This blog post is for business owners who are planning their website and have not yet instructed a designer or agency to build it.
you probably already know this, but the website planning phase is the most important step in your website project.
A non existent or very vague plan will not only result in a bad experience with your designer but it will result in a range of negative experiences that will leave you disappointed, tired and wanting to avoid all things website…
These experiences will appear regardless of whether you instruct a professional to build your site or you do it yourself.
I want to draw your attention to these points so you can appreciate what can go wrong when you don’t invest in your website planning process.
Before the website build
1.You get off to a bad start with your designer
You get frustrated with the designer, you think they just don’t ‘get you’ or understand what you want. When your designer keeps asking you lots of questions it’s usually because they are not sure about something. The quality of the answers you give really drive the project.
If your answers are unclear or you keep changing your mind, your designer will either –
- Keep asking, which will mean more time wasted on your part, a lengthier project and frustration for you both, or
- Your designer will give up and make assumptions just so they can progress the project. This leads to the ‘surprise ending’ of a project when you don’t get what you though you were paying for.
2. You adopt a very hands off approach to the whole project
Before the project has even started you have decided you would rather not be involved. You like the idea of someone taking care of it all, you don’t want to be bothered much.
Perhaps you are short on time (who isn’t?), you don’t understand websites (who does? – apart from those who work with them everyday) or you still have bad memories from a past website experience that left you frustrated!
Building a useful website, one that can help your marketing and sales, is a collaborate effort between the designer and the business.
Yes you can get a cheap one built but it won’t do much for your business if there hasn’t been a sufficient planning process that takes into account your business goals and the goals of your users.
A designer can guess what these may be, but to get the website your business needs YOU need to communicate your business and user needs sufficiently so the designer can use that information and build you something that will help grow your business.
The more hands off you are, the higher the risk that you won’t get what you want or need and you will be unhappy with the end result.
If you have found it all very time consuming, too much back and forth, confusion, frustrating, its because of two things. 1. Your plan wasn’t detailed enough for the designer to their job efficiently, 2. You chose the wrong designer.. If you are asking for things that are not within the skill of the designer, they will inevitable take long and have more questions. A good plan can really help you weed out the less experienced people, before you commit your project to them.
During the website build
3. The project takes longer than expected
If the designer told you the project will take 8 weeks then you ask them to add things here or take things away there, it will take longer to complete to the project.
This may seem obvious but you may be surprised to hear that some clients do ask for changes and still expect the project to completed before the deadline.
While some small changes can’t always be avoided, larger changes that are requested are often as a result of the client not taking the time to fully address their online goals.
This usually happens because the project is started in a rush, often because a deadline has already been decided.
When the planning process is rushed, this usually results in deadlines being missed and so a hurry to start a project has the opposite effect – the project actually takes longer!
4. The website is more expensive than the original quote
It goes without saying that if you want to add extra pages or functionality that was not originally included the quote, the cost of the project will increase.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times a client has requested extra pages, only to be surprised when they told it will cost more.
It’s not just costs of the build that can increase. The cost of licences, imagery, content etc.. can all add up if they were not included in the original quote.
So, what you thought was a reasonable cost to start with, could end up being out of your budget because you didn’t plan it properly.
Another client of mine (who’s website was build by someone else) wasn’t aware that she would need to pay for licences to keep her website software updated. The website designer used over 10 premium plugins on her website without informing her of the cost for the licences. This added hundreds of pounds to the final cost, not to mention the extra work in keeping them all up to date!
In my planning process I have a section where you can address software licence issues. This gives you the opportunity to have the discussion with the designer so there are no nasty surprises.
After the website has gone live
5. You have major updates planned
Your website has only just gone live and you are already planning a series of major updates.
If your website has been designed progressively then it is normal to make major changes. But, if you thought most of your website would be complete by launch date, then you realise it is missing something important – then you may find yourself going through the process again – much sooner than expected.
This usually happens when, as a project progresses you have time to think over the website and you may find you want to add extra major functionality. Sometimes a designer will be able to make minor changes without it affecting the whole project, other times, a change could be quite disruptive.
When changes affect the project it is always best to complete the project then add the extras as a second project otherwise the project will never be finished.
No-one wants a 12 month long project when it could have been completed in 8 weeks.
Half way through a project my client wanted it to become a fully blow e-commerce site. I told her she should wait until the current website is finished. We can add it later, with the correct planning.
6. The traffic to your website disappears
If you are having a redesign and you are already getting traffic to your website from search engines, social media and other places, then you must work with someone who understands how to maintain your traffic.
Loss of traffic is a big sign you chose the wrong person for the job, mainly because the conversation of current traffic never came up.
Either they didn’t know to ask or you didn’t realise to say…
Either way, if you have traffic to your site already, that traffic needs to be analysed to make sure you keep it after a redesign.
I have been drafted into help agencies a few times to help them recover traffic – yes it happens.
It’s a lot harder to sort out once the site has gone live. In fact, sometimes it can take a site months to recover.
SEO and traffic maintenance really needs to be planned in, before the website is redesigned. This is an area of your website plan you may need extra help with.
Analytics isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!
During my planning process I show you how to easily capture the important data a designer needs to know so they can understand what will be involved when making sure your traffic doesn’t disappear after a redesign.
7. You get buyers remorse
It might take a few weeks, or a few months, but once the initial excitement of a website redesign has settled down, you begin to realise nothing has changed in your business!
You begin to think the whole process was a waste of time and money.
This is mainly because you didn’t set measurable goals so you have nothing to compare. The first, most obvious goal to set is how many enquiries come through your website. You can track form submissions and page views (of your services) using Google analytics.
Secondly, the goals you set should be related to your sales and marketing strategy – so if you don’t have a clear strategy for achieving your goals you will find it harder to create a website that supports them.
During the website planning process it is important to get clear on the role your website will play in your sales and marketing process, set goals, and then measure those goals. Otherwise, you may be left wondering what was the point of the redesign.
8. You find it difficult to use
If you find your website hard to update and maintain yourself. It may because it has not been designed with you in mind. Some website setups can feel very technical and hard to manage. Especially if you are having a custom built website or if it’s built on WordPress. If the designer understands the technical ability of the main users of the site and you will be doing the maintenance yourself, they can take steps to make that as easy as possible for you. They can also arrange training for you so you can confidently update and manage your website.
If the designer knows you want to maintain your own website they can explain certain trade-offs you might want to make. For example. Buying a theme from Themforest (an online marketplace for WordPress themes) comes bundled with lots of plugins. Now, this is a maintenance nightmare for experienced designers, let alone non tech types. I always avoid these themes because I know most of clients want to manage their website themselves.
A thoughtful designer will always consider you and how you will use the site and make is as user friendly as possible. I have a client who’s website was not user friendly, she had over 28 plugins and had no idea how to maintain the site. I redesigned the site to make it more user friendly using only 2 plugins (excluding the essentials).
How to plan your website so it is easy to use and maintain?
If you are building it yourself. Keep is simple. Don’t use lots of plugins. Choose a theme that designed for simplicity, like the Divi theme.
For every plugin you use, you must maintain it.
Understand what you need to do to use the website so you can reach your goals. E.g. How do you blog? How do you use the SEO plugin? How do run the e-commerce store? Do as much research as you can before committing to the purchase. Some plugins are trial and error before you learn which ones are easy to use.
During my website planning process I will help you define your plugins and help you understand what is involved in their use and maintenance.
If you are getting a designer to build it. Be clear from the start about who will be maintaining the site and their skill level. Make sure the designer understands how you will be using the site and make sure this is possible.
This will enable you to have the conversation around training or making certain functionality more user friendly.
You need to avoid the situation where you have paid for a site that you thought you could use, only to realise it’s beyond your capability so you never use it.
9. You need to pay for third party services because your website is inflexible and won’t allow you to have certain features
I had a client who I was running Google ads for. Normally, you run ad traffic to a landing page. But this website hadn’t been designed with the ability to build landing pages. So they were running ads to normal pages. This can drastically affect the conversion rate of a website. They had a custom theme built that only gave them a few different page layout styles. None gave them the ability to remove the header and footer (important for landing pages). Even the page layouts were really restrictive. There was no flexibility with how to place page elements. I could only ever put an image on the left and text on the right.
They were paying for ads, but their landing pages were so limited, they were just throwing money away…
They ended up paying for a tool called Lead Pages that would let them quickly build landing pages.
Not only did they have a new tool to learn, their analytics just went up another level on the complicated scale… (don’t get me started on cross domain conversion tracking – what a headache that is)
How do you plan your website so it is flexible and can cope with design changes without having to pay for extra services?
You need to think at least three to five years ahead with where you think your marketing or functionality needs might be.
Will you be paying for ads? If so, you need the ability to create landing pages (don’t be fobbed off by being told to buy lead pages).
Will you be implementing sales funnels? If so, you can do that in WordPress with a little planning (don’t be fobbed off by being told to buy Click Funnels).
Of course you can buy these tools if you want but I’m sure you’d rather have the simplicity of one website rather than multiple tools to the jobs your website can.
If you are working with a designer, you only have to ask the question “Is it possible to add e-commerce (or whatever functionality) in the future and what would the rough cost be”. Their answer should help you to determine if they could handle that functionality and ultimately, your choice of designer to go with.
10. You are unhappy with the end result
At the end of the day, if you are just plain unhappy with the end result, then something has gone terribly wrong, and I bet 99% of the time it was the planning phase.
Now I can’t promise you that if you invest in a good planning process before you instruct a designer that you will be 100% happy with the final product.
However, I can promise you that without a well thought out planning process, you drastically increase the risk of not getting what you want and need.
The problem is, you won’t know until it’s too late…
How do you plan your website so you will be happy with the end product?
You need to know what you want and define success criteria. What is a successful web project to you? It’s not just about the website reaching it’s goals but it’s also about cost, time, ease of communication, usability, flexibility. It’s whatever it means to you. Once you have set those expectations you know you will be happy once they are met.
If you don’t know what will make you happy – you probably won’t be happy.
If you start your plan with the end in mind then you are more likely to find your ideal web designer, or if you are building it yourself, you are more likely to be successful.
Clarifying and communicating your expectations is what planning is all about. The better you are at this, the more successful your project will be.
If you don’t want to leave the success of your website project to chance then let me help you with your planning process.
I have over 9 years of website planning, building and maintenance experience. Including digital marketing experience with sales funnels, paid ads, SEO and conversion rate optimisation.
My 1-2-1 process is tailored to your needs, so if you are looking for just a small business website or a larger e-commerce store, I can help you plan the website that is right for your business and your website visitors. Contact me today for a quote.