October 1, 2014

The Strategy Behind Web Design

web design strategyA great website doesn’t start with design. You may only see what’s on the surface — a well-designed and well-functioning website.  But behind it is weeks, sometimes months, of strategic planning.

Without it, your website wouldn’t exist in the first place.

You would never build a house without a plan. Even before you meet with your contractors, you have an idea of what you want out of your house. The same goes for your website.

Not allocating the time and resources necessary to strategically plan your website is the biggest mistake companies make. While these steps will vary based on your company’s needs, here’s what a well-developed tactical Web strategy should look like:

Step 1: Establish Your Goals

Before your Web design agency starts creating a website, make sure you’re clear on the basics: What are you trying to achieve with your new website? What is your website’s main purpose?

Ask your key stakeholders:

“What’s the biggest goal of our website?”

Everyone is likely to have different answer to this question, and you’ll want to discuss all input. But you’ll need to reach a consensus so there’s one clear-cut vision. A good way to do this is through Card Storming.

Let’s say you have four stakeholders. Pass out note cards to everyone, and give them three minutes to write down as many brand/business goals for the website they have, with one goal on each card.

Then pair up and each team has three minutes to decide on the top three goals out of  their bunch. Do that as a whole group so that, in the end, you have a consensus on the three main goals for your new website.

Step 2: Define Your Audience

Your audience will play the biggest role in your website, so you need to know everything about them. The basic demographics of age, gender and profession are good, but don’t stop there. What do your users like to do? What social networks do they use? How technically savvy are they?

This user research could include focus groups, competitive analysis, surveys, interactive exercises, or existing and potential customer interviews, depending on how in-depth you choose to go.

Step 3: Set Your Brand

The last thing you want is for your website to give your audience mixed messages from a confusing brand image. How do you want customers to feel about your brand? Be sure to adequately explain that to your web designers so they can choose color schemes and other elements to best convey that emotion.

Every color elicits a different emotion, so you want to settle on a scheme that properly conveys the tone of your brand.

Step 4: Design For Your Users

You spent that time learning about your audience. Now that knowledge needs to be implemented in the design. Make sure your agency focuses on user-centered design when building your website. This should include:

  • Information architecture to organize your websites’ content.
  • Intuitive navigation so your users easily flow through your website.
  • Strong call to action so your users complete your designed goal.
For example, when we were redesigning a newspaper’s website, our user research showed that visitors first wanted to see the weather. So in our redesign, we put that top-right in their page layout.

Step 5: Track Your Results

In the end, you want a website that looks great. But you also want one that accomplishes your goals. In order to do that, make sure you have installed an analytics tracking system so you can see just how people are using your website.

Google Analytics will do just that for you.  Make sure the goals you identified in Step 1 are tracked here.

Your project is only as strong as the planning that goes into it. A proper strategy ensures effective design and development, and avoids costly setbacks.

At the conclusion of a well-developed strategic process, not only will you have a great product, but you will also have a comprehensive blueprint document to use as a basis for future expansion.

The future of your business is too important not to do it right the first time.

Web Design Photo via Shutterstock

13 Comments ▼

Erin Everhart


Erin Everhart Erin Everhart is the director of digital marketing at 352, a digital agency providing design, development and marketing solutions. She's a contributing author for a number of blogs, including Mashable, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch and Small Business Trends, and speaks at conferences nationwide, including SMX, SES and PubCon. Erin is an alumna of the University of Florida and currently lives in Atlanta, where she’s an avid tennis player and one of the few people who actually likes grammar.

13 Reactions

  1. This is a great little article that reflect feelings I have had about website design for some time. I see a website as no more than a marketing tool. Therefore right from the very beginning it is not only a showcase of your services and products it is also part of the sales process. Also as we become overloaded with the joys of web 2.0 it is the hub of social media campaigns.

    Nick

  2. Great tips, Erin. It’s really important that you track your results as accurately as possible. Tracking can be one of the biggest variables in your income.

    Ti

  3. A great website is %90 planning and organizing. You can easily tell the difference between a self created website that was quickly put it and a well organized and working website. Great article.

  4. This all seems obvious in this day and age. But I sure see a lot of sites that go to market without representing these things clearly in the end design.

    Or, they have these things mapped out. But by the time each stakeholder has their say in the design process all the initial planning is long gone in the design process.

    These points should be addressed at every major point in the design process.

    • Hi Sage, having the right people involved early on ultimately saves a lot of time and wasted work.

      In my corporate past I would hear some team members say “why do I need to be in this meeting?” I’d think, you’re missing an opportunity. You don’t NEED to be anywhere, but if you want a say in something the time to do it is early on, not after the fact when it’s much more expensive to change or impractical to incorporate new input because it’s so far along.

      – Anita

      • Hey there Anita!

        I think most executives just don’t get it. They don’t need to go to the manufacturing plant to oversee the building of their new Porsche. So why would they need to oversee this?

        It’s just a new shiny plaything.

        But a Web site is more like a house than a car. It’s custom to your specific needs. You have to be there.

    • That’s why it’s so critical to have them in there in that initial goal planning, anyone who has the ability to swoop in on a project at any point and poop all over something you’ve done. If each stakeholder is involved in the planning, consensus is already met before design even takes place.

  5. you are right…design it for your audience…and only happens when think like them. bringing your level to a layman can make you possible to create a design which fulfills the website needs.

  6. I think audience is the most important thing to remember. It’s not for you, it’s for other people.

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