What is Website strategy?
Website strategy is the process of building websites that helps you achieve your business goals and meet your users’ needs.
If you are not sure whether Website strategy is the right approach for building or redesigning your website, please read the section that follows. It explains what Website strategy is not and what to expect from the process.
However, if you are of the type that likes to jump right in and get your hands dirty, please do skip to the process itself!
Website strategy is not :
— A one-time thing.
If you are serious about using the Web to achieve your business goals, your website should be a never-ending work in progress. This doesn’t mean that you will never get to launch or redesign your company’s website. You will. However, as your business evolves, so should your website, to mirror its growth.
— A quick, 5-minute process.
Laying out your Website strategy may seem like a long process, especially in the beginning. Do not get discouraged. You should go through all the steps. Trust me, this will pay off manifold, especially in the long term.
— Just a way to choose a specific technology.
Certainly, choosing the right technology for your website will be one of the steps when formulating your Website strategy, but it’s not the end goal. Technology (software) is just a means to an end.
— Set in stone.
Keep in mind that your Website strategy isn’t an immutable law. As your business changes, so will your goals. The strategic process will make it way more easier for you to adapt to changes and keep your new goals firmly in your sights.
Website strategy benefits
— Master of your own domain
Yes, pun intended.
Big tech companies and online services come and go, but your domain and your website are yours. For example, Google or Facebook may change their rules for advertising, but no one can control your e-mail list to which you send your newsletter.
A well-designed and executed Website strategy will:
— Save you time and money in the long term.
Without a strategic approach to building websites, you are in a constant state of flux. The targets are unclear. Companies try to solve this issue by throwing more money at it. A new technology, the latest social network marketing gimmick, a visual redesign – without a clear goal and a roadmap to get there, all these things are pretty much useless.
— Help you answer any questions in relation to your website.
Issues and doubts will show up, whether during the process of building your website, or after the launch. This is normal. The great thing is that your Website strategy will help you find answers quickly. You just have to go back and read the answers you wrote down, for a particular step of your Website strategy.
— Complement and reinforce your “offline” business.
If your website is straightforward and easy to use, your customers will expect the same kind of service in you physical store. It goes the other way around, too.
— Benefits for Web designers and developers.
The main problem with most web designers and developers: They don’t think like a business owner does.
A company hires a web developer or an agency to build their new website. The work is done, the agency got paid and that’s it. The new website doesn’t bring in any revenue to the company.
Unfortunately, this scenario is a very common one.
That’s why a Web strategist is far more valuable to a business then a great designer or a highly skilled developer.
If you are a web developer or designer, learning how to craft and execute a good website strategy will make you stand out from the herd. As you learn about the process, you will understand that you have to marry IT and business. This union is what brings in profits. It’s a win-win for all sides involved: Your client, their clients (end users, i.e. website users) and you.
— Benefits for managers and project leads.
You will learn how web technology ties in to business goals.
You don’t have to understand the nitty-gritty of web programming or the latest front-end technologies. What you have to understand is how different aspects of your website strategy fit in with your company’s vision.
You will learn to ask the right questions, such as: what kind of content our users prefer? In what format? What kind of design and functionality will drive up subscriptions? Etc.
All that being said, let’s jump into the process of creating a great Website strategy. Generally speaking, the 7 steps can be divided into two parts:
Soft part – your company and your clients:
Tech part – your website:
Do not be afraid to jump to another step of your strategy and then come back later to finish the one you were doing. It’s better to vary your process a little bit than to get bogged down in any of the phases. Yes, this process will yield some amazing results. But just writing and writing can be boring.
If I get an idea for website visuals or some content pieces, I just quickly sketch them out. Sometimes I even create a basic HTML mockup of a page to give myself a better sense of direction.
1. You and your business
To be able to create content (as well as the look and feel) for your website that is authentic, you must answer the following questions:
- What do you love to do?
- In what area do you excel?
- What are your values?
- Why do you do what you do?
Think deeply about your answer.
This is not about your knowledge and skills, but why you chose your specific line of business and not something else.
Let me give you an example:
Any architect can tell you that they are designing buildings because they have the necessary skillset: That she has mastered the science of statics and strength of materials, the art of designing buildings so that they are functional and safe, etc.
But an architect that stands out may tell you that she designs zero energy buildings because her main concern is humanity’s impact on the environment. She enrolled into architectural studies because her talent for design makes it possible for her to directly contribute to her vision of a better world.
Think how strong a selling point that is. Her message will reach a very specific audience.
The more specific and unique your offer is, the higher you can charge for your services.
Because you are positioning yourself as a specialist within your broader industry. Speaking of which…
- What are the characteristics of other companies and individuals that operate in your industry and market segment?
- What is being praised and sought after?
- What is being criticized?
Your unique selling point
After answering the preceding three questions, stand back and take a more objective look at your business. Ask yourself:
What differentiates my business from others?
Usually, you can stand out in only one of the three areas for your service or product:
Once you have identified your area of differentiation, remember to converge all your website building efforts in that direction – content (text, video, downloadables), design, user interface and user experience.
The last thing you want to have is just another website in a sea of blandness.
3. Target audience
Like I mentioned in the previous section – your website should reflect your values. But that must be made in conjunction with making your website geared towards your audience.
Because the truth is:
Nobody cares about you or your company. All your website visitors care about is what you can do for them.
Your website definitely should reflect your values, because you want customers who share those same values.
But those values should come through messages targeted at your audience.
And to know who you are offering your products and services to, answer the following questions:
Persona – the profile of your ideal client
The persona will help you to create content and design your website as if you were creating it for one person. Of course, you are targeting a wider audience, but anyone who visits your website should have a feeling as if it were a one-on-one interaction.
Their views on your industry?
- What annoys them the most in your industry?
- What are they absolutely amazed with?
- What keeps them up at night?
4. Features, benefits and FAQs
This is where you have to jot down what your product or service is about: Why will someone want to buy it – what’s in it for them (benefit)? As well as the features and potential objections.
This material will be the core content of each individual service or product page. It all boils down to this:
Each business either solves a problem or makes a wish come true.
Here is a quick example:
A mobile phone is a necessity in today’s world. If you are looking for work, need to keep in touch with relatives and friends, you need it. A basic, no-name mobile phone will solve this problem (it doesn’t even need to be a smartphone).
On the other hand, the latest iPhone, encased in a golden frame is not a necessity. Someone who will buy it definitely goes beyond the basic need to stay connected. This is an example of fulfilling a wish.
Alright, let’s see the features and benefits through an example now:
Let’s say you are selling computers. In this case, the features can be:
- i9 processor
- 16GB RAM
- 1TB SSD hard drive
OK, these are the features. But how do they benefit your potential clients?
Because of the power your computer packs, it can:
- Boot under 3 seconds
- Run several resource-demanding programs all at the same time
- Store and retrieve data in the blink of an eye
Benefits should be the most prominent part of your web pages’ content. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t list your products’ or services’ features. You just don’t put them first.
If your website is an online store, things like discounts and free shipping offers should be among the most prominent elements.
FAQs or objections?
You should counter any objections to your services or products before they are raised.
This can be done:
- On each product page individually.
- On a single web page, such as a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page.
The latter is more common for websites that are about a single, specific service. This page or section of your website is sometimes labeled “support”.
Writing down the answers to the most common objections you’re likely to have from your customers will ensure:
- Your users don’t choose your competitor’s website because they have done their due diligence while you haven’t
- Relieve you of having to reply to emails and phone calls because you didn’t address those issues on your website
- That you show your understanding for your customers’ needs and worries.
Now that you have successfully defined the first part of your Website strategy, what follows is the actual website building process. Here, you will write down the scope of your website’s content and its functionality. You will sketch out the structure. Based on those, keyword research and design decisions will be made.
What is the main goal of your website? The most-heard answer is “to increase my profits”. This is logical, because:
If your website doesn’t make you any money, it’s just a liability.
However, some goals are different, like: increasing a brand’s reach or raising consciousness about a cause that’s important to you (environment, a political cause, etc).
If you can, discuss this with someone who isn’t directly involved with your business. Because what often happens is that, as the owner, you can’t see the forest for the trees.
Once, we had a potential client – a company that wanted to launch a subscription-based educational web portal. As the preliminary consulting meeting progressed, they realized that a board game would be their ideal product, not a website! How is that for a change?
Be completely honest with yourself. You may be amazed at what will emerge to the surface during your website strategy creation process!
- Why would someone visit your website?
- To get informed?
- To buy something?
- To enquire about a service?
- To read and apply instructions from a how-to or a tutorial?
Main sections and website architecture
Take a pen and a piece of paper. Finally! Sketching time is here!
The majority of websites follow a hierarchical structure like this one:
Be aware that you should keep your pages at a maximum “depth” of 3 clicks from the homepage. More than that, and you will turn away your users.
Defining the functionality will directly influence the choice of technology for your website.
Here are some of the possible functionalities that you may need on your website:
- Web shop
- Subscription area
- Contact form
- Login for registered users
…and so on. But make sure to keep in mind this:
Do not implement a functionality just because you heard that it’s good for marketing or that someone else reaped success by using it.
Think thoroughly by going through all the previous steps and see if a specific functionality would really yield benefits (think long-term).
Let’s say that you are offering gardening services. You did a little research and saw that there is a demand but also that other websites in your niche are poorly made. So, the obvious choice was to create a basic, really simple website with a separate page for each service. But then you noticed that you could write articles regularly, which would offer advice and tips on gardening. This will build trust with your audience and boost your traffic. Which would in turn lead to more customers. So WordPress was the obvious choice because it’s perfectly suited for a simple website with a blog. And it’s free.
Is your website going to be in English only?
Or do you plan to have a multilingual website?
If so, think about how this will affect your website’s architecture, content production, SEO, user interface and so on.
6. Content, keywords and SEO
Content forms the basis of your website. In fact:
Content is, and always will be, the most important part of your website. Content is king, period!
Before starting to create content, you should research:
Writing the copy for your website should always be done with SEO in mind (in other words, Google). For keyword research, you can use the free Keyword planner tool from Google, or commercial ones like KWFinder or SEMrush.
If your website is new (or hasn’t even been launched yet), do your keyword research targeting long tail queries. This means searches which have 3 or more keywords inside them. For example:
The keywords women shoes are searched for tens of thousands of times each month. This means that if you rank at the top of results for them, you can make a significant amount of money! But for broad searches like this one, the competitiveness is huge. Instead, go for long tail searches like:
women’s shoes for achilles tendonitis – there are about two hundred monthly searches done, but it’s much easier to rank for them.
By looking at forums, Facebook groups and talking to your customers discover what they could be searching for. What problems ail them, what wishes they have.
In section 4, we touched upon the topic of benefits of your product or service.
Combined with your selected keywords, write your website copy clearly stating the benefits.
And remember to engage your audience!
Back to your purpose, remember the example with the architect?
Compare this message (imagine it on the homepage of their website):
We are an award-winning architectural practice working on architectural and urban design, interior and commercial architecture.
To this one:
We use innovative technology to create energy-efficient buildings that achieve targets such as net zero energy and deep energy retrofit to reduce construction time, cost and environmental impact.
In fact, a local search for architects will turn up results which are nearly all generic, like the first example above. Almost every studio says they won awards or honorable mentions in competitions. And that they offer services for any type of building imaginable. There is no differentiation here, no one stands out.
But the second example is highly focused on a very specific market segment. Add some emotion to that copy – for example, “better buildings for a better world” – and there you have it.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of pages/content on any given website:
The first ones are for your services – a separate page for each service that you offer.
The second ones, articles, serve to spark interest and build trust with your audience. That’s content marketing: giving useful information for free. This positions you as an authority within your industry and you are building trust because you are not shoving your product down your users’ throats by repeating “buy, buy!”. Rather, you are giving valuable, preferably actionable information for free.
If it’s top quality content, you will get a lot of exposure for free, which translates to increased website traffic and more leads and customers. Great content gets shared and linked to naturally.
Whether it’s a service/product offer page or an article, keep in mind at all times that your website’s content—text, images, downloadable materials, design—should reflect your purpose coupled with your users’ needs.
7. Design, UI and UX
Finally, we have arrived at the visual part! This is where most people start their website building process, which is wrong.
If you went through all the previous steps, you will start to see that the surface layer, the outer skin of your website, rightfully comes last!
A website should be:
The first one is a no-brainer: if there is a missing page or a non-functioning form, the website doesn’t work. Users will leave and that’s it. That’s why each page and every functionality of your website should be tested before deployment.
Even if the website is really hard to use and you will curse the designer who made it, you will still stick to it. Trust me, if it’s the only website with the proper information, you will suffer through the horrific user interface just to obtain the information that you need!
Proper, solid code is the foundation on which you should build an intuitive user interface (UI) which will lead to a great user experience (UX). Before going into detail, such as fonts, colours and images, start with wireframes or mockups. To build them, sign up at Mockflow for free and check out their WireFramePro tool. It’s great and easy to use.
Your should test your pages for usability. This is trickier than testing the functionality: programming code either works or doesn’t. But humans are unpredictable and you never know where they’ll click. It’s better to test your website with 1 or 2 users than just launch it without doing it.
I don’t know if this word even exists as an adjective, but let’s make it clear:
Above anything else, your website should convert your visitors into customers.
A design that converts is infinitely more important than a beautiful design. Now, if you can achieve both, great! But above all, concentrate on making your website visitors wanting to click that button, whether it’s to buy your product, subscribe to your newsletter or contact you for more information on your service.
This is where problems can arise. Because beauty is purely subjective. Remember this: Do not get emotionally attached to your website’s design. If you want to achieve your business goals, website properties like ease of use, clarity, high conversion rates and fast loading times should always precede aesthetics. If you are just starting out and don’t want to spend money on a unique, professional design, check out ThemeForest. It has great designs and themes for a variety of content management systems and plain HTML websites also, at really affordable prices.
If you can’t make it beautiful, make it simple, minimalistic. Simplicity always pays off.
Troubleshooting your website
Are you having doubts?
Are you stuck?
It is here that the strategic process comes to the rescue!
You can solve any problem by going back to your business and website goals.
Say that you are not sure about some design choices – for example, a product page.
It says that selling more products is the website’s goal. Now it’s clear that the UI should facilitate the buying process. And that the layout of the elements on the page should be clear. Product benefits and features must be at the forefront. A strong call to action (CTA) should be prominent and visible at all times.
Therefore, no matter how nice and smooth those gradients on the “buy now” button look on your monitor, think again. If there is not enough contrast, chances are some users won’t notice it fast enough. See how it looks like on other screens. Also, see if the colours are consistent across your website – with other buttons and links.
You are planning to write a series of articles but are not sure if they will boost your website’s traffic.
Go back to your audience (step 3) and the benefits you can provide them (step 4). Remind yourself who you are writing for and what their problems and wishes are. Ask yourself:
- Is my audience interested in this information?
- Will this information actually help them solve a problem?
- Is the content actionable?
- How will they find it? And the answer follows immediately: Find out their online hangouts and post the link to your article there (social networks, forums, blogs, etc).
By going back to your business goals and users’ needs you can solve any problem that may show up during your website building process.
This also shows you why a lot of websites under-perform or never help a business. The website owner is constantly trying out the newest digital marketing techniques or programming functionalities. But he never really asks himself if these solutions are helping achieve his business goals and user needs – because he never took the strategic approach in the first place.
And lastly, always remember:
Today’s Web users want everything right now.
If in doubt, ask yourself how do you surf the web? When searching for something, will you:
Wait for 10 seconds for a web page to load? I think you’ll agree with me when I say that most of us immediately click the back button on our browser if the loading time exceeds 3 seconds, not 10!
These things are expected from a website. They are the norm, not the exception! Yet, a lot of websites still lack them. How come you don’t see them? Because the majority of websites that end up on the first page of Google’s search results have great and useful content, load quickly and are user-friendly. Want to be a part of that 1% exclusive club? Do your work properly and thoroughly and you will.
If you put in the time and effort to answer the questions in each step of your Website strategy, you will be surprised at what you will discover. It may make you rethink the whole approach to your business.
Many of my clients have told me they never thought about their business model, presentation, communication with potential clients from this point of view.
A solid Website strategy is not a separate part of your business. It is very important in itself, but still a part of your overall business strategy.
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As website strategists, our mission is to contribute to your success.
Because your success is our success.
The introductory consultation is free. No strings attached. You get to decide whether you want to pursue this business avenue with us or not.