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December 2020

6 steps to creating a successful website

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We’re living in an age of digital acceleration and transformation. In a world that’s increasingly ‘digital first’ creating a great online experience is key for business success. So how do you create a digital experience that’s right for your brand, meets the needs of your users and provides consistency across all your touchpoints? It can be a complex process and how you approach it will depend on your business, your audience and your goals. But no matter whether you’re relaunching your website, or creating a new one, we’ve six steps to follow to keep you on the right track.

1. Getting the foundations right

How often have you started a project without a clear brief? Hopefully not very often, but it does happen. Clarity about what you want to achieve and how to go about it is crucial if you want to get things right from the start and ensure success and best value. This stage is often called the discovery phase.

Start by asking some key questions. Are there specific issues you’re trying to solve? Is your goal to promote a new product or service? Is it to get users to sign up to something? Or all of the above? What specific outcomes are you aiming for and how will you measure success?

In terms of skills, think about what you’ve already got internally and the expertise you may need to bring in. Choosing the right partner or agency and being clear about what you need them to do is important. Do you need help with strategy, creative or delivery, or pretty much everything? You also need to consider how best they’ll work with your marketing, brand and IT teams. When making your choice, are you going to ask agencies to pitch? Don’t forget you have a day job too so consider carefully too whether you can manage the project yourself or if you need support from your chosen agency – creating a website is a big task. Finally, have your budget clear too, so you and your agency can be pragmatic about what can be achieved.

A clear brief is only one part of the process. Like any project, you’ll need a clear plan of action with realistic goals and KPIs set. Make sure you involve your key stakeholders from the start to ensure buy-in too.

2. Outside in, not inside out

You’ve appointed a partner, kicked off the project and started defining requirements, so what next?

We recommend taking an outside in approach and look at your competitors to understand what they’re doing and how you could do things differently. Think about the user experience (UX) and map out their journey. Consider who your various audiences are (internally and externally), how you want them to react when they visit your website, what calls to action you should include and how you want them to interact with it. The website should be easy to use, navigation should be intuitive, and information must be clearly presented.

Be objective. Remember that not everyone will understand your internal jargon and structures so try to look at things as if you’re visiting for the first time. UX can make a real difference when it comes to time users remain on your site and ease of conversion, so it’s important to remember who those users are and what you want them to think, feel and do. Also bear in mind where people are. Users will interact with your website on mobiles, tablets and desktops, in their office or on the move, and you need to consider their needs from these perspectives too. Today over 50% of all web usage is now on mobile devices, so thinking mobile first when it comes to your digital brand experience is key.

Today over 50% of all web usage is now on mobile devices

3. It’s not just about the logo

It may seem obvious but designing an engaging digital brand experience is not just about plastering your logo in the top corner. The design process is often the most exciting, and there may be a temptation to copy other great sites you’ve seen, or to follow the latest design trends. But like your brand, your website should feel like yours – and yours alone.

You’ll have your brand guidelines already, so how far can these be stretched? Start with how you want your audiences to feel and work back from there. Like with UX, the experience you have in mind for them and the things you want them to do when on the website should sit at the heart of the creative brief as well. Think of your website design like writing a book. An intriguing beginning will draw people in, and a good ending will leave them satisfied. In the middle, you need a clear storyline and sense of pace to keep them interested. Dial the brand up or down depending on the content. We believe film and animation is a great way to engage people online brand. Beware of the latest plug-ins or tricks though. There’s nothing more annoying or likely to send users packing than the ‘You need to install…’ message popping up.

Take a mobile-first approach for design too – start designing for the smallest screen and work your way up. Be sure to consider fonts, accessibility and imagery too. Will the typefaces you want to use incur additional fees? Are colour contrasts fully accessible? Do you already have a good image library, or do you need to investigate stock imagery too (and, if so, do you have the budget for the rights you need)? Delivering digital experiences that deliver a powerful articulation of your brand is not easy, so investing time and effort is worth it to ensure your brand is reflected consistently across every touchpoint.

4. Words matter

Many people leave their website content to the end, but arguably it should be one of the first things you think about.

Writing engaging website copy is no mean feat. It needs to be compelling and grab your audiences’ attention, but it also needs detail to make it a worthwhile read. We’ll often create two or three different levels of read – one for the time-poor skim reader and another for those with a bit more time on their hands. It won’t be the same for the whole website either. The homepage should feel very different to the more detailed pages and shouldn’t contain too much dense copy). The ‘About’ section should tell a more engaging brand story than the more practical ‘What we do’, and so on. And don’t forget about content migration for those previous news articles that you want to keep on the new website.

Consider who’s going to write all this. Do you have the time? If the answer is no, and most of the time it probably will be, then you may want to ask your brand communications agency to copywrite it or advise on a pragmatic approach. Whatever you do, don’t leave it too late. It may not seem like it, but content will in fact impact everything from the design, to the build, to the launch so getting it right is crucial.

5. If you build it, will they come?

The options for the technical side of a website can be overwhelming. There are so many choices, and many of them are changing how we work and how we interact. There’s no one answer – the best approach for you will be a technological solution that supports and enhances, rather than hinders.

Consider what Content Management System (CMS) would work for you. There’s choice here too, and it’s likely your IT department will want to be involved in deciding what’s used. Also think about how you’ll integrate your CRM and marketing software, and any other integration that may affect your organisation’s operations. It’s also important to consider whether your chosen CMS supports SEO and how easy it is to add metadata. Don’t underestimate the work it takes to manage a good CMS.

Whether you employ an agency to do everything, or work with a digital partner on certain aspects and then build in-house, it’s important to have clarity on who does what and where responsibilities lie. When it comes to the development, make sure developers utilise current best practice to ensure high compatibility with the growing number of browsers and devices. Your analytics will tell you where your users are coming from so make these the priority. Allow enough time in the plan for testing too to ensure that everything works and displays properly, not just across browsers but across device types and screen sizes too.

Finally, who’s going to host the site? Do you have your own set up or do you need your agency to support you with this on an ongoing basis? Your digital partner or agency can advise if it’s a bit bewildering, but make sure you’re aware of all the options and their pros and cons, so you can make the most informed decision.

6. The end is just the beginning

Pulling off a successful website launch needs some forward planning. It’s an important step for any organisation and you need to make the right impression. Do you want it to coincide with a key event? How will you tell people about it? Social media is an efficient and immediate way to tell your audience about the website and get them to engage with it from the start.

A website redesign is a prime opportunity to invest new or renewed energy in your website analytics. By discovering what your users find most and least interesting, and what drives their conversions, you’ll have insights that can really change for the better how you engage with your audiences and spurs them to take action. Keep reviewing regularly and don’t ignore what the data tells you.

Keeping your new website fresh and regularly updated is also important. There’s nothing more depressing than a ‘top’ news story that’s a year old. The same applies to search engine optimisation (SEO) – make sure your key terms remain relevant to maximise all your hard work. Plan content updates around your marketing activity and make sure you have support from your internal teams or agency when you need it. It’s a bit like cleaning – leave it too long and it becomes an insurmountable task but keep on top of it and your digital brand home will always feel spick and span.

Conclusion

Creating a great online experience can’t happen overnight. Your website is a key communication tool and an extension of your brand that will help drive engagement and action. It needs brand consistency, insight, creativity and, of course, digital know-how. Setting up the project in the right way from the start, working with a trusted partner, will reap benefits in the long run and ensure success.

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