Before you make big decisions about rebuilding a website, it’s worth determining the goals of your website.
Lots of small businesses use their web real estate as a simple online brochure, while other large organizations bake in layers of complexity and intention. There’s no definitive right or wrong answer, but understanding the problems you’re trying to solve for your customers can help ensure you spend your time and money the right way.
What’s a Website For?
To understand this question, it can be helpful to view your potential website through three lenses:
Understanding your audience’s needs and wants, and what factors matter versus what factors are perceived to matter is an important first step. One of the most effective ways to split the threads between what we think and how we act (and how that division applies to your industry) is to invest in well-structured research. Asking the right questions with an accurate sample size and sound methodology can give you insights that will not only help you build an effective website, but can help inform every business decision you make.
If you don’t have the budget to justify an investment like that, you can pull together some thrifty insights from conversations with your audience. Try to pull together a mix of former customers, current customers and target customers. Here are some basic questions you’ll want answers to in order to craft a good web experience:
- What do customers value in your industry?
- What are the common frustrations they run into?
- What information do they know when they arrive at your site, and what information would it be important for them to know?
- What criteria do they use to select a solution?
- What factors would lead them (or have led them) to cancel or return a product or solution in your space?
Understanding your industry is an important next step. Knowing your competitors, what kinds of services they offer and their strengths and weaknesses through the lens of learnings you’ve gathered from your audience is incredibly important. Questions to answer:
- What kinds of messaging do they lead with on their website?
- Are there any customer demographics they’re catering to or ignoring?
- Is there a clear journey from your first impression on the homepage to a ‘bottom-of-the-funnel’ call-to-action?
- What kind of a story do they tell? How does it compare to the one you tell to your customers?
Try to plot yourself next to these other providers with your customer insights in mind and decide where you fit in the landscape. Do you offer high-touch, personalized service in an industry of automation? Or do you provide a smooth, seamless experience in a world where consumers have been hung up on needless extra steps and frustrating inefficiencies? Understanding and positioning yourself in what we call the ‘blue ocean’ space – the area where customers’ needs aren’t quite matched by other providers – can help you differentiate yourself, regardless of how crowded or open the industry.
Now, you can decide what kind of website experience you want to build:
- What kind of experience do you want to offer customers?
- What final action do you want a potential customer to take on your website?
- What pieces of information do potential customers need to understand about you as a provider before they’ll take that action?
So How Do We Build It?
Magneti’s process for creating a website that effectively answers the question of ‘what’s it for’ follows these six phases:
- Research, Strategy and Planning
- Concepting (what we call ‘Wireframing’) and Content
- Launch and Quality Assurance (QA)
- Training and Handoff
Research, Strategy and Planning
Once you know what and who your website is for, we can dive into the tactical details of how to build it. This phase includes elements like:
- A collaborative, documented strategy outlining the right goals for your website centered around your customers’ needs
- An analysis of your competitive space
- A page-by-page inventory with recommendations for each
- Identifying sustainable, effective technologies and tools that align with goals and budget – both at the time of the site launch and through to the next iteration of your website
- Identifying the right balance of unique and custom elements versus ease of future edit-ability
- Website architecture, including navigation, a URL and redirect strategy and a full site map
An effective research, strategy, and planning phase provides a roadmap to a live site and informs all the work that follows.
Wireframing and Content
Building on the ideas and requirements from our strategy phase, we move into concept planning and basic wireframing. Wireframes are typically defined as ‘blueprints’ for a website, identifying functionality and layout and showing how different sections come together to form a web page. Wireframes also help demonstrate the flow from one page to another through internal linking and calls-to-action.
When we wireframe, we map out the journey of a user. We identify where the user journey begins and ends and fill in any steps the user will take in between. We’ll often choose the final action we want a user to take, then work backwards through each step of their journey until we arrive at the very first keyword they decide to search.
Once we’ve identified the user journey through wireframing, we’ll being to map content to each page using the page-by-page inventory and recommendations from the strategy phase, and then generate any new content to fill in any gaps.
One of Magneti’s strengths is providing flexibility for our partners in a process that can easily become overly rigid. While it intuitively makes sense to have content follow wireframing, the challenges of collaborating on refining old content and generating new content within a timeline often shift the flow of this phase. It’s like riding a bicycle: wireframing will push the first pedal, followed by content pushing the next one, followed by wireframing, followed by content. Lots of communication and a flexible, agile partner can help you work around internal pressures or capacity problems without compromising a set launch date.
Design is where we take our wireframes and begin to layer on branded elements like color, photography, fonts and patterns. Design choices are driven by the user journey and interplay with the content on the page. The best design provides a visual hierarchy that the user can easily follow: first the user should focus on x, then y and then z.
Concepts like double-readership path – choosing the story that skimming the headlines tells vs. the story that comes from reading every word on the page – and tools like margin, gutter and grid use all help bring these pages to life. We typically design a series of custom ‘page types’ rather than designing each page completely custom. That helps the user experience consistency when viewing multiple pages across the site, and it helps us layer in additional ease-of-management and edit-ability for our partners to make efficient changes to their website in the future.
Once we’ve finalized our designs, it’s time to build the website. Development is the most technical, brick-laying step in our process as we build both the front-end (what the user sees) and back-end features (what the site manager sees). The amount of time it takes to build page designs into fully-functioning webpages depends on what platform a website is built, who hosts that website and the complexity of functionality we’re incorporating. For building and maintaining an effective marketing website, we typically point our partners towards WordPress. However, platforms like Squarespace and Wix can be a quick road to an easily-editable, functioning website for new or smaller companies working on a tight budget and a short timeline. We’ve also built in platforms like Shopify and HubSpot to help our partners better meet the needs of their audience.
During the development phase, we’ll also build out a compliant and transparent data collection framework featuring elements like contact forms, chat windows and calls-to-action, and we’ll help connect your website to Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager and Google Search Console. We’ll implement SEO features such as page titles, meta descriptions, schema markups and alt tags to help your website be seen accurately by major search engines.
We’ll help you identify the right web hosting solution and navigate scary terms like ‘DNS’ (domain naming system). We’ll collaborate with you on what types of things you need to be able to change without a phone call to a developer in the middle of the night and what items are custom enough to require a professional touch. And by the end, we’ll share a hidden URL that you can test with every page loaded and cared for.
Launch + Quality Assurance
Launch and quality assurance (QA) is where we take your website live to the world. This includes pointing the domain (URL) to the new website we’ve built and, in some cases, migrating the site onto your web hosting platform. QA is a final check to ensure every ‘i’ is dotted and every form submission is getting forwarded to the right person at your organization.
Training + Handoff
Websites can be remarkably simple or remarkably complex, and there isn’t a single definitive template for an effective website. Lead with your customers’ needs, understand your competitive space, identify the goals of your site and hire a partner who can help you turn them into a reality. When you put time and care into the process, it reveals itself through the actions of your customers.
If you have any questions about building or optimizing a website, we are happy to help!