The common approach to building a website is in my opinion, backwards. Meaning that we all have a tendency to think about details and plan towards the big picture rather than think about the big picture and plan the details. While this may seem like a completely reasonable method of approach it actually short-sights more website projects.
For example when a company begins to go through a redesign process they usually start by planning and brainstorming the following areas:
- What pages do we want on the site?
- What features do we want on the site?
- How should the site look?
- What functionality should the site have?
- What cool whiz-bang widgets can we integrate
- We gotta use facebook, facebook is all mighty power
It seams reasonable enough and some might even begin to consider what goals they have for the site and what pages they decided upon and how they all work together. This is still a backwards approach, as the pages have been chosen before the goals and the strategy.
The problem here is that decisions are being made with out thinking about how everything on the site works together as a system towards a common set of goals.
What I Suggest
What I suggest instead is table all of the thoughts about what needs to be on the page, what features should be incorporated and try and clear the planning teams mind. Focus instead on what you want to get out of it first. What are the 1 – 4 goals that the web site should actively accomplish. Smaller companies and websites may only have 1 or 2, ie: “sell more stuff” or “get me leads!”
Then based on those goals figure out how you are going to measure the success of the goals. What metrics can be used to actually prove or disprove how successful the website is.
How this helps
What you will find is that these two items will create a road map of what should be on the site and why. To over simplify the process:
- Metrics will let you know the conversion points
- Conversion points will let you figure out points of resolution and persuasion
- Points of resolution will lead you to calls to action
- Calls to actions will lead you to user paths
- User paths will dictate what content, features and functionality will need to be on the site.
Of course all of this will also depend on target markets and an understanding of the user, their motivations, needs and capabilities. However it is a much stronger approach than rattling off random things that the team thinks should be on the site (rather than KNOWS should be on the site.) We probably have all been in meetings where random things are proposed with out justification or cause, “We should have a forum!”
Signal vs Noise
I am a huge advocate of keeping a site as simple and small as it possibly can be. Less really is more. The ease of publishing on the web lends itself to huge masses of content, pages and information on most websites. What ends up happening is you generate more noise than you do signal. Your key messages and information gets lost among content that is irrelevant to most users of a site. By working in a reverse manor you can ensure that what ends up on the site is truly valuable in addition to the key objective for every page on the site. You will now know:
- Why a user has clicked on to this page
- What question are they looking to have answered
- What they will want to know next
- What is their end goal
- How to get them there efficiently
- If the process is working or not, and at what step of the way
Give it a try
Think about your current website and go through this exact process. What you are likely to find is that you have pages that are unnecessary. Additionally you probably have pages missing (they you likely wouldn’t have thought of). Finally you will have a better understanding of how users are likely to navigate through the site and what questions they are looking to have answered, and with that you could make changes today that would improve your websites success.