Web design has reached a point of maturity where we should no longer simply be a collection of pages ripped from a corporate brochure. There used to be a time where as web designers we did little more than apply a splash of paint to an assortment of text and images. This was OK as simply having a website was significantly more innovative and forward thinking compared to your competitors. However now days anyone can have a website (and almost everyone does) and additionally it is not very difficult or expensive to get a website that makes you look credible (even if it is simply buying a template site).
Today on the web in order to really have an effective website you really have to think about all aspects of the site. Failure to do so means providing an ineffective solution, so every time you create a site or work with a client you should be considering:
- Who are the potential users?
- How you will get users to the site?
- What do users want when they get to the site?
- What questions will they have that you can answer?
- How do you lead them in the direction you wish them to go?
- How you will measure the success of the site?
- How you will continue to optimize the site?
This effectively is the strategy behind your website. This means that the site should be designed in such a way that you have thought about and planned every element described above.
With out going through the process of this planning you are simply slapping a coat of paint on a box rather than delivering a tool that is created to help the business/organization who has hired you.
How to go about it
Typically web design companies ask the client what they want to be built, ask for copy and photos to be delivered, create a visual image and build out the site. Working in this manor is akin to a construction company building a home using blueprints created by the non-architect home owners. Doesn’t sound like a great idea does it?
First you must research
The first step in this process is to do some research. I know, I know, most of us as creatives hate this idea and would much rather just create some stunning and well organized visuals. However this is a critical step that you must take.
The first aspect of research is working with the client to discover as much about their business as possible. This will include the target market, the typical sales funnel, who the clients are now and what their concerns are. Find out the goals of the site and what expectations the client has for the level of impact on their business.
Although the clients input is important it shouldn’t stop with them. Chances are they see their business in a very close up skewed manor, not that they are wrong or their information is not valuable. Rather it is more important to learn as much as you can from their clients.
Once you have learned who the target market is you can start asking them questions. Sometimes the client will be willing to give you a list of names and numbers of those who you could interview, if not you can always take a look at your own network of contacts and politely ask them if they would be interested in answering a few questions at their lesiure.
Crafting the questions
Every situation will require a different set of questions so I can’t give you a boilerplate set of questions. Ultimately you should look at the goals of the site and develop questions that will help you figure out how to encourage users to accomplish those goals.
The common scinereo would be a company that is looking for more sales/leads/clients. There are a wide range of questions that you could ask their target market to help you find out what is most important to them when picking a product/service provided. Here are some examples:
- What factors are you considering when you are looking to hire someone to do X?
- How would you rank those factors in terms of importance?
- How do you go about finding someone you wish to hire in this situation?
- Do you value (insert unique value of client here)? why / why not?
I am sure you can think of much much more once you get started.
Look around and see what else is out there
Once you have a good idea of what the target market wants and what your client provides it is time to do some competitive analysis. See how their competitors are marketing themselves and what sort of features or information they have on their website. You can get a lot of ideas in terms of “wow this is a convention we should include this” to “here is something that everyone is missing but really should have.”
Additionally this will help you develop a unique selling position for your client (if they haven’t already decided on one). By marketing themselves with a unique value that no one else is they will effectively attract more sales by people who really care about that value element.
Using the research to develop a plan
Doing the research is only half the battle, the second half is to develop a plan based on the research. Yes I do realize that first I am not only recommending that you do research (barf) but now advising you to also write a paper (double barf). I assure you that it is worth it and your business will grow as a result of it.
I break my plans into the following sections:
- Goals / Objectives
- Target Market + Personas
- Competitive survey
- Points of resolution (questions, concerns and desires of users)
- Unique value proposition
- User paths (how a user would navigate through the site to complete a goal)
- Objective support (how we will encourage a user to navigate through the site to complete a goal)
- Measurement and success criteria
You could probably take it further than I do, as I am continually improving my strategy document and process. However I find that the most valuable part of the document ultimately comes out of the user paths and support.
This is because it takes the information about and from the target market and incorporates the goals of the site, then strategies of how we can mesh the objectives of the user and the site owner together. Consider the diagram I crafted for a client recently as an example of how this could work:
As you work through the user path you not only discover what should have the most visual emphasis on every page, where you should have a call to action (and what it should be) but you also tend to discover the missing “what would they want to do next?” link.
It makes good business sense
This document will not only help your clients succeed (which will in turn help your company), but it will also become something that you can bill more for. I have yet to come across a client who has looked through one of my example strategies and said “No, I don’t think I would pay for that.”
Not only does it bring in more work per client, it also differentiates my company vs my competitors.