How to Turn Your Website Wishes into an Actionable Plan
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The first step in ensuring your company’s website overhaul is a success is to create a plan, which includes both people and strategy. Corporate websites are not built by individuals. They are complex projects requiring multiple skill sets. And, you need to have a clear strategy in place, so the project doesn’t go off the rails.
Building Your Team
It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a team to create a website.
Let’s talk about the critical roles on your team:
It’s critical to have an executive sponsor. Without this person, the likelihood of getting your project off the ground is near non-existent. This is the person who will advocate for your team and the project to the rest of the organization. Inevitably, your team will come up against decisions that require an executive call. Or, you will be pressured by other parts of the business to add more pages or content, change the scope of the project, use a different technology, move up the launch, etc. That’s when you need an executive sponsor who can push back on those parts of the business appropriately and help your team stay the course.
Obviously, you need web developers on your team. These are the people who are going to do the heavy lifting and get the site built. Developers can be in-house or outsourced. If you need to outsource the development, you can go to a development firm or hire individual developers. In a world where virtual teams are the new norm, you may have to be cognizant of time differences depending on where on the map your developers are physically located. Sometimes, time zone differences can be used to your advantage. If your developers are up while you’re in bed, you can make changes and give feedback during the day, knowing the changes will be made while you sleep.
Designers can also be either in-house or outsourced or a combination of both. Again, if you are outsourcing your design work, you can use a design agency or individual designers. What’s important for the project, is that the designers on your team be a good match in terms of experience and expertise for the vision for your site. It also helps if your designers have user experience or UX expertise.
Building a website is a complex project. You need someone on your team who can keep track of the activities, their interdependencies, and the timeline. This person needs to be able to hold the rest of the team accountable for their deliverables and keep everyone honest.
Someone on the team needs to be responsible for the content on the site. This means the words on the page, as well as other assets, such as video, PDFs, etc. It helps if this person truly understands your target customers. With that understanding, they can develop a strategic vision for how the content on the site leads visitors through their journey of discovery based on content placement and visitor interaction with the content.
Perhaps the least sexy of the roles on the team, but arguably one of the most important is quality assurance (QA). You need a one or more people who will be responsible for testing the site before it goes live. Your QA person will test the site on different browsers and devices. They will look at all the links and images and videos. You’ll need them to pound on the site over and over to ensure that when it’s ready for visitors, it works exactly as it’s intended.
These are the people in other parts of the organization who have a stake in the website. They may be the business owners of your products or services or the marketing team who drives leads through the site. Identify all your stakeholders at the beginning of your project and ensure that you keep them in the loop, involving them in decisions as appropriate.
Outline Your Website Strategy
One of the most important things you will do before you start your website project is to create your strategy document, which can be in the form of a project brief. This document becomes the roadmap for your team. If done well, your strategy will help the team make crucial decisions because you ask yourselves the question, “Is this on strategy…or not?” Some key elements of the strategy document are:
It’s important to understand and document how the website fits into company strategy. For example, if you are part of an e-commerce business, the website may be how you drive all your revenue, or may be critical to how your business acquires new customers and/or engages customers on an ongoing basis.
The scope of the project is what you are committing to do and what you are not committing to do. Outlining the scope of the project allows you to push back on requests for additional pages, designs, content, etc.
What is your organization trying to achieve with the website? Is it supposed to drive the brand, capture leads, drive sales, or educate prospects and customers? Defining the goal or goals of the website helps you determine what kind of user experiences are necessary, what content is needed, and how to measure impact.
Speaking of measurement, what are the key performance indicators or KPIs for the website? If you don’t have KPIs in place and the ability to track those KPIs, you will have no idea if the new website is meeting your goals and whether it’s successful. For example, conversion is a common KPI for websites. Seeing how many visitors are taking a certain action that is important to your business helps you understand what is working, or not, and allows you to continue trying to improve. There is an entire specialization around web optimization, and it can be very powerful for creating a world-class website that hits and exceeds its goals.
It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to be all things to all people. Websites that try usually don’t appeal to anyone. Think about your own experience. If you land on a website that doesn’t speak to who you are or what you need, you leave. Your website experience and content need to resonate with your target market. The words on the site need to be the same words that your target market uses. The information on your website needs to address the needs of your target market.
What if your business has several target markets you’re trying to reach? That’s where web personalization comes in. Your website is built to speak to and solve the pain points of your core target market. But, you can use web personalization tools to change content on your site to speak to another target. For example, if your core target market is enterprise customers, you build your site for them. However, let’s say you also serve high growth, small to medium-size businesses (SMBs). Using web personalization, when a visitor you identify as SMB comes to the site, you can offer them content that addresses their specific needs.
The timing required for the development of your new website really depends on the size and complexity of the site you’re building. Completely new websites typically take six months to complete. It’s important to build in enough time to create a quality site that is robust.
Ah, money. It all comes down to money. How much budget you have will impact the scope of the project, the timing, and the level of sophistication. A small budget may require you to scale back what you can build. It may cause you to stretch the time from kick off to launch. Or, it may impact the bells and whistles you include in your site.
It goes without saying that it is critical to get approval for your project strategy from your executive sponsor and stakeholders. This ensures that everyone is on the same page BEFORE you start working and should help avoid pivots in the middle of the project.
To Outsource or Not to Outsource
The age-old dilemma when it comes to budgeting is whether to outsource all or pieces of the project. Below is a list of things to consider as you debate this issue for your website project:
- Outsourced resources typically cost more. However, you may not have the appropriate resources in-house, so you have no choice. Keep in mind that in-house resources have a cost associated with them as well. For example, there’s the lost opportunity cost of them working on your web project rather than on another critical project for the business.
- Even, if you have the resources in-house, are they already tied up with another project that is more critical to the business? If so, outsourcing may be the way to go.
- If you have a tight timeline, you may need to augment your in-house resources with outsourcing to compress your timeline.
- Outsourced resources require management. Even though someone else is doing the work, you need to ensure they are meeting their objectives and timelines and are in sync with the rest of the project team. This will take time, a very precious resource in any website project.
- When looking for the appropriate outsourced resources, go to your professional network. Get names of peoples or companies that people in your network have used and with which they have been happy. Interview possible contractors to ensure a fit with the rest of your team, as they will need to work closely with the team. Make sure you look at samples of their work. Is it relevant to what you’re trying to achieve with your new website? For example, if it’s a web designer, does his or her style fit the look and feel you want? If it’s a developer, do the other sites she or he has built match the complexity and user experience you’re trying to achieve?
Next up in this blog series, we’ll discuss Step 2: Building the Foundation.