Your website is your 24/7 marketing hub and it needs to be a powerful ambassador for your brand. From the visuals on your homepage to the headlines and body copy on your interior pages, consistency and clarity need to be present from the onset. So, what exactly does it take to build a great website?
Let's talk strategy
What purpose do you want your website to serve? Do you want to turn your website into a lead generator? Is your website a central hub for online donations? Is your website a robust educational resource for prospects and clients? Knowing how you want your website to function in the context of your overall marketing plan is a critical first step. The answer to this question informs the functionality you need on your site, how content is organized and what, if any, third-party applications will need to be integrated.
After strategy comes structure
Structure has two meanings in the website design and development process – it refers to both the architecture of your website (which is laid out in a sitemap) and the step-by-step process that will lead you from concept to completion. Website builds have a lot of moving parts so it is critical to have a roadmap in place with benchmarks and deadlines to guide the process. The roadmap/project plan also ensures all parties are on the same page from concept to completion.
As for the structure of your website, think of it as the skeleton around which everything is designed and built. You can't move a skeleton's bones without making a major impact, and the same can be said for your website. Many web design firms will ask clients to sign-off on a sitemap before they will begin the development phase. This ensures that resources are being used efficiently and that clients aren't paying for things to be done, undone and redone unnecessarily.
Ready for visuals?
We get it – design is highly subjective. For some companies, this can be among the most challenging parts of the process. How do you take the colors and design aesthetics that you like and make them relevant to your brand?
Since design is so subjective, web design firms deliver multiple concepts for clients' consideration. Clients and agencies then collaborate to achieve a final design concept that is on-brand and, once approved, it's time for web development to begin.
The design process will also ask you to make the all important decision – authentic photography or stock? (For tips, check out our blog post on website photography) It will also ask you to assess where, if anywhere, a video may live on your website.
The web development phase is when the skeleton of the site gets built. During this time, pages are coded, templates are built and your new website starts coming to life. Once the site has been built, it's time for the site to be populated with content so copywriting and development often happen concurrently. Depending on how many pages there are in your site, this can be a time-intensive process.
Website copywriting 101
Simply put, Google "crawls" website copy to determine how it will rank the pages of your website. What exactly does this mean? Google is looking at your website copy to determine when someone searches for a particular word or phrase if it should return your website as a relevant match. With that said, there are several aspects of the copywriting process that warrant close attention.
First and foremost, your want clear, concise website copy that will resonate with your target audiences. You also want copy that is optimized with keywords and phrases that will help your website "show up" in relevant online searches. Note, these keywords and phrases are often determined through a research-driven process with a search engine optimization consultant. Lastly, you want copy that is actionable, whether you want visitors to download a whitepaper, subscribe to an e-newsletter, register for a workshop, make a donation...you get the idea.
With the design approved, structure developed and copy written, launching your new website is temptingly close. Word of caution – don't run, walk. You want your website to be 100% ready and functioning optimally before you unveil it. Hence, the quality assurance phase where copy is proofed, functionality is tested and the user experience is scrutinized to ensure that when people land on your website they can easily find what they are looking for and take the desired action. Quality assurance testing can be a frustrating part of the web design process as there are often kinks and quirks to be addressed. Rest assured, it is better to find any issues during the testing phase than to have prospects and clients experience the challenges first-hand and have it diminish their experience with your company or cause.
Building a new website can be an overwhelming process. Effective websites require a laser focus on the client's end goals and a keen understanding of how copy, design and SEO work together to determine the ultimate success of the end product. Whether you are embarking upon developing a first website for a new company or redesigning a website for a long-standing brand, remain focused on why you’re (re)building your website and how it will benefit your company or cause in the long-term. With this solution-driven and goal-oriented mindset, the rewards of a great new website will far outweigh any frustrations you encounter along the way to launch.
Curious about the core components of an effective website? Download our guide to web essentials today of what makes a website engaging, user-friendly and helps it support a company's overall marketing plan.