiences a website can deliver to your audience.

The set-up of your website needs to cover three key areas. There’s the content – what it says. There’s the design – how it looks. And finally, there’s the functionality – what it does. We’ll come on to each of these in more detail below. 

But your website also links together all your digital media and social media channels. It acts as a home and a hub for all your online activity. It gives your consumers the best chance to engage with you directly. 

Take control with your website

With your own website, you have the maximum amount of control over how your brand presents itself to consumers. You can create an ‘experience’ on your own terms to guide the consumer towards a desired goal.

But the ambition for your website to do all these things for consumers and to deliver on your business objectives is one thing. To create and run a high performance website is another. 

Most websites start off very simply and with only basic functionality. They then gradually expand and grow as they ‘learn’ more about the needs of their target audience.

So, let’s start with a look at the simplest form of website you can use, which is a blog. 

Blogging

If you are a complete beginner, the easiest way to get started with websites would be to start blogging on sites like WordPress, Wix or Blogger.

Blogging is where you publish copy, images or video about a topic you believe is of interest to people. Many people blog just because they are passionate about a particular topic.

But for businesses, it can be a great way to get started with engaging people online. Sites like WordPress, Wix and Blogger make blogging available for free and their sites offer easy to use page templates. 

Blogging example

Your blogging ‘site’ will have it’s own identity but set within the blogging sites identity. So it might be called mysite.wordpress.com for example. Blogging is a good way to start creating the basic content you will need for your website.

The major advantage of blogging is that it does not require a lot of technical expertise to set up. It is very quick to set-up and start publishing content.

As long as you have a computer and can string a sentence together, you can publish a page that effectively becomes your first ‘website’. Our own website started off as a blogging site as you can see from the above image. 

Blogging site limitations

However, here’s the challenge when it comes to blogging. Because it is so easy and does not need technical knowledge, anyone and everyone can do it. And they do. 

Latest estimates put the number of blogs globally at over 600 million.  The same article suggests there are around 5.7 million new blog posts every day. That works out as around 4,000 per minute.

That’s a lot of noise in the blogging space. So, there’s three challenges you face if you only use a blogging site. 

Content stand-out

Firstly, how do you make the content of your blog stand out? How do you make it be distinctive in the face of all that competition? Is your video content, photography or writing so strong, that you will create a unique and distinctive experience? 

Style and design stand-out

Secondly, if any of those all use the same template, how do you make it even look or function differently? The templates you can use for example have limitations. When it comes to typography you want to use, or how you want to apply good design principles to your images, your options will be limited to what the platform offers. 

Functionality challenge

And then the final challenge is the lack of interactivity or functionality you can add to the site. You can usually let people add comments to posts. And you can point people to where your brand is available to buy online. But that’s about it. 

For the most part, blogging is a one way process where the consumer sees only your content. You also have limited access to the data that sits behind the interaction. And it is a challenge to connect any other online systems to a blog, beyond basic linking. 

For all of these reasons, that’s why most businesses eventually move on to have their own owned website. 

Owned website

A step up from blogging would be when you decide to set up you own ‘owned’ website. This means you directly set-up and control all the operations around your website. As opposed to piggy-backing on someone else’s platform. 

Before we go on to talk through how a website actually ‘works’ and how you can use it to grow your business, there are a few fundamental terms you need to know. There are the basic things you’ll need to set up your own owned website. 

laptop google search

URL (Uniform Resource Locator)

URLs are the (http://) address of your website. They are sometimes also known as domain names. And if you remember the analogy that your website is your online home, then your  URL or domain name is the address you give consumes so they can visit your online home. 

The URL is the name that consumers will put in their browser or click on in order to access your site. Or that will appear when consumers search for your site or relevant content you provide. 

These URLS can be purchased online via site registry websites. Some examples would be Netregistry, Go Daddy or Crazy Domains.

The price can vary greatly, and will depend on the popularity of the URL name you wish to purchase. In general terms, more generic category terms will be more expensive than more unique branded terms to buy. 

Your URL should as much as possible reflect the name of your brand and your brand identity. If possible, it should be relatively short and memorable. Shorter URLs tend to perform better than longer URLs because consumers are more likely to remember them. 

Domain suffixes

You will have also have multiple choices on the ‘suffix’ of the URL name depending on the type of organisation and the location of the business – so .com, .com.au, .co.uk, .biz, .org etc. As a general rule of thumb, .com for businesses is the most common suffix and if your preferred URL is available with that suffix, that’s generally your best choice. Suffixes with the relevant country such as .com.au or .co.uk can also work for local-based business and where the .com is not available or too expensive. Most of the other suffixes are less common and can often be perceived as less trustworthy. 

As part of your website planning, pick a strong URL that will be relevant to your target audience, easy to find by search engines and fits with your brand identity.  There are many online guides on how to pick the best URL for your website.

You’ll need the URL to be able to tell people where to find your website. It is normally purchased on an annual renewal basis.

Server

You will also need access to a hosting service who will provide a server to store the content and data from your site online. There are many providers of this service, and it’s beyond the scope of this guide to recommend one provider over another. And in fact, it’s a challenge to recommend a specific provider because they constantly change and update the services, prices and support they offer. 

We recommend doing some online research to see which is the best service provider based on price, quality of service and speed. Speed is important as your server ideally needs to be relatively close to where your user base is to make sure that your content downloads quickly when accessed. 

And bear in mind, that these companies do constantly invest in new technology, so you should keep an eye on the date of when any reviews were made. These companies do compete strongly with each other and you should use that to your advantage to find the best site hosting service at the time for you. And you should not feel stuck with one when your agreement renewal comes up. Most of the companies make it easy to transfer hosting between providers. 

When we were setting our own website, we found this review of hosting server sites from Australia to be really helpful. For a more international view, this article on Techradar was also helpful.

Content Management System (CMS)

This is the software system on which you will manage all your content. Content covers a wide range of materials. These can be articles or blog posts that you have written. But they also cover your images and videos. Content can also cover all the interactive elements of your website like links and buttons. For e-Commerce, it also covers all the product details such as descriptions, prices, tax and delivery charges. 

If you’ve started with WordPress or Wix blogging, both of these sites will be able to upgrade you to more sophisticated versions of their CMS. This will add more features at an additional cost. So you will be able to have more control over the design and layout for example. And you’ll be able to more easily manage the technical set-up and integration with other software systems like Google Analytics or add a Facebook pixel.

WordPress example

This site for example is built with WordPress CMS. WordPress is the world’s most commonly used CMS and brings with it a number of advantages. It is relatively easy to learn without the need for a lot of technical or coding expertise. And it comes with access to a large catalogue of plug-ins. These are small pieces of software that you can ‘plug-in’ to add extra functionality to your website and make them more interactive. For example, you can plug in something like ‘WooCommerce” to a WordPress website to turn it from a publishing website to an e-Commerce website. You can add quizzes as we have done on many of out content pages. 

With WordPress, you should note that there are two slightly different versions. It is important to understand the differences. There is a version called WordPress.org which is a free CMS. It’s normally an option that comes with your website server agreement to install a version of wordpress.org.  

But there’s also a wordpress.com option where wordpress themselves become your server hosting provider. In this case, you pay for the CMS and server together. and you do benefit from more direct support from WordPress themselves. But you do lose some of the flexibility that you have when you run wordpress.org on your own server. 

Beyond wordpress

WordPress and Wix do have a wide range of applications and they are popular for a reason, especially with smaller business who do not have technical expertise.

But beyond WordPress though, there are hundreds of other CMS systems to choose from.

There are more advanced CMS systems which offer great flexibility and options, especially if you need to allow multiple people access to the system. 

But these more advanced CMS systems also tend to come with more cost and complexity.

For most businesses, we have found WordPress and Wix to be solid performers unless there is a specific use case that they cannot meet.

For these more advanced cases, normally you would work with the CMS provider directly, and the CMS would be part of a wider marketing technology stack such as we cover in our guide to marketing technology.

E-Commerce CMS

In particular, if you are looking at selling online, you would be considering specialist e-commerce CMS options like Woocommerce, Shopify or Magento and we cover some of these options in our article on setting up your own online store. E-Commerce CMS systems need to be able to cope with some very specific website requirements, such as being able to easily create and update product pages, and set prices and promotions. 

E-Commerce CMS systems also need a high level of integration into your ‘back-end’ systems such as the ability to manage orders and payments and delivery.

Three brains e-Commerce online purchase with credit card

How a website actually works – the 8 key steps

With the URL, the server and the CMS, you’ve essentially bought the address, the plot of land and the architectural plan for your online home, but you still need to build the home itself.

As we started previously, the three key component of building your website are the content, the style and the functionality. But before we cover those, it’s worth a quick walk-through of the context of where those elements sit.

What are the actions that happen or need to happen before the consumer interacts with the website? And what are the outcomes or actions that happen after the interaction?

Website planning - website experience

Step 1 – Digital media set up by the website owner

As a first step, the owner of the website needs to make the site ‘findable’ online. This is generally done through digital media with an initial focus on search, supported by social media and online display support. We cover the basics of these channels in our separate digital media guide. 

Step 2 – Digital media ‘reaches’ the target consumer

The target consumer will be exposed to details of the website either voluntarily or involuntarily. Voluntary exposure comes when they search for something online, and the search engine provides your URL as a potential answer for that search. This is the strongest digital media because it is based on the consumer’s direct need and why your SEO is important as part of your website planning. 

But with social media paid posts or online display, you can also put your URL and website details in front of consumers so they are ‘involuntarily’ exposed. In this case, you have much more direct control over where, when and who sees the message, but obviously, the response or click through rates are likely to be less because the exposure is involuntary.

Step 3 – Browser and Step 4 – HTML

It’s not within the scope of this guide to give a detailed breakdown on the different internet browsers. And from an overall digital marketing point of view, you do not need to be an expert in all the different browsers. Or for that matter on Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the coding language that sits behind all website. 

However,  as part of your website planning, it is important to understand what internet browsers actually do, and which the main ones are. And while you don’t necessarily need to be able to write HTML code, it is important to understand what it does.

HTML example

Hypertext Market Language is the universal language of all websites and it is what lets websites “talk” to each other. A website browser like Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer or Firefox is in very simple terms a translator service. They translate HTML code into user friendly text, layout designs and functionality so that the user ‘sees’ the page, not in HTML but in a user-friendly way.

From your website planning point of view, your main interaction with different browser will be when you test your website for compatibility with each of the main browsers. Most CMS systems are set-up to be compatible with the main browsers, and it’s now less and less common for there to be browser issues. 

But its’ still common to test the browser compatibility with the different browsers and the different versions of each browser using online tools like browsershots or comparium.

You can see the HTML code that sits behind any website by in Windows right-clicking on the page and clicking “View Source Code” or on Mac / Safari, pressing the CTRL key and selecting “Inspect Element”.

Step 5 – The website – Content, Style and Function

These are the central three components of any website, and we will cover how to manage these in more detail below. But in terms of the process, one or more of these elements needs to be delivered to the user, so that there is an outcome or action. 

Step 6 – Outcome to Step 7 – Consumer and Step 8 – Website Owner

 As a result of the interaction between the website user and the website, this outcome or action delivers something online the consumer. This could be a piece of information they were looking for such as an answer to a question or an interesting article. It could be a image or video that meets their needs. Or it could be an actual service such as an online order or reservation. 

That means there is a flow from the website both to the consumer and back to the website owner. 

Website planning – jobs to be done 

So, once you understand the overall ‘flow’ of the website experience, you can start to identify the jobs to be done to make the whole system ‘work’. We already cover digital media and connected systems like marketing technology and digital data in other guides.

So in this guide, we will focus on the role of content, style and functionality. 

Remember, in our digital business model, the key purpose of the website its to drive engagement and sales (or conversions). The areas of content, style and functionality and ‘how’ you create that engagement for consumers. 

Website planning - the jobs to be done

Website content – what your site says

Content is the text, images, videos and all other materials that sit on your site, Your content should be developed with three goals in mind. Firstly, to make it easy for consumers to find you. This means your content needs to be searchable. Secondly, to  help your audience meet its needs. This means it needs to be relevant. And finally, to build up your brand identity This means it needs to integrate with your marketing plan. .  

Writing articles and for SEO

To write blogs and articles for your website that are easy to find by search engines, you need to learn the skill of writing for SEO

This is quite a specific skill that combines marketing skills, writing skills knowledge of how search engines work. You need to understand the needs of the target audience. And be able to apply the principles of good writing to make your content relevant, helpful and readable. 

If you have done keyword research, you should be writing helpful articles and blog posts based on what your target audience searches online. And which match your brand identity.

Research on your own using tools from Google

There are some basic techniques to learn to improve your search ranking. You should make sure your keyword appears in the title, introductory paragraph or subheadings for example. If you can add links to other parts of your site or other third party sites, that can help your search authority.

Images and videos

Content doesn’t just cover text though, it also covers images and videos. This can be pictures of your product or people using your product. It could be diagrams or infographics that help people understand the information you are sharing better. It could be logos, icons or other brand identity elements that help build the connection with your brand for the consumer. 

The key challenge with content is to find relevant topics to talk about.  You might find topics that generate a lot  of interest online, but your brand needs to have relevant authority to talk about those topics. 

Creating content is like buying all the bricks, paint, appliances and furniture to build your house. However, having a bunch of content is only the first part of the job when it comes to building a website. 

Website style – what it looks and feels like

As you start to build up your content (often referred to as ‘digital assets‘), you also need to start planning out what the overall ‘style’ and ‘experience’ of your website will be. 

The style of the site usually requires some understanding of branding, design and creative / artistic skills.

For example, what will the size look like? If you already have brand colours and a preferred typography from your brand identity, will these work when you transfer them to your new website? Will these be appealing and readable? 

What abut the layout of your different content areas? Will these follow good design principles? What size will they appear on the page? When consumers view on different size devices like desktop, tablet or mobile, how will the site adjust to take that into account?

Working with agencies

When you work with agencies or specialists to build a website, they will normally propose an art director or designer to work on making sure the site ‘looks’ great.

They can help you define the overall style of the site. And they can set the parameters on the CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) where the colours, fonts and composition of a website are generally stored.

Marketing agencies will bring added expertise to your website style and design. But they’ll also add cost to the process. You need to balance out which matters most to you. Better style or cost saving. 

Three brains working together

User experience

Another point to remember when it comes to style, is that your website is interactive. Consumers won’t just look at a single page. They will move around the site, and so you will also need to spend some time working out the ‘user experience’. This has become a specialised skill where designers will look at for example where buttons are placed, how links are presented and how consumers interact with various elements on the site. 

This User Experience skill is about placing yourself in the shoes of a potential user and testing the site to make sure everything is in the best possible place for the user to get the site to do what they need it to do. To keep the housebuilding analogy going, it’s essentially the ‘architect’ role in creating your website home. 

Functionality – what it does

In order for your online home to be ‘liveable’, it doesn’t need to just contain ‘stuff’ and be designed, it also needs to function. Think of this area like adding utilities – electricity, gas, plumbing – to your actual home.

The ‘utilities’ of your website are essentially the HTML code in which it is written, the Javascript which makes it interactive and the data that the site generates.

If you are building a website on a template system like WordPress or Wix, you can use templates or plug-ins to take care of most of these areas, but if you are looking at more bespoke solutions, then the likelihood is you would be working with a developer with specialist knowledge. They will have the expertise to create code, set up systems and fix errors.

Web admin

You also need to consider that once the site is live, it needs to be ‘looked after’. Most bigger websites will have a “Web Admin” type role. This person is the first point of contact for any issues. They manage the site day to day and ensure upgrades and fixes are managed properly.

Developers and Web Admins also take responsibility for any marketing technology that underpins and connects to your website.

And of course, every time a consumer interacts with your website, they generate a piece of data. This data can help you build up a clearer picture of their needs and behaviours. But you need to set up your website with a tool like Google Analytics to capture this data. We cover more on this in our guide to digital data and insight.

Website planning measurable outcomes

In terms of what your website gives you as the brand or business owner, there are two main outcomes.

Firstly, there is the benefit for the consumer in terms of engagement, which is usually measured as either a passive engagement, an active engagement or a conversion. 

Passive engagement is when there is some interaction with the website but the user doesn’t identify themselves. So these types of engagement can be measures with for example, time spent on site or the number of clicks.

Google Analytics

Active engagement on the other hand is where the consumer does make a one-to-one connection. They become a known consumer. They identify themselves and request further contact. These can be measured with for example enquiries, shares, likes and registrations.

And finally, the most “active” engagement is that which results in an actual sale.

We cover the data and insight that sits behind your website planning in a seperate guide.

Website planning connected systems

When you have your own website, you also open up the flexibility to  integrate it with other marketing technology options. This integration of different systems is often called a ‘digital ecosystem’. We cover in-depth all of the tools in our guide to marketing technology

However, in the context of website planning, there are three key marketing technology tools that are most often used. 

Analytics and tagging are the systems that let you capture what people do on your website. And also how they reached your website and where they go next. Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager are the most common systems. 

Databases are where you hold and store information about specific customers who have given you permission to contact them. This is usually a list of people’s emails who subscribe to a CRM newsletter. There are a lot of technical and legal considerations when it comes to data. We cover those in our marketing technology guide.

E-Commerce for your website is when you manage your own online store. This demands an extra level of systems integration. In particular, the ability to manage an order to delivery. You also need to securely store the details of the customer’s account and transaction history.

Website planning conclusion

Your website is your online home. How you choose to set up that ‘home’ website experience to attract your consumers will depend on your target audience and your brand identity.

It can seem a daunting challenge to find the best combination of technical set-up and user experience when you start out.

But if you work through the key steps outlined in this article, you’ll be well on the way to having a successful website.

We do recommend you walk before you run when it comes to website planning. Start with simple content-based sites that help your consumers. 

Three-brains homepage screenshot

As you get more confident and comfortable with how websites work, then you get more ambitious with what your website can do. 

And don’t forget, it’s important to build knowledge of what your target audience wants from your website. That’s why you can really ramp up the style, functionality and integration with the wider digital ecosystem.

Three-brains and website planning

If you are a small or new business, three-brains can work with you to build your website planning skills. We have lots of experience in this area. We can guide you on blogging and how to set up quick and easy to manage content-based websites. 

And if you already have a website and want to plan out what to do next, we’ve worked with agencies and developers on a number of larger projects. These include e-Commerce set-up and multiple integrations with advanced software systems. 

We can guide you on how to work through the process of taking your website to the next level with expert and impartial coaching and consulting advice.

If you want to know more about how we can support your website planning and  digital marketing to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services, click the button below to send us a message.

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