Your organization’s online presence is a vital gateway to new business. In fact, 87% of B2B buyers say online content has a moderate to major effect on purchasing decisions. In other words, your website matters. That’s why you’ve got a website project on the horizon.
As exciting as that is, the thought of developing a new website—or redesigning your current one—leaves even the most experienced marketers feeling overwhelmed. Stakeholders are at the door asking when they can see something. Content administrators want to know where their copy and messaging goes. Product owners are jockeying for space on the home page. Where do you begin? You need a plan.
By failing to plan, you’re planning to fail. Benjamin Franklin
Follow a planning process
The crux of planning is knowing how far to go. Meetings beget meetings, after all, and eventually, anyone can lose patience and decide to just start building. At the same time, planning is incredibly valuable. Studies show that planning is the most cost-effective stage of a project to uncover an error or a problem.
The amount you plan should be proportional to the scale of what you’re building. A landing page or a microsite has an entirely different kind of plan than your company’s complete online presence.
In fact, at ddm, we have pre-built landing page and microsite project plans that we update and adjust based on the client and the project. This saves a large amount of time up front; we get right into content gathering and design, knowing there are a concrete set of tasks and activities ahead of us.
It’s those larger projects that can get hairy. That’s where we start with a planning process instead of jumping right into writing the plan. We actually have a plan for planning! Here are the highlights of our planning + design process. (Why do we include design? We’ll get to that, too.)
1. Identify the stakeholders—especially the visionary
We consider a stakeholder any person who can “veto” the launch of the site at any point in production. Perhaps a better description of this would be: who holds and guards the vision of what this project is meant to be?
Planning can—and will—go awry if there isn’t a clear person at the helm. Someone must own the vision and feel empowered to make decisions.
There are always other stakeholders or team members with critical input: the IT administrator, marketing officer, content administrator. But empowering a single individual to identify the needs and prioritize development is crucial to the success of both planning and implementation.
2. Define the audiences and functionality they need
We use user stories to describe the functionality of the final product as a way to keep the planning focused on the user experience.
Remember that audiences are both external (your customers) and internal (your sales reps, customer service, content administrators, etc.). Don’t ignore internal audiences needs or your project will be unusable by the people who are going to operate it after launch.
3. Identify content sources
Ultimately, a website is only as good as the content that it houses. You may have a library of existing content to draw from, or you may be planning to write new copy and create imagery as part of the project.
Content is the critical path, so identifying what it is and where you’ll get it from is the biggest factor in the success of the final product.
4. Architect and design the destination
Understanding of what content you’ll have and what you’ll create will then allow the team to start wireframing and designing the final product.
We take a use-case approach to how far we go with wireframes and designs. By referencing our user stories, and cross-referencing that with the content that will be pulled together in implementation, we create a variety of materials that set the direction for final implementation:
- Wireframes to demonstrate architecture and navigation
- Style cards to illuminate fonts, colors, and important UI elements
- Reference designs for common layouts, including the home page, article or blog post pages, product pages, etc.
This is the most cost-effective time to make significant changes, as there has yet to be any major architectural code written or decisions locked in.
Design decisions can have major impacts on the complexity of implementation, therefore, the earlier you know about changes, the less costly they are to change – which is why we include design in our planning process.
5. Break it all down
With designs approved and content defined, you can now reference all the materials above to create your tasks and set timelines for execution.
Starting with content, we timeline when various elements should be submitted to add to the site. We use that to determine the highest-value implementation tasks, so that we get to a launchable product as fast as possible.
Because we use an agile approach to implementation, the plan itself is highly adaptable. If a new requirement arises, or if some content proves more difficult to generate, the team can shift quickly.
Following a planning process = better final product
As with most projects, following a well-defined process leads to better results, while creating clarity for all involved.
By following a website planning process like the one above, you generate:
- Clarity on decision making: you know your stakeholders.
- A functional scope: you know your audiences and what you’re building for them.
- A content scope: you know what content you have and what you need to generate.
- A design scope: you have understanding and buy-in for the look and feel.
- An execution plan: you know your priorities and how you’ll get to a final product.
The stakeholders have clarity. The administrators have understanding. The product owners know where they’ll land. You now have a wealth of knowledge, understanding, and momentum. Implementation can begin.
Will your plan prove to be perfect? It’s unlikely—unforeseen requirements and new content will arise as the project gets underway. However, having all of these materials at your fingertips will make you flexible and adaptable when changes occur.
Instead of getting thrown for a loop, you edit, adapt, and communicate. Having a plan lets you handle change well and still deliver a successful website launch.
Instead of getting thrown for a loop, you edit, adapt, and communicate.
Having a plan lets you handle change well and still deliver a successful website launch.
What about lead generation?
Do you need your new or redesigned website to capture leads and empower sales? Check out our webinar where we share the secrets to making your website your #1 salesperson.