When it comes to online success, we’re in the age where a ‘good website’ really is a notion rather than a specific deliverable. In order for a business to succeed with their website they need to consider a whole lot more these days than ever before.
The landscape of internet activity is broadening at a rapid pace and to keep up you have be aware of all the components that can affect your ability to conduct business online.
Below is a 14-point checklist of important topics and questions to review and consider before investing your money into a new website. This is by no means extensive and is just meant to provide an overview.
1. The “Plan”
– What do you do?
– Who are you going after?
– What role will your website have?
– How will you measure the success of your online efforts?
This is where your should start. Not “should it be a blog?” “Should I get a wordpress site?” “Drupal or Mambo?” Everything you do will derive from the initial plan of what you’re trying to accomplish and what the website should get done.
The plan is the most crucial. The plan really is how your business strategy plan can relate to an online strategy. And of course, understanding your target audience, what problem you’re solving with your product or service and then how to measure your success will guide you in how to organize your strategy.
This is my favorite part of the entire process. It’s where most of the learning about a business happens and you get to talk about the future and craft a way to get there.
2. Establishing a Brand
– Do you have a logo and brand themes?
– Do you have a slogan or message? Do you need one?
Your brand needs to be easily recognizable and distinguishable. Don’t make the mistake of going after something that’s just “pretty” or “cool” if it doesn’t offer unique representation for you.
Be consistent. Your branding needs to be present everywhere you are present. Shirts, business cards, letterhead, mailers, website, etc… In your words and in your actions. Live your brand and make sure it’s completely integrated with your online strategy.
3. Primary Website
– Understand it’s primary and possibly secondary purpose. Narrow in on and refine the message.
– Understand what’s more important for your success; Image, Content or Access to the site?
– If “sales” is the focus, how are you appealing to the consumer’s buying cycle?
– Does this website already have a staged plan for growth and development? Should it?
– Will your website need to integrate with any existing business process software such as a CRM or ERP product?
– Does your website accept money? Do you know what level of security is necessary?
There are so many questions to ask. So many details to cover. Your primary website may be THE most important piece of the puzzle or it may only be a small portion. Either way, it’s important to treat it like an employee and understand it’s role.
Bear in mind that we’re at an amazing point in the internet where we no longer have to segment activities to simply one venue. Do you use an ERP or CRM system like Salesforce to keep track of inventory or invoices or even customers? It’s likely there’s a web-component to your existing software that can be integrated with your website.
Today’s websites are capable of doing so much more than ever before and without the need of highly-advanced developers. Really think about what you would want your website to do to complement or enhance your existing business processes and don’t be concerned it may not be possible. You may be surprised!
4. Mobile Accessibility
– Should it be responsive design or a separate mobile website?
– Will the mobile site be used for information or for interaction (focusing on mobile-specific functionality)?
– What devices are likely to be used more and which technologies are off-limits?
Does your business appeal to more tech-savvy individuals? If so, you’ll need to consider the accessibility requirements for smartphones and tablets and how that changes your technology stack.
Mobile device usage is now a prominent access method for most websites. Problem is, while we may be on fast 4G networks they still pale compared to broadband access. Think about what your site is trying to deliver to the user over a slower connection and make sure it’s tuned for faster performance.
5. Social Media Plan
– Twitter account? What’s the “voice” for the twitter account? How often should it be updated and by whom?
– Facebook Account? Similar question, what’s the “voice” for the Facebook account
– Google+ Account? Similar question, what’s the “voice” for the Google+ account
– Reddit / Dig / Facebook / Google+ / Twitter sharing? Do you want to drive traffic through social media?
Social Media should really be covered entirely on it’s own. There’s so much to know and understand that we recommend calling in a professional with a good track record. But he or she is going to say the same thing. Social Media isn’t like doing the dishes in that you have to do it and it’s done. It requires focus and consistent effort to yield the results you want to see.
6. Analytics / Tracking
– Will you use Analytics and tracking information to judge (full or in part) the success of your website?
– How should you interpret the results from Analytics to improve your web-efforts?
We use Google Analytics for all of our websites. The amount of information available to us is astounding. Learn what kind of questions you should be asking in order to improve the effectivenss of your reviews. Once you get an idea of how to read and understand this information, you can use it to refine your online strategy for improved performance.
7. “Campaign” Websites
– Would your company benefit from targeted campaign websites that would otherwise get their focus diluted by being included in the primary site?
Sometimes you don’t need an entirely new website. Sometimes you just need a single page site dedicated to one message or event. It can be easier to market “Go Here” than it is “Go here, click this, look for this.”
8. On-going Updates / Maintenance
– Are you capable of maintaining your site to meet your goals?
– What needs to be updated and how often?
– What updating tools are most valuable to you?
– Do you need a custom CMS or just a customized CMS?
Ever seen a nice swimming pool that hasn’t been cleaned in a while? It’s unusable! Think of your website like that. Without updates to the site it feels stale.
Simply updating isn’t enough, though. The updates need to look good, conform to your search engine optimization plan (see below) and be interesting or informative.
Beyond updates, though, the options for a CMS are so vast these days that you have very few limits. And if you can’t find a CMS that works for you, there are enough open-source versions that many developers can customize one just for your needs.
9. Search Engine Optimization
– Do you know what people are searching for as it relates to your business and industry?
– Are you optimizing for competitiveness?
– Is your website optimized to cater directly to this demand?
Search Engine Optimization covers an extensive list of tasks and items necessary for your website to compete for search engine traffic. In short, if your site can’t be easily consumed by a search engine your content will be hard to find. More importantly, making sure your content relates to what people are actually searching for will help improve your SE rankings.
Understanding which keywords are more competitive and appealing to a higher Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) will provide a little boost to your site’s competitiveness.
10. Online or Search Engine Marketing Plan
– How can your company best be marketed through online venues?
There are so many sources of traffic and opportunities to promote yourself online. Beyond just Google Adwords, think about industry-specific marketing opportunities that could drive business to your website.
11. Real-Life Marketing Pass-thru
-Is your existing marketing and advertising leveraging the use of your website for follow-through communication?
– How are you driving traffic to your site through tangible means? (ie: business cards, flyers, QR codes, word of mouth, tradeshows)
– Does your website continue the conversation your marketing starts?
It’s safe to say that if you capture someone’s attention with an ad or a billboard, you can direct them to your website to capitalize on that interest and work to close the sale. Use your real-life marketing and your website together to have a complete conversation with a user. It’s like a digital high five!
12. Scheduled Quarterly / Yearly Evaluations
– Do you schedule the evaluations of your website strategies along with your evolving business needs?
– If a website serves a purpose and you know how to deem if it’s successful, have you related measurable goals to your strategies?
Let’s extend the metaphor of the website-as-an-employee and talk about employee evaluations. It’s good to review their performance in relation to the stated goals and then define a plan for moving forward. Even if your website is doing everything it should, is it still in line with your business objectives?
These reviews should be conducted yearly or at any point your business makes a change to it’s strategy or focus.
13. Hosting / Content Delivery
– Is your hosting setup appropriate for your website and level of traffic?
– Does your site have a lot of media or high volume traffic? Consider standard shared vs cloud hostings, CDN’s or dedicated servers.
– Do you need to plan for scaling?
Hosting is a necessary part of every website and it often gets overlooked. Even though websites are in “the cloud” or feel like they’re just….there, they’re not. Every single file on every single website resides on some sort of networked server or computer somewhere. On the very opposite side of your web browser is a machine built for a specific purpose and is plugged into to the wall.
So given this new knowledge, put some thought into your hosting needs. If you have no idea, ask someone who does. If you expect a lot of growth or have high security needs, a solid hosting or scalability plan will be absolutely crucial to your website’s success.
– What level or structure of support is needed for your website?
– Who will be support your websites’s Domain Name, Email, DNS, File Hosting, Accessibility and Security concerns?
Much like hosting, there are numerous services related to your website that are easy to overlook. When they all play nicely the whole experience is seamless. But when things screw up you can be pulling your hair out and have no control over the outcome because your developer is on vacation or just not responding to email.
Partnering with a firm (or individual) that understands how to manage all the related services is important. It’s customary to charge a monthly support fee to cover managing the unseen services because they do require attention and without that attention, your website can be inaccessible, slow, broken or susceptible to cyber attacks.
We’ve only just touched on each topic but I hope you can see immediately how much effort can be required to really be successful online. Each one of the above topics can be covered at length on their own and if your online success is important, I recommend doing some research to educate yourself.