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Tuesday, 05 May 2015 09:29

Website Development Guide

When contemplating a new website, it’s understandable that you may want to jump ahead to the fun stuff – you know - that part of the process that involves brainstorming ideas for advanced features or looking at other websites for insight as to what digital bells and whistles are out there.

The reality however is that features and graphics shouldn’t be your starting point.

If you are that serious about your website, there are many other critical factors to deliberate and a lot of planning to be undertaken before design and functionality should even be considered

Tip: “Always keep in mind that your website is not about you – it’s about what a visitor to your site wants as well as what your company needs to achieve”

INTRODUCTION

We consider a website to be an important asset as well as a digital hub where users need to be diverted to through digital marketing actions and campaigns.

A good website grabs your audience’s attention, evokes their emotions, and serves them information that they expect to find - and need - so as to help them shape their decisions – quickly and conveniently.

But to establish a professional, convincing and engaging online presence requires a lot of work and patience.  And building an effective website requires investment not only in terms of money but more importantly, also by way of time and effort.

So here are some of the dynamics that we believe are essential to keep in mind when taking the steps to building a website for your business:

STEP 1: OBJECTIVES

A website should – above all else - help you achieve your business’ goals.

Before you can even begin to consider design or functionality, you first need to really understand your website’s objectives.

What do you want your website to do? And how will that help you achieve your larger business goals?

While this may sound a bit trivial, determining what you need from your website is probably one of the most challenging aspects in its construction.

Tip: “Objectives and Goals can never be vague, general, or universal. They always need to be very specific and variable to your company’s current position, strengths, weaknesses, competitive environment and future aspirations.  Your website goals and objectives should be an extension of your greater business strategy”.

To determine Goals and Objectives, we first need to define the following:

A. Who is your audience? For website development purposes, it’s not a general audience that should be targeted – instead – the focus should be steered to a specific audience that can be reached and influenced through a digital strategy and related actions.  Usually, this audience is a smaller and more distinct portion of the target population

Tip: “Think about it simply as a way of defining who you are creating the website for”.

B. Segment your Audience into Target Groups: Your company offers different products and services. In the same way, every visitor to your website has different needs and expectations - you need to identify what those are before anything else so that they can be assigned to the different audience groups. Once you have done this, you can then choose the most optimal way to prioritize your target segment (e.g. based on revenue, coverage, conversion ability, size) and build personas around each.

C. Personas: Creating personas will help you simplify the process of figuring out the best way to engage with and influence each target segment. A good exercise would be to put down on paper the critical information and arguments you believe would be more convincing and/or necessary in relation to each persona.  During this process, try to visualize a face to face sales meeting and attempt to identify those arguments that would have the most impact on specific segments and personas.

Tip: “When defining your arguments try putting yourself in your clients’ shoes and have a “what’s in it for me” attitude.”

D. Competition and Environment: You need to think about who your competition is when devising your digital strategy. See if there is something particular out there that you like and believe could benefit your business – or that you would like to be associated with.  At the same time, determine if there is anything you need to avoid.

Tip: “Examine what your competition is doing in terms of digital actions and campaigns and identify if there is something you can improve on or introduce to the market.”

E. Traffic Channels: This is the point where you need to think about the different ways you can create traffic for your website so as to get your target audience (personas) to visit your site. This is a high-level plan of defining the main ways as well as the channels through which you plan on getting each target market segment where you want them to be - your website. The main channels are as follows:

  1. Digital Advertising (click on a banner)
  2. Social media
  3. Direct
  4. Organically

While in the process of defining your traffic channels, also start identifying the position your users are in their sales cycle. This means you need to try and understand their level of awareness, knowledge of your product and also their purchasing mood (at the moment of their visit).

Tip: “Your competition and target digital channels are matters that should be analyzed in detail when formulating your digital strategy. If however your company does not have a detailed digital strategy in place, you need to think about who your competition is, possible channels for gaining qualified traffic to your website and the activities you expect to run through each channel, before commencing the design of your site.”

F. Realistic Website Objectives: Once points 1 – 4 above have been clearly defined, we can then proceed to set clear and realistic website objectives, each of which possess 5 characteristics – they need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

The most important and common objectives pertain to Conversion and Engagement:

Conversions are actions taken by users that are valuable for the company and are closely related to sales. Although conversions can be actual sales completed through the web, they are more frequently to do with lead generation or any action taken by the users that show direct purchase intent.

Engagement has more to do with user actions that evidence some interest by a user to connect and engage more intimately with your brand. Engagement objectives have to do with creating authority, relationships, as well as loyalty between the user and the company. Engagement objectives should also lead to sales but in a more indirect manner.

In Forrester’s report Marketing’s New Key Metric: Engagement, 2007, four main components are identified as attributes for customer engagement:

  • Involvement — Measurable aspects of an individual connection to an organization or brand
  • Interaction — Depth/breadth of an individual connection
  • Intimacy — Sentiment of an individual towards organization/brand
  • Influence — Indicators that an individual will encourage someone else to visit, consider or buy

For those companies that utilize digital strategies that prioritize branding over direct sale approach conversions, engagement objectives seems to be of higher value. Companies that, due to their position, product mix, competition and strategic objectives, require a more aggressive approach to sales and lead generation, usually focus more on conversion based objectives.

Tip1: “No matter your approach, companies that want to stick around for the long-haul need to include campaigns and activities in their marketing strategy that achieve both objectives (just with different weights) as it is the combination of both that creates those synergies needed to expand sales performance.”

To achieve our objectives we set website & campaign goals. One goal or a group of goals may be placed and tracked, to measure the level of efficiency of our website’s & campaigns.

Examples of Conversion Goals:

  • Purchase or order from the website
  • Download of sale information (brochures, registration applications, etc.)
  • Sent email (request a call back, request a quote, product info, etc.)
  • Direct call (tracked call conversions)

Examples of Engagement Goal:

  • Increasing your newsletter subscribers
  • Time spent on site or specific pages, as well as related Page views
  • Recency & Frequency
  • The number of follows on social media
  • Comments, reviews & social interactions
  • Non-sale information requests
  • Interest in participating in company events

There are of course many more but these should give you some idea of attainable goals.

Tip2: “Setting the right goals will not just keep you focused on your strategic objectives but it will also allow us to configure your analytics to get daily reporting on your KPI’s,  creating a process of you being able to understand what works and at the same time avoid bad assumptions and theories”

STEP 2. CONCEPT & FRAMEWORK DEVELOPMENT

Once we are clear on who the target audience is, channels, objectives and website goals, we can then start discussing the look and feel of the website – its general architecture in other words.  For this we need to consider the following two parameters:

Concept – this is all to do with the look and feel of the website (style, type, language, branding guidelines, etc.), the principle functionalities that we plan to implement (different widgets, tools, etc.) and the content categories (the type of information, messages and arguments that we want to include).

Framework – this is all about the high level architecture – the key pages that will be created (for conversion purposes), what they will contain, as well as who and how we plan to divert the target audience to those pages.

Once these parameters have been established, we can create a wireframe design which will give you an idea of what the website will look like visually (without any styling elements)

SOS Tip: “This stage defines the structure of your User Interface (UI). The UI will have a huge impact on the user experience in terms of website navigation, as well as your site’s effectiveness in terms of achieving the goals you have prioritized. That’s why wire-framing is a critical step that shouldn’t been taken lightly.”

STEP 3. WEBSITE CONTENT

Now that the wireframes – the website skeleton - are ready we can proceed in creating the first draft of the site’s content. At this stage, we need to document our main arguments - and begin the copywriting process.

Upon completion of the first drafts, we can better evaluate which parts of our content are clear and well supported, what needs more work, and whether any supplementary visual representation (images, info-graphics, illustrations, videos etc.) or specific functionalities are required.

Creating content for your website is usually the most frustrating and time consuming phase in the entire web development process but it is critical for the success of your site. That’s why we always suggest that our clients utilize a professional copy-writer that will assist them in putting their thoughts, ideas and insight to paper, so as to effectively communicate with their target market.

STEP 4. WEBSITE DESIGN

At this stage we are finally ready to start designing our website.  

Taking into account all the steps and findings so far, we provide sample website templates in Photoshop/illustrator files. The templates include designs of the most important pages (Home Page plus 1-2 additional pages) of the website. The designs are centered on aesthetics and creativity which are by nature very subjective and it is therefore expected that they will change hands a couple of times before a final design is decided upon.

Once we have finalized the overall design of the website, we then proceed to the development phase.

Tip: “It is preferable to experiment more on paper rather than make a lot of changes at the development phase of the website. If you have any doubts about the design, irrespective of whether you think those doubts are valid or not, this is the best time to express them”

STEP 5. WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT

Once the framework and design chapters are concluded, we proceed to the development phase of your website which consists of 7 main steps listed below in sequential order:

  • Analysis and planning of the project.
  • Setting up the core CMS platform and adding the required modules (extended functionality modules).
  • Implement any custom functionality and/or utilities (usually require custom programming) for the front end or back end users.
  • Create the front end template which is the basic layout of the website (the wireframe design)
  • CSS programming which is basically the visual construction of the website so that it looks exactly like the final website design decided upon in Step 4. CSS design impacts everything on the website that is visible to the user.
  • Integrations: Once the website is ready some form of integration may have to take place so that the site communicates properly with other systems (for e.g. accounting software, an external provider that sends or requires product info, etc.).
  • Review, implementing finishing touches - as well as identify and resolve bugs, etc.

Website development is a labor intensive process and corresponding cost is accumulated in direct relation to the complexity of the development structure/system.

Complex issues that drive cost fluctuations commonly arise in the following 3 areas:

  • Integration(s) is usually complicated and consequently expensive. Before integrating systems you need to be certain that there is a significant underlying benefit for it.
  • Custom functionality - something that needs to be developed from scratch requires considerable thought and labor. Programming can be quite complicated sometimes and high costs may result from what appear to be minor functionality details (something that seems easy and logical but may not be easy to do in terms of development). There are usually other alternatives that offer similar results. It may not be exactly as you originally imagined but simple enough that the cost-to-benefit analysis may change your perspective on things. You need to be focused on the greater objectives of your website and digital strategy, rather than on isolated functionality features.
  • Complex design – designing a website is nothing like designing on paper.  Designing on the web requires a type of programming called CSS and -depending on the Photoshop design - CSS complexity can fluctuate significantly, impacting cost.
Tip: “While attention to detail can make a difference in the UI, you need to be careful not to get too carried away with unnecessary styling or functionality details that won’t have any effect on your overall website performance.  This is a common slip-up a lot of people fall foul to, especially during their first web development projects. This usually ends up in lost deadlines and higher costs”

STEP 6. FINAL REVIEW & ADJUSTMENTS

The development phase is done. Now it’s time to test for bugs and iron out any design issues.

Even though all the right steps have been actioned methodically, finalizing the development process comes with it various issues that may need further attentive action and improvement.

When planning your website, always make sure to leave a window of 1-2 weeks open - before going live - to use for testing, fixing bugs and putting the final touches to the site’s design. This will minimize unanticipated issues that often arise with the live launch of a project.

Tip: “The first days of launching a live project (especially if it is a large and/or complicated one) will often be a bit bumpy. That’s why most companies have a soft launch to test their system in a live environment.  There are a number of ways to implement a soft launch but they all have one common goal – to notify those using the website of any technical problems encountered being that it is a new system after all – not because we are not a good company.”

STEP 7. OPTIMIZATION

Optimization starts a couple of weeks after you site goes live. To start evaluating the performance of your website - in relation to your goals and objectives - you would effectively need to test it in a real environment after accumulating a critical traffic mass (significant population sample) that can help you identify the weak areas that need improvement or re-design.

Tip: “There is no a bullet-proof strategy or process that ensures success. We always start with a good theory of what could work but getting it 100% right the first time is not a realistic expectation. A positive ROI will result from an optimization process rather than a once off outcome. How soon you reach that depends on 3 main factors: (1) Your commitment to the goal (2) The analytics you have in place configured in such a way to offer valuable insight rather than data noise, and (3) Having digital partners that will assist you in transforming your particular industry expertise into successful digital strategies”

We at CONVERTPLC DIGITAL MARKETING AGENCY LTD believe that not all websites are created equal.

We believe that you need and deserve a website that is visually appealing, intuitive and well-engineered. One that is also conversion focused.

You website needs to be so much more than an online brochure.  It has to be convincing and effectively engaging so as to convert visitors into actual buying customers.

It needs to attract an audience with whom creating a bond for future business opportunities can be achieve.

HOW CAN WE HELP?

Well, if you like our approach and believe that it can help you create the type of website you want for your company, we can guide you through this challenging process - offering guidance, support and suggestions throughout at every part of the process.

We will put together a summary report at the finalization of every phase which will include all our ideas, findings and conclusions that you would need to approve before proceeding to the next phase.

These reports will aid in keeping all team members (clients, marketers, designers, developers etc.) on the same page, organized and focused on the same objectives. Good communication is usually what makes the difference between a good project and a great one.

About ConvertPLC

We use the massive power of the internet to help you take your business from local - to global - to profitable.

Keep in Touch

  info (@) convertplc.com
  +357.22.396997
  Corner of Gladstonos & Lordou Vironos No38

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