You may be thinking about setting up a new website, or refreshing your existing website. Great news but how do you go about explaining what you need and what you want to potential suppliers?
We deal with new website requests everyday and we see a wide range of approaches, some of which delight us and some that make us want to run to the hills!! Some of our favourite briefs (not in a good sense) are “I want an attractive and exciting website” or “I want an online shop”. Usually that is the beginning and end of the customer brief, and from this we are expected to magically come up with a website. So we thought we should give a helping hand to ensure potential customers appreciate what developers/designers need to know.
Before you even start to think about your website design, you need to figure out how people will find your website. This means clear understanding of the kind of business you are in, your target market, and what search terms your website should show up for. I know you are thinking “That sounds like old marketing and not new digital-whiz-bang stuff”. Even in the digital world, the old marketing rules apply including segmentation, generating demand, generating interest, and converting interest into action!
In the digital world you just need to think differently about “Generating Demand” as your demand comes via Search Engines. Interest is generated with “Search Terms” that match your Meta Tags and content, whilst converting interest into action is about your website design and flow. You can have the most beautiful website, technically advanced, and creatively out-of-this-world, but if people do not find you in search engines, your website will be a very lonely place!
You need to discover what people use to find your service or product. Usually, website owners are way off-the-mark as they are too familiar with their own company, product, and/or service (you know, familiarity breeds contempt!). This is about research and any reputable web design company should have tools that allow them access the data from search engines. These tools are usually subscription based and are not cheap so don’t expect to be able to afford to take a short-cut on this.
Your website design company should be able to give you:
These should provide the backbone of your website content, approach, and focus.
It is not just Google and other search engines that care about this, but visitors do too. Content will decide whether your website lives or dies. You first have to think about content before you think about the design. Content will drive the design, navigation logic, content map, and ultimately the success or failure of your online venture. Before you get excited and get carried away with the fun stuff you need to deal with the mundane, which means focusing on content.
Your content should reflect the target keywords and keyphrases. Use Excel sheet (boring I know), but if you can’t fit it on an Excel sheet, you are on the wrong track. Sort out the Groupings and Subject Headings based on your keywords. Then get them all in the right order. The rule here is 1 Word per cell (maximum 2 words if you really must). Remember ultimately this could be your navigation key section and content structure.
Now look to see if people will find the information they need on your website. Do you have to explain it? If you do, then start again. Keep on doing this until you no longer have to explain your excel sheet to anyone. Guess what? You now have Website Content Plan!
Every website has goals or objectives. This is why you have a website. You want someone to subscribe, order goods, make a reservation, vote for your article, get in touch, or take any other measurable action. The objective of a website cannot be “subjective” touchy-feely stuff. Just to look cool is not an objective even if you are a professional artist like a photographer, painter, sculpture, or interior designer. You are showcasing your work so that the visitor thinks “These are great works and I want some”. So the website may look cool, it may create desire, but then what? What does the visitor do with his/her burning desire for your work? So let’s get real. Website is a sales tool whichever way you want to look at it.
Think about the process of finding information on your website and how you get from A to B. How does a visitor get from the Landing Page to Information and then to Goal. Put simply, how do they get from Landing Page to Enquiry, from homepage to booking, or any goal that is defined within your website.
Now call up your best friend “Mr Excel Sheet”. Roll out the process and go from A to B. Is it logical? Is it simple? Remember a website is like a joke; if you have to explain it, it is not a good one!
We all want a smart looking website but we can have a great looking website that is confusing, unintuitive, and illogical. That puts visitors off because it does not make sense to them. Visitors might think it looks great but do they “Take Action”, which in reality means do they act to reach your goal?
So ask yourself:
So you get the picture now, so get down to what you want people to do and let the designer worry about the style.
This is much more complex when you have e-commerce website as you also have to think about product variants (type, colour, size, grade), delivery/order tracking, reverse logistics, etc.
Now check how everything hangs together.
You really have to play the devil’s advocate here. Don’t be nice. Be the visitor from Hell! Be a spoilt child and throw a tantrum if you can’t get what you want in more than 3 clicks. That is what is going to happen to your visitor and they click off to another website. If you can get from A-to-B in 3 clicks, you are in a good shape.
Now that you know the content, content map, and process, you can now look to see what functionality you need.
E-Commerce, Hotel Booking System, Payment Gateway, CMS (Content Management System), Photo Gallery, Newsletter subscription, Members only section, secure section, etc., etc. Now you are getting to the exciting bits!
You cannot begin to select a supplier or get a price until you know this. Your supplier can’t provide a price unless they know this information and lack of functionality definition is why most website projects blow their budget.
You can’t have a Rolls Royce with Mondeo money no matter what Ford salesman tells you!
You have been on a long journey and have not even begun on the aesthetic yet. You see where you are going wrong if you start here? You have a lovely logo, cool design, all dressed up but nowhere to go and nothing of value to say.
If you start here before completing the steps above, the chances are you need to redesign your website sooner or later, because the designer didn’t have the full picture. Designers need guidance, not just about the colour but your content, process, objectives, etc. If your objective was “Make a cool design”, that is what they will design. You didn’t ask “Make a me cool E-commerce website that does XYZ, can handle 1500 items, has Featured Product section, Product of the Week, online order tracking, online return process, Chat Support, etc., etc.”. You just asked for a Cool Design and that is what you got. So do yourself a favour, save yourself time, and money, and start from the beginning of the process rather than from the end.
Once you done all this, you have to document it! “What? You mean I have to write what I want?” I hear you ask. Unless you can find a psychic developer, I am afraid you have to document your ideas! Remember, evidence shows most psychics are not genuine!
With your full requirements documented, you can then go out to find a suitable supplier in the knowledge that you have a tight brief they can work with. If they read your brief they should be able to deliver exactly what you want (barring your budget).
Go to suppliers you trust direct but also get some recommendation from people you know. If potential suppliers do not ask you for any of this information then walk away, because they are chancers. They are chancing with you and they are putting your business at risk so that they can make a quick buck. If you do not provide this information, then your supplier should be asking you for them. If they do not ask, you should be worried about their ability to deliver your objectives and seriously question their understanding of what they are doing. Only choose people who ask the right questions even if that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Here comes my favourite quotation from Warren Buffett, CEO and Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and the famous investor:
“Honesty is an expensive gift, do not expect it from cheap people”.
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