No one woke up thinking I need to buy more websites today. Normally we have goals or reasons as to why we want to purchase a site. However, it is really easy to get trapped in the cliche business reasons for a website. Such as, I need more brand presence, we need more marketing, or we need to increase sales and our bottom line. What really matters is the initiatives that are tied to these reasons. Instead we can easily find ourselves trying to keep up with the Joneses. Just because those reasons matter to others doesn’t mean they matter to me. This is where building a website actually gets hard. Being able to sit down and think about goals that matter to you and the business is hard. Understanding the real business issues, needs, and goals, has to come first before any line of code is typed. So take one step further and ask yourself why does a website matter?
The biggest problem in building a website or improving a current one is the reason why? We easily get caught in technical features and benefits of buying from company A vs company B. The website industry has become heavily commoditized rather than being seen as a service. Keeping up with the Joneses (aka the competition) is more important than our customers, so we buy based on bells and whistles, aka a commodity style deal. When we buy based on a commodity mindset everyone loses and we find ourselves disappointed with the outcome.
So below are a list of questions and steps to consider before hiring a company to build a website. These questions are to help you understand why and see value in what you are about to do.
Define the Purpose of the site
Before moving forward with planning, take some time to discover the reason for purchasing the website. In today’s society it’s easy to just try and keep up with the Joneses. However without a true purpose that has been defined your site will easily become white noise. Everyone has a website, which means that there is a flooded market. That also means that authentic content and branding have become more important than ever. It’s cool if you have a website, but so uncool if you look and act just like everyone else. Identity is huge.
Map Out Your Journey
Take some time and map out what winning looks like from beginning to end.
Here are some questions to help with that process
- What purpose will the website serve?
- What do you need vs what can you afford? Most times the dream of what we want is larger than our budget. To help alleviate the impossible and gain momentum, list out what aspects of the site can wait and what other aspects are needed to launch.
- What aspects of the business will the site impact?
- Why is the timeline for the project important and why?
- What people or departments are tied to the site?
- Are you going to be updating the site?
- What happens next once the site is live and on the internet?
- Who is going to maintain and protect your investment after launch?
- What value will it provide internally?
- How will it serve your clients?
Understand What Your Customers Actually Want
What do they want? When was the last time you had an in-depth conversation with your customers to ask them about what matters to them? One of the hardest things to do in business is to stop and understand our customers. It is very easy to assume why people are doing business with us, the hard part is actually understanding the real reasons. Once you understand your customers you can create a customer focused site, with content, UI and UX all based around them. Amazon is a prime example of this. They prioritize customers and focus on what they want, then they make improvements to the business. Examples are: search functionality, pricing, buyer experience, returns, etc.
It’s important to be able to define what winning looks like for the finished project. The clearer the vision is the better the end result of the project will be.
It is much easier to paint a picture if you can see the end result rather than having it in your mind. Taking your vision and translating it into a website is where the work really begins. Start by outlining and writing down what the project looks like and how it will positively impact the company.
What Key Initiatives Are Tied To The Site?
Oftentimes when we think about websites we are not thinking about what company initiatives are tied to it. Most of the time we think about marketing, or branding. It is important to consider what other company initiatives are affected by the site. What departments can leverage the site to their benefit? Marketing is great but understanding the systemic effects of the website within the company will enable you to build a long term solution rather than a bandaid.
Does Data Matter To You?
Collecting Data as a general rule is good. But data never really matters until you’re ready to begin measuring and understanding. An example of this would be Amazon. They have a high focus on customer behavior and experience so they invest hundreds of millions in data analysis to measure and understand their customers.
Data is radically different from information. Data itself is useless so it actually needs to be translated into useful information. To grasp the difference between data and information, think about it like this, information is useful data. Data can be random numbers on a graph or chart and information is data that has been tied to an initiative for measurement.
Overcoming the problem of turning data into information, requires two steps. Step one is understanding what needs to be measured. This goes back to understanding KPIs and initiatives tied to the site. Step two is finding data that can be used to measure.
If being informed is important to you, list out what initiatives you are trying to measure, and what key performance indicators are tied to those initiatives.
Believe it or not, what you need the site to do functionally is going to be based on your goals for the business. The value of functionality is found in how it helps you accomplish your goals. If there are no real goals or initiatives attached to the site the functionality can actually become a hindrance. Too much functionality can be overwhelming and actually cause a negative experience.
Understanding your customers is also a key factor in site functionality. Building a site based on your customers is one of the driving factors behind site functionality. So knowing who is partnering with you and buying your product or services is crucial to knowing what functionality provides value to your clients vs what functionality does not.
Third Party Technology vs From Scratch
To help understand this point we need to think of a website as a house. A house is something that I can own, it is also something I am in control of. That being said, this is where it differs a little bit for websites. You do own your digital property, you are in control of it, however, items or features inside of your house can be rented rather than built.
The technology inside of a website can oftentimes be rented or purchased for a one-time fee. This means that development costs can be brought down significantly. Developing from scratch is costly and usually should only occur when the site itself is Intellectual property.
Who’s in charge of content?
Content is the king of the internet so that automatically makes the content of the site one of the most valuable aspects. So before you move forward with a website design company you need to ask yourself who is doing the content.
The internet is a crowded place and there is also a lot of white noise. Just having content is not good enough. Being able to tell your story and connect with your audience is more important today than it ever has been. Attention is more valuable and people are becoming more tribal so connecting with the right customers is more challenging than ever before.
The marketplace is becoming more and more tribal as big tech keeps moving forward. So a few things to consider about content.
- Who are you talking to?
- Who is your ideal customer?
- How did you get here today?
Normally in the tech world, we refer to the client experience as UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience). Instead I think it is important to see that a website is no different than a restaurant or store. That means asking yourself, what experience are your customers going to have? What product sells most, and what square footage of the website is the most profitable? Within the last five years Google termed a phase called No-Line. No-Line means that users no longer see the difference between a physical location and their online presence. As a result it is now more important to create a customer experience online. Some things to help with that.
- What do you want your users to feel when they are on the site?
- What is your brand personality?
- Make sure you have the user flow mapped out.
- Is important information easily accessible?
- Is it confusing for customers to find what they are looking for?
How Are You Going To Get People To Your Site?
This is a huge question. It may not be applicable to you if you just need a site for reference like a business card, but a large majority of us are looking to generate revenue and sales through the web. So what are your plans to get traffic to your site? In the late 90s and early 2000s if you had a website you were just about guaranteed to make sales, in today’s world it’s more like if you’re not online are you even legit?
So after the site is launched don’t expect instantaneous business. There is real work ahead to drive traffic and gain people’s attention. It’s important to think ahead. A lot of work can be done upfront in developing the site too if you are already thinking about traffic.
Marketing can also affect the project timeline from both a development side and business side. It is important to consider what happens next after the site is launched.
What Happens When It’s Live?
This is an important question. Just because it’s live doesn’t mean that the site is not going to need regular maintenance or upkeep. The site is built on technology which is ever-changing.
After the site is live there is a whole list of work that needs to be taken care of to maintain and protect your investment. Websites just like a car need consistent maintenance and care to keep them healthy and running properly.
Questions A Good Web Designer Should Ask:
- How will you measure marketing effectiveness?
- What KPIs are attached to the site?
- What teams will be directly impacted to the site?
- What are the current company initiatives for:
- 1 years
- 3 years
- 5 years
- How do you define a qualified lead?
- What existing technology will need to be incorporated into the site?
- What systems will be directly impacted by the website?
- Do you currently have Brand Guidelines?
- Describe the company’s brand.
- Who are the company’s current customers? Why do they buy from you?