What do you need to do before you build a website?
Building a website is the same as building anything else. Without the proper planning and foundations in place you’re unlikely to end up with a product that’s fit for purpose. At least not for the long term.
So here is QUAFF’s list of 6 things you must do before designing a website.
1. Establish Your Point of Difference
Your Point of Difference is the thing you do much better than anyone else.
USP is dead.
For the vast majority of businesses out there finding something ‘unique’ is now impossible. Offering a ‘unique’ selling point, in fact, hasn’t really been a thing for at least the last decade – we’re just all taught it because businesses and coaches have it as part of their shtick.
The replacement isn’t hugely different but it’s an important distinction to note. What makes businesses stand out now is their Point of Difference (PoD).
Sounds the same, right?
It’s not. If, for example, you take two businesses selling fish tanks. They both sell the same brands, at the same prices. They’re both been around as long as the other and they’re both well run. One makes sure to stock a wide range of products at all times, the other stocks these products but focuses 90% of its effort to specialise in one range.
The second business out-performs the first every time.
The reason for this is the second business has identified it’s PoD and is using it to their advantage.
There will be a hundred things you’re doing the same as your competitors but there will be one thing you are convinced you do better than anybody else. Make this your PoD. Establish yourself as that specialist.
Having this discussion with clients often leads to them being concerned that by focusing on one thing, sales of everything else will die away. This is very rarely the case.
For a new business, this is otherwise known as niching and would have happened sooner or later anyway if the business was to survive. An established business will have a customer base that already knows how wide the pool of expertise is. The customers know that the business specialising in one particular area won’t adversely affect them, it may even benefit them.
Setting out your stall in this manner will also attract new customers that may not have used your business if you didn’t have a specialism. It also brings across market share from competitors who can’t now offer what you can.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop your competitors from doing the same thing and taking a similar portion of customers away from you. In this instance you need to be smart about what you’re specialising in, its commercial value, and what other area of your business you’re willing to spend less time on.
As a show of faith – we’ve done it. We’ve reduced what we offer to clients, we’ve removed services, we’ve killed ideas just before we’ve launched them as, on reflection, they wouldn’t benefit us as much as we thought they would.
We have stopped using Instagram and Twitter as a lead generator. We take on a limited number of clients. We have taken big, bold steps to follow our own advice and have never looked back.
2. Create Your Ideal Customer Personas
Your Ideal Customer Personas are a group of identities formed from condensed industry data that allow you to perfect your digital messaging and output.
Ask any business owner who their customers are. Ask yourself. Can you describe them? Can you even quantify them? Or is it really difficult to pinpoint exactly who they are? Don’t worry – it’s a notoriously tricky question.
There are a number of reasons for this being difficult. Firstly, it’s likely you have a few typical customers from different backgrounds and situations. Secondly, it’s possible that the role of senior management has taken you away from customer facing roles so you’re a little out of touch with the ‘shopfloor’ and ‘day-to-day’.
Knowing your ideal customers isn’t just about industry experience. It’s not just how many years you’ve spent interacting with customers and clients. Your Ideal Customer Personas are fictional characters created from sets of data.
Despite this, once these ‘people’ have been created you should be able to recognise each one as a ‘silhouette’ of many of your regulars.
In order to build these personas it is important to use data from a wide variety of sources. Industry specific organisations or trade bodies, demographic research carried out by trustworthy third parties, competitor analysis, and best of all, collecting data straight from your own customers.
It should be noted that if you are going to ask your customers questions you must spend a great deal of time and thought on figuring out what your questions will be. For instance, it is not rude to ask your customers or clients how much they earn, provided you give an option not to disclose this information. But it is unacceptable to ask for your customer’s gender, without giving options outside of the outdated ‘male or female’ choices.
Establishing age, gender identity, industry, and income are the basics. Think carefully about what else you want to know, how to ask for it, and how you will use the data that comes back in order to form the personas.
Once you have all the information back and collated, you can begin the process of setting out your personas. Don’t be afraid to take a little bit of licence with these – give them names, give them pets, imagine what holidays they might like to take, what their hobbies are. Flesh them out but be careful – make no firm assertion about their behaviours that cannot be backed up by data.
It’s normal to come away from this exercise with 3-6 personas. Any of which would describe a particular segment of the customers your business interacts with, with surprising accuracy. It will clarify in your own mind exactly who you want to be selling to and how to approach them.
These personas do not then sit on a shelf gathering dust. They will be invaluable when it comes to creating digital content. Knowing where your customers are online, what their values and interests are, will allow you to target individual segments with specific digital output.
It’s generally a good idea to repeat this exercise every 12 months. You may find nothing changes or you might get extra insights – either outcome is of use to your business.
3. Map Your Customer Journeys
Mapping a customer journey means establishing the route a customer or client will take when engaging with your business’s touchpoints.
Understanding this will help you to build a website that solves their problems where they are, so you can create a design that makes buying from you a no-brainer.
Your touchpoints are any way that existing or potential customers interact with your business. This could be your social media, paid ads, SERPS (search engine results pages), affiliate links, or your website itself.
You will have already used your ideal customer personas to determine which social media platforms to major on (as I mentioned earlier we’ve wound down our Instagram and Twitter accounts), as well as what advertising channels to use, and what search engine results you want to rank for.
When you know the ‘where’ you can start on ‘what’ and ‘how’. ‘What’ do these customers want to see/hear/read/feel? ‘How’ do you provide that experience within the boundaries of your industry? Remember, your marketing must reflect your business and how you operate. It must be authentic.
The final hurdle is ‘why’. ‘Why’ should this user interact with your business? Have you made it easy to do so? Is it clearly in their interest to do so?
Are you providing value?
Use the Where, What, How, & Why to determine the journey a customer or client goes on from first contact with your business, through to your desired outcome. More often than not this outcome is some sort of transactional procedure.
Now imagine you’ve already built your website without doing this. Anything you discovered here, anything you thought about, any decisions you made would have to be diluted in order to fit into the system and process you already had in place.
Square pegs, round holes. Preparation is everything.
4. Create Your Social Media Plan
A social media plan is where you lay out precisely how your content will be constructed. How it looks, what it says, your hashtag strategy (yes, really), when you post, what type of post it should be, what media suits your business best etc etc etc
A social media plan is more than deciding what platforms to be on and setting some targets for likes or followers. And it will not only help drive visitors to your website, but it will also help you to decide on what you website content looks and sounds like, what pages you need to create and what types of images to use. You must have consistency across all areas of your digital marketing, and, as social is driven by your customers, we believe establishing your social media plan before your website design is the best order to do things.
It’s a good idea to look at the social media feeds for your biggest competitors. What’s working for them? How often are they posting? What sort of engagement do they get from these posts? Remember, however, that their social media plan will likely differ from yours and their target market will be different. Nevertheless, it’s always useful to have an idea of what the industry is doing.
You should again be consulting your ideal customer personas. Did you ask them about their social media habits? Do you know, for example, how many of them spend most of their time on YouTube? Do you need to start creating video content? Perhaps.
A comprehensive social media plan will cover the following aspects;
- Social media platforms being used and how often to post on each one
- A selection of post types relevant to your industry – these may range from posts about specific products or services, through to ‘meet the team’ interview style skits.
- When in the day you have the most engagement and how to leverage that (for example we don’t post anything on LinkedIn on a Friday – it’s a wasteland for us),
- Hashtag strategy – hashtags are multi-platform. A hashtag strategy will include how many to use on a post per platform and contain a bank of pre-researched hashtags to use. This should be monitored and updated as necessary.
- Competitor analysis
- Influencer analysis
Social media is not only fast paced and changeable, it also requires consistency to properly leverage it’s benefits. There is a reason influencers have appeared – consistent, high quality content will be noticed.
As with everything else, ensure your content is always providing value to your audience.
5. Write Your Sales Strategy
Your sales strategy will help to determine much of how your website is structured; everything from your navigation menus to what type of payment system is used. It is essential that you know precisely WHAT you are selling before you design your site; otherwise how will you communicate this with your customers?
A digital sales strategy should mirror and enhance your physical sales strategy for your day to day, or bricks and mortar business. What we mean by that is it should share the same targets and preferred outcomes by amplifying the sales focus your business is planning.
For example, if your business sells electrical goods and you sell lots of high end TVs in December your digital sales strategy should take that into account. Having imagery, graphics, and adverts prepared and scheduled in advance will free up lots of time and headspace. As well as this, having a seamless transition from your physical offering to your digital output promotes brand confidence with consumers.
A digital sales strategy should break down what direction you want to go in (what you want to sell) on a monthly basis. This allows time to research how to best promote these targeted goods or services online, create your website content and copy, and schedule it for publishing. Thus aligning your online marketing with your in store marketing, sales, and promotions.
It may take into account extra hashtag research to be used in the short to medium term. If you do include this just be aware that the hashtags that are most pertinent at the time may have changed 6 months down the line so it’s worth revisiting these a few weeks in advance.
6. Decide on Your Content Strategy
A digital content strategy covers how your social media, emails, website copy and blog posts will be written, packaged, and delivered to your audience.
A content strategy is only as good as the time and research that has been put into the previous points on this list which is why we mention it last.
The previous two points establish where you will post your content online and on social media and how it will further your revenues and turnover. This third element works on what will be said, what style of copy should be employed.
This strategy should cover everything from your Tone of Voice policy through to what you write in your newsletter or email marketing.
Tone of voice is important. Knowing how you want your audience to react to your copy is vital and will not only drive engagement back to you, but also help customers make the decisions you want them to make. An authoritative tone can help assure an audience if you deal with complex situations. Whereas a light-hearted or jocular tone works better in a competitive market where you want to stand out as more approachable.
Take some time to think about your values as a business and as an industry. Set your tone of voice accordingly. If you have more than one person that will be writing your copy, consider introducing them in some way to your audience so the slight changes in writing styles becomes an authentic feature rather than trying to force everyone to write in the same style.
Email marketing remains the most effective way to sell online so having your content and copy on point is super important.
Most importantly, remember that absolutely everything your audience sees from you must provide value to them. If not then sooner or later they will cease to interact with it.
If you’ve followed these steps; you have your PoD, your personas, you’ve mapped the journeys you want your audience to take, and you’ve constructed your social media, sales, and content plan, you’re now ready to begin considering website design.
If you haven’t, and you need help with these 6 steps, book a call with us.