You’re planning to partner with an agency to develop a business website — or update the one you currently have.
You’re not alone.
It’s something more companies than ever are doing. The pace of digital transformation has accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need and desire to conduct more — and more types of — business online. This is making it necessary for organizations to update their digital properties and develop new types of sites.
It’s a smart move to leverage the expertise of an agency when you create or update a website. The professionals who work for them have developed all kinds of sites for many types of businesses. They can bring their knowledge and experience to creating yours.
Before meeting with an agency, you need to do your homework and prepare for your first meeting with them. It’s the only way you’ll be able to make the most of your time together. It will lay a solid foundation for the development — and long-term success — of your website.
Here are some questions you and the people you work with need to answer before you develop a site.
1. What do you want your site to do?
Why do you have your website? Have you ever asked yourself that? Do you want people to sign up for a demo, contact you, make a purchase? What is the purpose behind it? If you haven’t… you should.
Aislinn Barry, SketchDeck head of digital services
This is a question many organizations struggle with. However, before you can build anything, you must have a clear understanding of what it is that you want it to do. That’s true of a building, new invention or website.
That’s why it’s critical to develop a written digital strategy that explains the purpose of your site and what you need it to accomplish.
Do you plan to drive business through social media and content marketing? Then you’ll want a site that’s centered on an engaging blog that provides a top quality information experience.
Are you going to generate direct sales through your website? Then you must develop a virtual shop that makes it simple to find things and fast to complete transactions.
Will your website be a place for people to learn about your brand? Then you want an online experience that paints a picture of what it’s like to do business with your organization.
If you’re not completely clear about what you want your site to do, visitors will sense the lack of clarity. This will make it less likely that they’ll be able to figure out what online actions you want them to take, making it less likely they’ll make them.
2. Who will be visiting your site?
You wouldn’t entertain people in your home unless you know something about them. It’s the only way you can serve food they’ll enjoy, play music they’ll like and plan activities that are fun for everyone.
In the same way, you must have a clear picture of who will be visiting your site. It’s a critical part of delivering a virtual experience they’ll find satisfying.
Is your client base made up mostly of young people? You might want to deliver a significant amount of your content through images and videos because millennials and the generations that followed them generally prefer viewing things rather than reading.
Will the site be visited by both clients and prospects? You may want to segregate the content for each audience so they don’t become confused.
Does your organization serve a senior client base? You should take into account their possible physical limitations and lack of digital savvy when you plan out your site.
If you haven’t built personas for the people you want to do business with, it would be smart to put your web project on hold until you do. They should provide all the information your agency needs to develop a site your customers will engage with.
3. What is your customer journey?
If you haven’t mapped out your end-to-end client experience, you should take this step before developing a website. It will help you identify all the places where your online assets can support it. Otherwise, you may not be able to optimize your website and make the most of your investment in a new or updated one. It’s likely you’ll have to go back time after time to add new pages and features as you uncover a need for them. It will make development more expensive over time and provide a less-than-coherent online experience.
Having a documented customer journey will help you and your web developers envision how you want people to move through the site and what impressions you want them to have at every turn. It will help you define what you want visitors to know, think and feel as they navigate your site. When you take the time to do that, it will make it more likely they will take the actions you want them to take, including providing contact information, setting appointments and closing sales. It could also help filter out people you prefer to not do business with, making your sales process more efficient and effective.
4. What pages do you need?
The professionals at your agency should help you develop a site map, which is a document or diagram that shows all the pages on your site and how they connect together. It’s important for you to go into the site planning process with a list of the pages you think you need, which should be connected together and why. This will make the development of your site map an easier and more efficient process.
5. How will your content be developed?
A website isn’t worth much if it isn’t populated with words, images, graphics, videos and more. You need to have a plan for how these things will be developed and who will create them. Will your organization handle it? Perhaps you expect the agency to do it. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. It’s smart to have a complete plan for how content will be created. It will help avoid delays as your website gets built.
“Make sure to nail your messaging before starting your web design project, or you might end up with a Frankenstein website”, says our stellar Head of Digital Services Aislinn Barry. If you don’t know what is a Frankenstein Website, she explains: “It’s when the content changes so much throughout the design process that we end up trying to fit the copy to the design instead of leveraging design to increase the impact of the messaging. As a result, the pages feel like they’ve been poorly stitched together.”
6. What is your brand?
Do you have a clearly defined brand? It should include elements such as a logo, company colors, key messages, tone, brand promise and anything required to identify and explain your operation.
If you don’t have an established brand, it’s essential to go through discovery to define it. We’ve learned our lesson because most of the times we skipped the discovery phase in the past, it was trouble for everyone. Skipping it will only add extra time and more costs to a project.
Matthew Gorham, SketchDeck project manager
Before you develop a website, you must have a complete and current brand document. It should provide your web development agency with everything required to create a website that represents your organization, explains what makes it unique and differentiates it from the competition. If you don’t have this, make it a priority to work with an agency that specializes in branding to develop or update yours.
7. What sites do you like?
And which ones do you dislike? Giving your agency a list of both, along with the features you find appealing (or not) and why, will provide them with design direction. It could help prevent the false starts that can occur if you don’t supply a web development agency with ideas to get them thinking.
8. Who are your competitors?
Helping your agency understand what companies you compete against will make it possible for the agency to design a website that stands out from theirs. They’ll be better able to differentiate your operation from others in your industry. It will help explain to prospective customers why they should select you over other options.
9. What systems will support your digital experience?
It’s critical that your agency know where your website will be housed and the systems, digital assets and networks that must connect into it. It will allow them to develop the back end of it as effectively as possible. People today expect fast and seamless online experiences. Any delays or uncertainty caused by bad technical engineering could cause them to move on to a competitor’s better digital experience.
10. Who are your key stakeholders?
It’s important to know who has a stake in your site and what input they’re allowed to provide. Document this and get final agreement on it before development begins. Many a digital project has been stalled or halted because too many people are allowed to provide too much feedback, or too few are included early on and are caught by surprise when they learn about website changes.
11. What does success look like?
The only way to know whether your website is doing what you expect it to do is to define success before you begin building it. Set goals and assign metrics to them. Once your site is up and running, monitor the metrics and track progress toward your goals. It will help you understand whether your website is performing as intended. If you find that it’s not, work with your agency to make improvements to get it to where it needs to be. It will ensure you’re getting the return on your investment in the website that you expect.
Got questions about developing a new website or updating your current one? Leverage our chat function to get connected with an expert who can help you out.