All too often companies refresh an existing website or build a completely new website only to set the project up for failure before it gets started because they do not know that a comprehensive website plan is key to a sites success.
More often than not, companies embark on a website project without establishing a messaging framework or thinking through and documenting the primary objective for the website. In addition, the primary and secondary audiences are frequently not identified nor are the key tasks users should be able to perform. As a result, core decisions about the site are made on the fly and text is then entered to fill the chosen WordPress theme. Sometimes this approach can work but usually success using this approach is analogous to trying to reverse water that is running downhill.
So how should a company plan to refresh or build a new website?
Website Plan Components
- Business Objectives – this section documents the primary objectives for the website
- Target Audiences – because the website cannot be all things to all people, it’s essential to rank and prioritize for whom the site is intended and what each audience should be able to accomplish
- Mission Statement – this section outlines the overall mission for the website by bridging the business objectives with the needs of the various audiences
- Implementation Imperatives – this includes the assumptions and/or dependencies required for the website to be successful
- User Experience Strategy – this section provides a high level view of the communications strategy, site architecture and creative experience.
- Features/Functionality – this section should be broken out in phases because it’s almost never possible to complete everything desired in the requested timeframe requested and/or within a specified budget
- Success Measures – details how the success of the website will be measured once it launches
- Barriers and Challenges — describes the issues, challenges, obstacles and dependencies that might hinder the success of the website
Website Plan – Business Objectives
Business objectives clearly define the goals of the initiative. The most effective objectives are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound (SMART). In addition, the documented goals and objectives must have the support of all stakeholders with a vested interest in the success of the website.
Website Plan – Target Audiences
It’s important to define the target audiences so there are clear definitions of who the website is intended for (broken down by degrees of priority), and the unique audience needs the website must address. Segmenting the target audience will provide the foundation to strengthen relationships with key stakeholders whether these stakeholders are prospects, customers, partners, employees, investors, etc. By strengthening these relationships, the goal is to motivate each segment to behave in certain ways.
Website Plan – Mission Statement
The Mission Statement outlines the overall mission for the website by linking the business objectives with the needs of the prioritized audiences. The mission statement brings together the key business goals and aligns them with the needs of the prioritized website visitors. The mission statement should include a sub-level of detailed elements. Alongside each element, summary information should be provided to further explain the goal and intent embodied within the mission statement text.
Website Plan – Implementation Imperatives
Implementation Imperatives essentially define the rules of engagement for the website project. On the other hand, business objectives define what the website must deliver in terms of business value. Audience prioritization is critical because it defines for whom the website is intended, the tasks users should be able to accomplish and how the content and functionality must be delivered. Typically design constraints, usability requirements and desired tangible benefits the website must deliver upon are included.
Website Plan – Core Processes
In addition to the website plan components, there are two core processes that are fundamental to customer acquisition and retention and need to be proactively included in a website plan:
Website Plan – Customer Behavior Model
A “vanilla” version of a Customer Buying Behavior Model may be broken down into six key steps/questions:
- Awareness—What events or other situation(s) might trigger this audience to have an awareness of your company’s offering?
- Consider—What benefits or satisfaction might this audience think about in their consideration of your company’s offering?
- Search—What information might this audience want to collect in their search for a potential solution to their need?
- Choose—What attributes and differences might this audience compare in their process of choosing an offering to solve their specific need?
- Buy—Once they have decided to purchase, what steps do they take, how would they go about it?
- Loyalty—Once they have purchased, what things are involved in onboarding and turning the customer into a net promoter?
Website Plan – Journey Board
A Journey Board illustrates the key elements in a relationship lifecycle. Specifically, a journey board includes the desired audience dialogue or touch points—that is, opportunities within the relationship lifecycle in which audience members may be exposed to a brand experience (digital and physical assets). Each of these touch points comprise the brand experience. Brand experience is typically a mixture of planned communication efforts (press releases, blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, reviews, webcasts, etc.) as well as direct interaction with brand stewards (tradeshows, earnings calls, executive events, sales calls, etc.).
A comprehensive website plan. A plan helps ensure a site that is compelling, relevant and tied to a company’s objectives. More importantly, the resulting website will be focused on solving the prioritized visitor’s goals via an engaging and fulfilling user experience.