Website strategy: Why you need one and how to write one
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So you’re planning your new website. You’ve searched around the web a bit and now you have more questions than you started out with. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one! Most people who are creating a website will get frustrated at some point. There are loads of elements to consider and tons of options available to you, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why you need a website strategy. We’re about to break it down into bite-sized chunks. Ready?
Do I really need a website strategy?
I know you’re busy getting your business together, and you’re probably thinking “Bleuuuurrg, I just want to get online, this strategy thing seems like a lot of work!”. But look at it like this, if you set up a strategy at the beginning of your website project, it will SAVE you time. A website strategy will give you perspective on the project and you’ll end up with the kind of site that actually works for you, without having to tear your hair out each time you have to make a decision about something. The website or “digital strategy” is like a business plan specifically for the web. The most common reason for a website project to stall or even fail is a lack of planning… not technical ability or resources, planning!
So, what goes into a website strategy? There are 5 main factors to consider. Let’s have a look…
The 5 factors of a web strategy
What is the purpose of the website and how will you measure the success or failure of its goals?
Who do you aim to reach and how do you want them to perceive you?
What is your unique message and how will you get this message across?
Who are your competitors and how can you show that you’re different from them?
What practical steps must be taken to get the project rolling?
Factor 1: Website goals
Your goals are at the heart of all the decisions that you make for your site. If you figure these out in advance of setting up technical stuff and design, you’ll allow enough room for your site to grow. Think long-term (next 2-5 years) as well as short term (next 6 – 12 months). A website goal should include some specific details. The business term “S.M.A.R.T.” goals
- What do I want to accomplish and why? (Define this goal as simply as possible, but be as specific as possible)
- What is the biggest challenge with this goal?
- How will I overcome the challenge?
- How will I measure the success or failure of this goal?
- How will I know when the goal is accomplished?
(If you can’t answer these points for one of your goals, go back and be more specific)
- What do I need to do to achieve this goal?
- Do I need additional help to achieve it?
- How is this goal in line with my long term vision?
- Is this goal important right now?
- How long will it take to accomplish this goal?
- When is the deadline for this goal?
Take action now:
Download your free SMART goals worksheet.
This worksheet includes a sample response to all the above questions.
Factor 2: Audience
So this may come as a shock to you but your website is not designed for you. I’ve made this mistake in the past when I created websites for myself. I talked about the things that I was interested in and used design and image styles that I thought looked cool. But guess what. I didn’t get very far because I was talking to myself and mimicking fashionable design trends rather than focusing on reaching out to others. Your site is for your audience and should talk to them specifically. Sure, your site will reflect your personality, but in a way that is relevant to your site visitors, we’ll get to that in the brand section below, but first ask yourself…
Who do I want to reach?
Visitors to your site should be reassured that they’ve come to the right place and that you can help them with their specific need. If you don’t know who your audience is, you’ll never know what they need. So figure out who you’re trying to reach. Try to be really specific when you think of age, where they live, their personality so that you can really understand how best to find them and talk to them.
Do I know this person?
Can you reach out to this person in real life or on social media? If so, ask them a few questions
- What do they need from a product or service like yours?
- What aspects of their need is not tailored to by anybody else?
- How can you tailor to this need?
- Where do they hang out online?
When you have this stuff figured out, you’re on your way to creating a site that really resonates with the people who are most likely to hire you / buy from you, and you’ll know what social media platforms to focus on in order to connect with them. Good eh?
Take action now:
Download your perfect client worksheet.
Describe their personality and their ‘pain points’. This worksheet includes sample responses to help you along.
Factor 3: Brand
Ok, so “brand” might feel like a big concept, especially if you’re a freelancer or solo entrepreneur, but don’t let the term put you off. It basically refers to your way of presenting your online persona. If you don’t want to turn your name into a logo, don’t! That’s OK.
Don’t be shy about treating yourself as a brand, but be yourself, not someone else. Don’t copy a trendy competitor because you like their style! Personality goes a long way towards building relationships with your audience, but it must be authentic.
So how do you want to be perceived and how should you go about showing that personality online? I’m not talking about your logo and colour scheme (yet), ask yourself how does your ideal customer feel when they visit your site or see you on social media. Before looking at colour swatches and fonts consider the following:
- What makes you different?
- What are the personality traits that best describe you?
- What does your experience say about you?
- What is your unique approach to your product / service?
- What tone of voice best communicates your personality?
- What does your elevator pitch sound like?
- How can your uniqueness, expertise and tone be translated into visual representation?
- How will you create the visuals needed for your site?
If you feel like you need to work with a designer, rather than creating your own website visuals, this information will serve as a perfect brief for your designer to understand your style and approach.
Take action now:
Download your brand worksheet.
Describe what makes you unique. Define your area of expertise. Decide on your tone and research visual styles.
Factor 4. Competition
How are you doing so far? Still with me? Good stuff! Nearly there now.
Time for a bit of snoopin’
Look back at steps 1 to 3 and ask what your competitors are doing and how. Pick 3 companies / freelancers, well, they don’t actually have to be your direct competitors, maybe they’re peers. Maybe it’s an entrepreneur that you admire who does their online interactions really well. Check out their sites and social media profiles. Are their goals obvious? What is their “Call to action” (what are they asking the site visitors to do? Get in touch? Join the mailing list? Buy this product before the sale ends?)
When we look at competitors, we’re not trying to copy what they’re doing. We’re stepping into the shoes of your ideal customer to see what other experiences are available to them. How are you going to do things differently so that they have a better experience with you?
Take action now:
Download your competition/peers worksheet.
Check out their sites and social media profiles. What are they asking for and how are they asking?
Factor 5. Implementation
Whew! If you’ve gone through factors 1 to 4, and done the work, bravo, well done, high fives! You’ve done a whole lotta’ reflection and research. Have a lolly! So far we’ve been thinking globally, long-termly and kind of emotionally. Next bit is much more practical.
Write a to-do list
Implementation is the nitty gritty of your strategy which takes the form of a whopping great to-do list. Personally, I use Google spreadsheets for my implementation lists. I do this for a number of reasons.
- I can access the file on all my different devices (desktop, laptop and phone), so I can check in on my list whenever, wherever. I recently got through a few points on the list while in the waiting room at the dentist
- I can easily share the live spreadsheet with people I collaborate with without saving multiple copies
- I can save long links to refer to later, all I have to do is copy/paste the link into a spreadsheet cell and click on it later. It works better than bookmarking for me because I can put it in context and write a note to myself
- I can cross things off the list, but still keep them visible so that I have a record of the things that I’ve already done and how they were done. I just change the colour of the cell to grey, meaning “done”!
- It’s free and so easy to use. No need to sign up for a fancy project management software and spend time getting your head around it!
Some people like Evernote, or good ole’ pen and paper, but for me, Google spreadsheets have proved to be the most effective for all sorts of projects.
So, your implementation list will have details of alllll the things you need to do in the next, week, month, year. I use different tabs in the spreadsheet for short, mid and long-term tasks. When your list starts to look really long, it means that you need to spend some time DOING. Schedule your time with a calendar. Guess what I use, yup, Google calendars.
List everything, no matter how minute. It gives a great sense of satisfaction when you cross things off, so even little things can motivate you to do more. Use big headings and list points below. Put things in order of importance.
Sample Implementation list
Set up website
- Register domain name and buy hosting
- Install WordPress
- Add WordPress theme
- Add plugins for back-up, security and spam protection
- Delete default WordPress sample pages
- Set up permalink structure
- Add homepage, contact page and about page
- Compose text for services page
- Brainstorm blog post topics
- Find images
Set up MailChimp
- Create MailChimp account
- Create mailing list for newsletter
- Create campaign template
- Embed sign up form to website
Take action now:
Download your implementation list template.
Include all the tasks that need to be carried out to get the project started. (Print this list if you’re a pen and paper lover, but I recommend using an online list like Google spreadsheets or Evernote.)
YOU MADE IT!
How did you do? Did you get through it? I know that It can be tough to find time to focus on all this stuff, especially if you’re trying to get a new business off the ground. And it may, at times, feel like you’re answering obvious questions, but having this strategy together WILL help you to define the purpose of your web project and make sure that you have the tools and resources in place to get create a really useful site… without getting lost in the process… without getting overwhelmed by options.
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