In the beginning, there is just an empty space on the web, waiting — hungry and alone — for you to fill it.
By the end, you’ve filled that space with the most delicious content available, with endless full tables savoring every byte.
In the middle, there is planning, philosophy, content generation, design considerations, and more details that seem possible to manage. How do you get from the start to the finish? That’s Web Site Strategy 101.
Putting everything in place before you even start to build a great web presence is at least half the work.
- Write a great requirements document. “Coming up with a simple list of requirements for the project you want completed makes good sense, not just once you’ve chosen your vendor, but before you choose your vendor. There are several advantages to providing vendors with a list — just a page, nothing fancy — of what you want your site to look like, contain, and do, and any special concerns you have before you start.”
- Build the systems that support the web site and the web site that supports your systems. “The web site, however, is the [project] that provides the platform on which every other project must come into sychronization; where the systems of marketing, operations, accounting, and customer service overlap; and where the entrepreneur must automate every single process that currently exists only in his head.”
- Have a philosophy about your online persona. “Be honest. Be literate. Be respectful. Be consistent. Be human…That’s the best way to sell your work, your product, and your business online. The rest is just pixels and characters.”
Get the Recipes Ready
This is not an improvised meal of leftovers with cheese melted on top. This is haute cuisine, and a good recipe is absolutely required. Plan carefully and the results will be mouthwatering.
- Plan your time wisely before the project even begins. “You signed the contract with the vendor in July. The kickoff meeting was in August. The project was slated to be running through development phases through the fall, with a final launch in early November. T’s were crossed, i’s were dotted, and the calendar was shiny and organized. So why is it now nearly March with no sign of the project end in sight?”
- Decide if you should be doing this on your own or hiring an expert. “If you have the right combination of technical skill, time, and perseverance, you can put together a pretty good site…However, if you find yourself easily frustrated by technology, short on time, and/or likely to give up on a complicated project that drives you crazy, you are probably better off investing in a professional web development firm.“
- Be aware of the three most important questions about your new web site. “How does it look? What’s on it? What does it do?”
- Figure out how it should look. “Think in terms of emotions — are you aiming for energetic or mellow? Professional or personable? Edgy or traditional? Chatty or understated?
- Figure out what should it should say. “[The] content, more than anything else — design, cool technology gimicks, what-have-you — is your real stuff.”
- Figure out what it should do (beyond displaying text and pictures). “You don’t need to do any of it right away, or ever, but if you’re looking for ways to add value to your site, [there] is a nice range from accessible, reasonable options (forms & social media) to slightly more involved items (calendar, embedded videos) to more advanced development ideas (online store, custom app).”
Cook It Up
Roll up your sleeves, get out all your pots and pans, set your ingredients in order, and start cooking! This web site is about to come together.
- Decide how fancy you want to get. “The things that really distinguish your business or organization are the most important indicators for where your customization budget is best spent.”
- Think carefully about the extra functionality you’re adding. “Will it save you time? Will you get new business? Will it encourage your current customers to buy more? Will it make you look cool? Hip? Cutting-edge? Is that important in your industry or to your customers? Can you afford it?”
- Be sure you are automating the right things.“What sets good automation apart from bad automation? It’s a combination of assumption and intrusion.”
Plan for the Long Term
You can’t launch it and leave it. This web site is going to serve up content every day — either the same content that was there the day you launched, or exciting new things that keep your customers coming back for more. It’s obvious which kind is preferable, right?
- Get ready to make quick changes when you’re busy. “Let’s get one thing straight: no one has time to update their web site.”
- Think about placement of your content. “Whatever the reason, now you need to add new content into an existing information architecture. Where do you put it?”
- Remember that your web site is not a newspaper. “Use that space [above the fold] knowing that your users may not have the same needs, knowledge, or goals that you do, and be aware of the messages you’re sending them with your choices.”
Related: you are not your users.
- Don’t make excuses. You gotta get it done. “We all find excuses not to do the thing we must do, but today, business owners and nonprofits who don’t put the management of their online presence high on their list of priorities will soon find their customers and donors describing them using terms like obsolete, outdated, and behind-the-times.”
It takes time to go from an idea to a beautiful meal, and it takes time to go from “I need a web site” to “My web site is an amazing part of my business.” Patience, mindfulness, and strategy are the main components of both processes. Bon appetit!