Building a website sounds fun, right?
I love it.
We can have a website up and running in a matter of hours, in theory.
But building a website well – takes time.
The steps to building a good site, that will lead to conversion may seem excessive. Trust me, they're not.
Research, planning, design, development, user engagement setup, testing & review, fix & retest, launch, analytics & reporting and maintenance & improvements.
We could write an article on each of these separately. And a book on some of them. But today, we'll just outline each point to get an idea of what it entails.
The first thing, before you write a line of code or copy, before the first brush stroke is drawn, is to define the scope of the site.
What is the purpose of the site? Is it to sell a product, or service? Is it a marketing tool? Is it content based? Is it a portal for other services?
Once you define the scope, you need to define your target audience.
Who are the users you think will use the site? Try to build a persona, one specific user you think will use the site. Directing the content and design to one user will help you stay focused and ensure your message gets across.
Who are your competitors? What are they doing? How are they doing it? What do you like/dislike about their methods? How do you differ from them? What is your USP (unique selling point)?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help define the outline and layout of your site, as well as focus the copy for your site. It will also help you define your goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) down the line.
There are people whose soul goal in life is to do marketing research. They can give you a detailed report of what your market looks like. But more often than not, if you have an idea, you'll probably want to do this step on your own, since it's a great learning process.
Knowing what your competitors are doing and how, will help you focus your own idea. It will force you to define how you differ, thus help you define your mission statement better.
Now that you know what the scope of your site is, and who your target audience is, it's time to outline your site.
This process, like many others, is iterative.
As you would when writing a paper, you need to structure your site. What are the main pages you want? What is the flow your users will follow?
Try to build a few user stories (also known as journey maps). Take a user as an example, what does he want on your site? What is the path that he will go through? Then take another use, with different needs. What are the pages she will need to visit in order to fulfill these needs?
Based on these user stories (and more if you need them), start to structure your site. What are the main heading pages? What are the subpages? What are the different calls to action on each page?
Defining the user experience (UX) and the outline of your site, will enable you (or a professional) to build wireframes. Wireframes are a sketch of your site. They contain the various components of your website, but don't have any color or images. Wireframes are not a necessary component, but if you have them, it can help your designer better understand what you want the flow to be.
There are many tools out there for creating wireframe and prototypes (they're actually two different things). And there are professionals who focus on UX. The more complex your site, the more likely you'll need a UX expert.
At this stage it's a good idea to start thinking of your KPIs. These can change over time, but having an idea of what you want to measure earlier in the process, will help ensure the development process will include tags and any other elements needed for reporting down the line.
Based on your site structure and wireframes (if you have them) you can now start designing your site.
I highly recommend working with a website designer. But if you have an idea of what you want, it's possible to do this step on your own.
Define the color scheme you want to use on your site. You can do this based on your logo colors, or the colors you think are appropriate to get your message across. It's also important to define the fonts you want to use.
These definitions will create a design language on your site. Though this is a subconscious process, users learn to distinguish elements on your site based on their shape, size, and color. For example, users will learn that your breadcrumb is always very light gray, or that any CTA you have is always in a yellow button, or always on the bottom right of the screen.
This language is part of your branding kit and can later be implemented in print material, landing pages, emails and more.
The design should reflect your brand and help the users on their journey through your site. The clearer the design, the more turnover you'll get.
If you've decided to design your site yourself, I highly recommend having a review of the design by someone with a trained eye. You'd be surprised at how a simple 5mm shift of an element can bring the page together.
Once you have the design in place, it's a good idea to have some sort of style guide you can give developers, or even just for yourself. Building a brand requires consistency across the board. A style guide can include the color and font definitions for your brand. Even if these aren't identical for each medium, they will still be consistent in each medium (online, mobile, print, etc.).
Now, let's talk copy. Copy is an element most people underestimate when designing a website. Good copy is a powerful, powerful tool.
I've heard more than one client say they'll do their own copy. But copy is an art form, no less than design.
The small print on your site, called microcopy, is what can make or break your turnover. For example, adding "No payment required" under a signup button can raise conversion markedly.
But it's more than that. A good copywriter will take your research and turn it into gold. When you have about 5 seconds to capture your user's attention, every character counts.
If you decide to write your own copy, I highly recommend having a professional copywriter review it. You don't have to accept their changes, but I'm sure you'll hear many things you didn't think about and it will improve your website and your conversion rates.
Personally, I find that when the designer and the copywriter work together, the result is much better than when they work on their own. The copy and the design serve each other, and a good combination of both will serve you better.
Depending on the complexity of your site, you may or may not need a programmer for your site.
There are many tools out there today that enable you to build a website without knowing a line of code. Wordpress, HubSpot and Wix are great examples (though there are many more). Each platform has its merits and pitfalls. Each serves a different kind of audience and website creator. Knowing which to use depends on your needs.
If you decide to work on your own, I find the Wix editor very user friendly and easy to master for those without the technical know-how. It has the basic functions and even enables you to connect to your own database content. If you're looking to create a more marketing oriented site, you'll probably want to go with HubSpot. And if you're looking to create a more complex site, Wordpress is your tool of choice.
There are also many web developers that can create your site for you on any one of these platforms.
If your site is more complex, or if you want more control over the coding and scripting of your site, you should consider hiring a developer (or team of developers) to do the work. This is more expensive, but the result will be exactly what you want, without the restrictions of the various web development editors. In addition, you have more control over the site and system architecture (Who will host your site? What language will you use to develop? Will you have a complex stand-alone backend?).
At the development stage, you should think about the user engagement you want to add to your site. Do you want a bot? Automated emails?
If your answer is yes, then this is the stage to select and integrate the tools you want into your site. Many tools have the option of adding snippets of code into your site for better tracking and integration.
Having a developer as part of your team will also help with adding these snippets, though many user engagement applications have Wordpress plugins you can apply on your own.
5. User engagement setup
This step may be unnecessary for your site. But if you're expecting some sort of contact with your users, then setting up engagement should be a part of your development process, even if it's done by different teams.
Set up auto responses from your bot, auto email responses, a welcome series, confirmation emails, cart abandonment reminders and more.
You don't have to have all of these setup all at once, but the more you have, the better the user experience. After you launch you can expand on these based on your open and click-through rates.
Try to have your user engagement voice in line with your brand. It will help your users recognize you and develop brand loyalty.
6. Testing & Review
This step is often skipped by many small companies developing a website.
Testing your site is imperative.
Testing isn't just a technical process. You want to go through the flow you defined in the early stages, based on your user stories. Ensure the flow is clear and fulfills the needs of your users.
Make sure all the interactive elements work as expected. Make sure every button works, every link has an active address and every image loads. Test your engagement. Do the bots work as designed? Do the forms work? Are the emails functioning properly?
If you've used an online editor, your site is probably more stable. But I'd still recommend testing the site. If you've manually programmed your site, this step is key. The more complex your site, the more likely you'll find bugs and errors.
Using external testers can also lead to UX feedback. Testers often have much experience with websites and know what to expect. Their feedback is invaluable. (They can also find the best bugs).
If you can't afford a testing team, send your site to family, friends and piers for feedback. These are people with fresh eyes. They don't know what the site is expected to do or what you expect the user to do. They are real users. Try to have at least one user who matches your target audience review your site.
Be willing to change your site.
I once worked in a company who didn't have a review cycle for two years. When they finally agreed to show users the site, they were surprised at the harsh feedback they got. They scrapped the site completely and started from scratch.
It was an expensive ordeal. And a huge setback in their roadmap, but in the end, it paid off. They took the lesson from that experience and added testing and feedback as part of their development cycle.
7. Fix & Retest
This step sound obvious. Unfortunately, it isn't.
If you've made changes to your site, test the site again.
Test the elements you've changed. But also, be sure to test the integration of the various elements within the entire site.
If you have the time, have another round of review and feedback.
There's no such thing as too much testing.
Your site doesn't have to be perfect when you launch. It shouldn't be full of errors, obviously. But if you strive for perfection, you'll stay offline. There will always be improvements to make.
When you're ready for launch, it's time to hand off the site to the marketing team. Let the world know you're live. Drive users to your site. Make it a celebration.
Have social banners and graphics ready to go (including copy – don't forget the copy). Have your initial engagement automations set up to field all the calls, chats and emails. Have your team ready to answer the queries from the tons of users who will be knocking on your virtual door.
9. Analytics & Reporting
Knowing what does and doesn't work on your site, your landing pages, your emails and bot conversations and your overall marketing efforts is key to improvement.
Based on the KPIs you defined at the start of this process, you know what you want to measure and what can be considered success.
There are many analytics tools out there. Most engagement tools have their own analytics, and Google Analytics is a great tool to learn about session duration, page views, referrals, and much much more.
Building a daily, weekly or monthly report that gives you the details about your KPIs will help you see what's working, and what's not. Be sure to use these to keep improving your site.
10. Maintenance & Improvements
Many sites are set to go once they're launched. There isn't much maintenance work. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. And of course, you need to ensure you have someone monitoring engagements and uploading new content (if relevant).
SEO (search engine optimization) settings and standards are constantly changing. If you've set SEO for your site during the development stage, you may find that you need to add more improvements as the standards and algorithms change.
In addition, privacy laws may affect your website. You may need to implement GDPR or CCPA requirements, depending on where your customers are based and what data you're collecting.