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How to Plan a Website Development Project

You think you’re ready to build that new website you’ve been thinking about? The new website that's going to help you convert more of your audience to paying customers, keep them better informed and help you grow your business online. Thats great! Now how you plan your website development project makes all the difference in how long it actually will take to build. Plan carefully, be prepared, then let put your plan into action to launch that fantastic new site for your business.

A website development project is complicated. At first, most people think, all they need is a few pictures and some text and they’ll have enough for a website. Sadly, more than 90% of first time website development projects will fail to meet the initial deadlines set. This is due to one reason, not being prepared for all the elements of a good website.

Under planned and not enough understanding all of the content, keywords, page descriptions, imagery, process, customer signup subscription options and further on-going content requirements. To help guarantee your success, here’s a guide to a new website development project. If you’ve ever developed your own site you’ll know it's just not as easy as it first appears.

Step One - Content Stocktake

Before you start your website development project do a content stocktake:

  1. what’s written so far
  2. what needs writing
  3. what type of imagery do we have
  4. what imagery do we need (or want)
  5. do we need video - what could work for our business
  6. do we have brochures or other pdf media
  7. what could we offer a new visitor as a way to capture their email
  8. do we need to consider a competition
  9. do we run events and if so what does this content look like
  10. do we have multiple locations and content with imagery for each of those
  11. will we need personal headshot of owners, managers and staff
  12. what does the search landscape look like for keywords in our industry
  13. what types of content are our competitors using and could we do better

As a side note - make a checklist of all the assets you have, you don't have and you wish you had, then score those assets out of 10 to give you a reference point on each of your items.

Step Two - Page Analysis

After you review and prepare your content assets the next step is to have a look at your page requirements. Here you’ll determine how many pages you need for your site. Here’s few areas to consider:

  1. The “Landing Page” or Home page
  2. About page
  3. Contact page
  4. Site Map
  5. Subscribe for content page
  6. Subscriber notification pages
  7. Squeeze pages that might not be included in your main navigation
  8. Services pages
  9. Store pages
  10. Shopping cart checkout pages and notices
  11. Site user pages if you have members on your site
  12. Blog List page (a list of the latest blogs)
  13. Blog Detail pages (the page which displays your latest blog)
  14. Event Registrations
  15. News or forums
  16. Photo Galleries
  17. Media Download pages
  18. Privacy and Terms pages

A side note here - Once you have a list of the pages you need, revert back to Step One to review your content stocktake and see how your page wish list matches with your content assets.

Step Three - Navigation

Now that you have your page lists determined you can work on the site navigation. This is always best done in consultation with your developer, however, you should have a fair idea of what's going to be needed. Depending on the complexity of your site it's best to plan for only 2 levels of navigation if you have to go to 3 thats ok too, just be aware it's harder for users to find those pages. Try and get a feel for how you want your users to actually use the site.

The goal you should have for a visitor is, how would you like them to actually use the site? Is it to sign up for a newsletter, complete a registration form, stop by the store and pick up a product, complete an enquiry form, or possibly download an eBook or White Paper. When you determine what is you would like your viewers to do, you’ll then be able to better understand how the navigation will help them achieve your ultimate goal. How will they move from page to page and end up having the experience you hope will bring them back again.

A side note here - compile the best 3-5 sites that you like, as examples of what you feel would work well for your business. They don't have to be in your industry either, you may have seen a function or a feature from another site you think would help your customers with using your site.

Step Four - Domain Name

You may already have acquired your new domain name, but is it as good as it could be? Most customers without a product specific domain name like - SydneyGlass or BondiMechanic will have a hard time initially finding a favourable position with search. If your business location is key to search then the domain name you choose should include the city or suburb like SydneyBedding.com or better still BondiBedding.com. This will highly improve your chances of finding the coveted first page on search rankings within that descriptive keyword that your potential visitors will be searching for.

It takes some research on google (and other search engines) to determine what keywords are being used, there are lists on google for alternate searches listed at the bottom, so do some homework. If you choose to go with a domain name that says nothing about what you do, then be prepared to have to work very hard with page content, google places and other directories, probably adwords advertising at first, and many other SEO practices to ensure your site makes it to the top.

A side note here - capture the domain names that best describe your business.

Step Four - Hosting

Hosting determines where you intend the site to be hosted so that your site can be viewed on the internet. Hosting providers come in all shapes and sizes too. A simple search for hosting providers in your city or country will display literally 100s of options. Hosting is ultra competitive and many hosts offer you the domain name registration with a hosting plan. In some cases the dot com dot au extension is only serviced by domain registrars in Australia. With this in mind you may consider splitting domain and hosting services providers. While moving hosting providers isn't complex it's a task that is best avoided by doing your homework and choosing a hosting provider that best suits your budget and website hosting needs.

A side note here - select a company with quality phone support and possibly a social media channel setup for customer service.

Step Five - Choosing a development company

Before selecting a development company you have to determine your budget. There are horses for courses. The development company that fits within your budget allowance might not have all the capabilities, but that will likely be a compromise you will have to make if you’re on a tight budget. Allowing for a contingency in your budget is always a good idea, generally what happens is some functions won't always work the way you planned them to and in some cases you may need to retool something or redesign and possibly develop new functionality. Always have a contingency fund available to ensure the development phase can continue if something doesn't work for users as you’d hoped.

The development company that is offers guarantees for the works they complete, flexible payment options, quality example sites with demos and references, a commitment to a daily / weekly screen share or conference call to progress, and the ability to provide insightful solutions to your needs are the areas that will mainly affect the decision you make to select a web development company.

Just a side note - most development companies are not design companies ask what design skills or creative staff will be included in the project teams.

Step Six - Preparing to work with the development company

After you commence development be prepared for the first 30 days for seemingly not much to happen. There is generally a lot of page template construction, navigation setup and store processing decision to be worked on behind the scenes. You should also be preparing yourself to learn the CMS options for the platform you’ve selected. Ask the developer where the resources for the CMS can be found so that you can familiarize yourself with the system. When the initial site skeletons are available during the content setup phase you’ll then be able to work in with the developers on adding content and making adjustments where needed.

A side note here - having a collaboration tool or project management platform can really help keep the project on point to achieve each of the milestones.

Step Seven - Site launch and after support care

After you’ve completed the final site evaluation and tested all the functions yourself you should be ready to give the approval to launch the site. A good practice here is to have a series of users use the site while it's still in final testing. This way you can see if its as easy to use as you think or hope it is. Invite some guests to test out your site and possibly even a few of your current customers. After all, they will actually be using it, so why not look for feedback from actual users. After you have the AOK that all the functionality is as you hoped it would be (or as close as possible for first launch) then set a 30 day revaluation or review based on the support requests that are raised in the first 30 days. Adding a feedback pop-up or icon on the site can be a great way to improve the experience for your users.

A side note here - retest the entire site once you push it live and make any adjustments while the site is live. Its really time consuming and hard on users to pull the site down and put it up again, sometimes you have to work on changes while the site is live.

When you’re looking to build a new website or redesign a current website then you need to have a plan. Without a plan and an understanding of the content needed launching the site on time will be only a wish. Plan as best you can before you start any development choices.

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About the Author

 

Adam-Mole

About Adam Mole

Adam is the proprietor of start up BPO company Transeo and has been working with offshore and outsourcing services for more than 20 years. Adam is passionate about small business. He likes to write about his experiences in sales and startup business ventures. In his spare time you'll find him on one of Sydney's south coast beaches surfing and smiling. Email Adam at adam.mole@transeo.com.au and follow Adam on Twitter @adam_transeo.

 


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