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Consider building a website like building a house. You must begin with a solid foundation and architectural plans before you can apply paint or hang kitchen cabinets or the house will fall apart.

Creating even a basic website involves a great deal of planning and discovery before any design or development can begin. These initial planning and strategy phases allow the web team to uncover your needs, brand information, audience demographics and the core purpose of the site in order to build a solid foundation upon which the site’s “look and feel” (colors and fonts) can be applied.

The discovery phase allows the website/marketing team to ask the client a myriad of questions to determine the needs the site addresses, the problems it solves and the functionality it must possess. These may include:

What is the purpose of the website?

Will the site’s primary goal be to develop a list of qualified leads, to sell products, to provide resources or to strengthen brand awareness? If the goal is to develop leads, we would discuss how to create a website that is focused on lead generation and marketing automation and identify any third-party software that might be needed, such as an email service provider like Mailchimp or a marketing automation system like Hubspot. If the primary goal is to sell products online, the discussion would include e-commerce and shopping cart systems, as well as discussion of payment processors and site security. We would also investigate the products themselves, such as number of products and variations.

Who is the audience?

It is important to unearth the demographics of the site’s users (age, habits, education, comfort with technology, etc) to create a website experience that is useful to the audience and defines a clear path to your desired actions which may include filling out a form, requesting a demo or making a purchase.

Who are your competitors?

What do their websites have that you like or dislike? Looking at the competition can give you an idea of options available as well as how others in your market are positioning themselves online.

If you currently have a website, what do you like/dislike about it?

Chances are that a lot of time and thought went into your existing website; however, over time you may have discovered users are not engaging in the way you had hoped; elements are missing; or the site simply hasn’t kept up with changing technology and trends (for example, being mobile responsive). Letting us know what is or is not working can help us plan for additional features or layout modifications to ensure the site performs well for your audience.

Do you intend to update content/information yourself?

If you do, we would like to discuss your available resources and skill set in order to select the best content management system for you (Hubspot, WordPress, Joomla, Magento or something else). Each of the available content management systems have their own strengths and weaknesses and must be evaluated in relation to your specific needs.

Do you intend to provide user-restricted content?

Knowing in advance if your site will provide secure content to users allows us to investigate membership systems, user group plugins for content management systems and other login features as well as the need for an SSL certificate for secure data transfer.

Are there any specific site features you will need?

Websites can do whatever you need or want them to do. However, it is critical to know in advance what those features are so that the layout can accommodate them, the webhosting can support them, and the plugins are installed to manage them. These features can include:

  • Calendar
  • Forum
  • Login
  • Scheduling
  • Video
  • Event registration
  • Maps
  • Search
  • Live Chat
  • Current News
  • RSS feed

Have you done any SEO planning?

Search Engine Optimization is an important part of website development. Each page must be carefully structured (headings, navigation, layout, titles and links) and keywords strategically employed to improve your site’s chances of ranking in search engine results.

Who will provide the content?

While you know your business best, writing might not be your primary interest or the best use of your time. This often leads to lagging development and missed deadlines, potentially missing your desired launch date. Additionally, content has become an important part of SEO, making specific language and word choice an important part of your SEO strategy.  Your web development team can work with you to develop a content strategy that leverages your existing resources to create information that users understand, accurately represents your business and is attractive to search engines.

Do you need integration with social media?

This is really a silly question. With the online landscape as it currently sits, social media integration is vital to your site.  But how much is needed is based on your site, your needs and your target audience. For you, integration might simply mean links to your business’s social media channels. Or, it can mean social media sharing widgets for blog posts and news items, sharing of images, and the use of social media commenting systems and feeds.

Conclusion

The above questions are by no means exhaustive. Each of your specific answers will lead to another set of questions. However, they begin to give a sense of the planning that’s necessary before any design occurs.  It is only after these questions are answered that your web team can begin to think about the sitemap (the pages needed), the visual sitemap (how users accesses the pages) and the wireframes that provide structure to the information displayed. Like paint and kitchen cabinets in the new house, the “look and feel” of the site comes last.

Visual sitemap

Wreframes/layout planning

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