Website Planning Guide

Website Planning Guide

plan to succeed

Website Planning Guide – Many stages and considerations are required when planning for a website project. Small to medium-sized businesses looking to “get a website” fail to understand the process and the pitfalls.

Many stages and considerations are required when planning for a website project. Small to medium-sized businesses looking to “get a website” fail to understand the process and the pitfalls.

A simple website can end up costing far more than needed, both in terms of dollars and time. And not to mention the hit your brand could take.

Part 1 of my Website Planning Guide looks at the planning stage and why it is both overlooked and thoroughly critical to succeed.

Website Planning Guide – Understand The Purpose Of Your Website

The purpose of most business websites is to drive sales. While successful sites engage, inform, and educate visitors, their end goal is to convert visitors into leads and leads into customers.

In some cases, visitors may purchase tangible or digital products directly from the website. In contrast, others may engage in some way with the business, eventually purchasing products or services.

If making sales is the end goal of your website, you must always keep this in mind. 

Design features, content overkill, and lengthy text descriptions of products and services are all too often the focus. Always remember the reason you’re building a site in the first place.

If sales are not the goal of your site, determine what is. In most cases, you will still have an action you want site visitors to take: donate, request more information, or volunteer.

Additionally, investing in a website means investing in something that grows with your business—plan for your website to change over time.

Website Planning Guide – Why Plan?

Planning is essential for most businesses and organisations.

Unfortunately, when it comes to websites, there is often a failure to plan properly or at all. Sometimes this is due to the ever-busy, dynamic nature of the day to day running of a business.

Sometimes, organisations underestimate the time, skill, energy, and expertise to build even a basic website. 

But often, it is because people fail to recognise that planning for the web is just as important as planning for anything else associated with their business.

Your Website Is The Responsibility Of Marketing, Not Information Technology.

Building a website is not a purely technical endeavour. In some companies, especially those slow to recognise the value and importance of online marketing, the website is considered the domain of the IT department (or outside IT resources). 

Websites are a function of marketing, not IT. Communicators, not technicians, should drive the design, structure, and content of your website.

Yes, you’ll need IT to successfully execute the plan of the communicators and keep your site running smoothly. But communicators should be steering the ship.

The role of IT in the planning stages and beyond is to help research and support the technology that enables the company’s online marketing goals.

Website Planning Guide – The Deck Example

Consider the example of building a deck. If you want to add a deck to your house, you probably won’t call several carpenters and ask, “How much is a deck?”

If you do, the wise answer will be “it depends.”

To provide you with an estimate, a carpenter will need some details about the project. The more information you provide, the more you work out ahead of time, the more accurate the estimate will be.

Of course, there is always the potential for things to change during construction. Still, in general, the adage “measure twice, cut once” holds for this and every other project.

A Good Carpenter Will Ask Questions

A good carpenter will start by asking a series of clarifying questions:

  • What kind of wood? Cedar? Treated? Or do you want synthetic?
  • Where exactly will the deck go, and are there any obstacles to workaround?
  • What size and height will it be, and how many levels?
  • Do you want benches, railings, built-in planters?
  • Is there clearance to bring special equipment into your yard?

But, That’s Not All

Then there are many other things for the carpenter to consider:

  • Scheduling
  • Building permits
  • Inspection
  • Maintenance, etc.

That’s why a competent carpenter will answer your simple question with “it depends.”

More Information, Please

Without more information, there’s just no way to know. And, it makes sense to meet with one or more contractors to address the questions above and more.

When you choose a carpenter, they should provide a detailed plan of action that you both sign. As they’re building, they should check in with you periodically and discuss any potential snags in the project.

Indeed, this all makes sense, but consider what the deck project would look like without a clear plan:

“Hi, Jennifer Carpenter, it’s Steve Homeowner. I need a 20X30′ cedar deck in my backyard. I want it built in two weeks.”

“Okay, Steve. I’ll pick up the materials and get started tomorrow. If you have any questions, see me in your backyard while I’m working.”

Jennifer Carpenter gets started, drilling post holes for each corner of the deck. She assumes Steve Homeowner has secured a building permit from City Hall since that’s the way most of her previous jobs functioned.

But, There’s no building permit!

The Situation

As Jennifer starts framing the deck, she notices the homeowner has put a large hose reel against his house and connected it to his tap.

Based on where the deck will sit, the hose reel will have to go. But Jennifer is unsure if he wants to move it somewhere else or have it rerouted and then re-connect it to the deck, which is two feet off the ground.

She stops building and plans to ask Steve what he wants to do when he gets home. She waits.

Steve is on a business trip for three days.

When he gets back, Jennifer reaches him by phone. He’s not happy that he’ll have to have his tap moved, which now adds unplanned expenses to the project.

But that’s not Jennifer’s fault. She’s not the plumber. She’s just putting the deck where Steve asked.

Once the framing is complete, Jennifer starts building the railing for one side.

Although not discussed initially, Jennifer sees that Steve has small children and thinks this is a good safety feature.

Steve comes home one day and is happy to see significant progress on his deck, but then he notices the railing.

The Conversation

“What’s this?”

“I added a railing to this side since you have kids. It’s a good safety feature.”

“I don’t have small children.”

“But I saw them playing in your front yard.”

“Oh, those are the neighbourhood kids. My kids are in high school.”

“Well, a railing is a good feature.”

“Yeah, but can you make it shorter and put a bench next to it?”

“I didn’t buy enough wood for a bench, and the railing is already drilled and attached. I’d have to remove and re-cut it. Also, we didn’t talk about a bench.”

“Well, I’d like a bench here.”

“That will take more time. I won’t be able to get this done by your two-week deadline if we add the bench. Plus, I’d have to charge you for the extra wood.”

A Simple Project No Longer

What began as a “simple project” becomes a series of headaches due to failure to plan and communicate.

Jennifer also has to bill Steve for all the unforeseen issues. The extra material, the extra time, and all the unanticipated tasks have gone into building this (now) complex deck project. It’s all additional costs that must be invoiced.

From a web professional’s perspective, developing a 50-page website for six unique stakeholders is far more complex than building a rectangular deck.

Also, a deck is a physical structure built in stages. You can look out the window and see the progress.

By contrast, a website has several technical and administrative steps which, while incredibly important, are effectively invisible to the business.

Doing It Right

So now you know roughly the importance of planning. You also better understand nothing is a simple as you might expect.

Let us look at a well-planned project.

Website Planning Guide – The Needs Assessment

A needs assessment is the process of figuring out 4 things:

  • Why a redesign is wanted (Reason)
  • Where a business has been (History)
  • Where it is going (Future)
  • How to get it there (The Plan)

That’s pretty broad, so let’s break it down.

Website Planning Guide – 3 Important Things to Remember

  1. Unless you’re building a tool exclusively for internal communication, your website is not for you—it must meet the needs of its audience.
  2. A website is not a one-time event. It is a flexible, extensible communications tool that reflects, negatively or positively, on your business. For many companies, it is the critical touchpoint between the business and its customers.
  3. At this stage, we can potentially start using business-speak, i.e., “assemble your key internal stakeholders.” That’s another way of saying, “get everyone together who has something valuable to contribute.”

Have a look at my Website Redesign Case Study to see all of this in action.

The Site Must Work With The Overall Marketing

A website needs assessment may overlap with other efforts and approaches of your marketing department.

Established branding and marketing of your business should inform the structure and design of the website.

A good website can’t happen in a vacuum. Continuity and consistency across all your marketing endeavours, digital and otherwise, are crucial to the perception that you are professional.

We’ve all seen this done incorrectly — an excellent website followed by a terrible brochure or vice versa. A lack of continuity always makes a negative impact.

Even if customers/users can’t quite put their finger on what’s wrong, they know something isn’t quite holding together. They’ll judge the business for it.

Most people don’t stop to think, “Oh, they must have hired a professional web designer but didn’t bother to update their brochure. Maybe they’re working on that.” It just feels wrong.

Website Planning Guide – Cost and Timeline

Generally speaking, a proper needs assessment will cost between 5 and 15 per cent of your total project budget. It will also take between 10 to 30 per cent of the entire project time.

Of course, this assumes you have determined a realistic budget and timeline for your project. It’s okay if you haven’t — sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.

A suitable needs assessment can help you figure this out.

The needs assessment: intake

In your initial meeting, you’ll want to address a series of questions. Start with your business’s core ideas, values, messages, and offerings, then drill down into the details.

There are many valid approaches — some very formal and precise, and others looser and more intuitive. In any case, if you’re leading this process, you should make sure you have a set of key questions prepared.

The following comes from a brief used to learn the basics of a client’s project.

Note: the following questions apply to a small business. Still, they are suitable for nonprofit institutions or other types of organisations.

Crucial Questions (That Need Proper Answers)

  • Mission statement: who are you, and what do you do (or substitute one-paragraph company/or description).
  • Why was your company/org created?
  • How would you like to be perceived through your website?
  • What is the single most important thing visitors want from your site? For example: find new products, register for a course, join a mailing list. Note: Try to consider this from the customer’s perspective. This response is not about what you want for the company, i.e., more sales, but what your visitors want from the site.
  • What is the most critical thing you want to convey on your site? (From the perspective of your company/org).
  • Describe your target audience.
  • Who is your competition? (A competitive review should follow: look at 3 sites from similar or competing businesses. See where each website succeeds and fails.)
  • Why should clients choose your products or services over the competition?
  • How will you judge if this is a successful project?
  • List three or more websites you like.
  • List three websites you don’t like, and indicate why for each one.

There’s no hard rule for how many questions you should ask or how long this should take.

However, if you finish the process in 40 minutes and there are no follow-up questions, you’re not digging deep enough.


If you’d like help with your project, get in touch.

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