It almost goes without saying that it is inconceivable to think of any business that would not benefit from having a better website – one that helps to fulfil its key objectives, which for most companies is to create sufficient awareness and interest in the products and services that the company is involved with to take the next step (e.g. place an order/ask for more information/request a meeting/etc.).
Website design and development form a large part of our offering at Abacus Marketing, which is why we thought it would be helpful, useful and interesting to write a blog article about the key considerations we take into account before the process of website design and development can even begin. The process of engaging a design and marketing agency can be quite stressful, mostly because most people don’t understand the best practice processes involved in building a new website. As you can see from the image below, a website is one small part of a much larger picture.
1. Brand Strategy
A website is a modern version of a company brochure. The reason we mention this is to make it quite clear to clients from the word go how important it is to ensure that their web design fits into their overall brand and marketing communications strategy. This strategy is often best summed up in the form of formal brand guidelines, whose purpose is not to restrict creativity, but to encourage a consistent, professional and credible image across all sales and marketing collateral. A website is an extension of a brand and – at the end of the day – branding and brand values are the key competitive differentiator between different businesses operating in the same marketplace.
2. Market Research
This leads on nicely to market research. This can take many forms but, to keep it simple, one of the things you need to do is to take a close look at what the competition is doing, even if they are not “direct” competitors in the true sense of the word – for instance, because you do not compete in the same geography or for the same size of client or for precisely the same scope of work. That does not mean that you cannot learn a great deal – both good and bad – from other companies who operate in the same space as you. We would also suggest that you talk to your customers too. Find out what they think about your business – what your strengths and weaknesses are, for instance. Do they even know the full extent of the products and services you offer? Again, talking to your staff makes perfect sense – you might be amazed at how much profound feedback you will get by listening to your employees and allowing them to speak freely. Asking staff and customers to provide feedback on how they perceive your company (aka your brand image) can provide invaluable commercial insights (for free) and hard truths.
3. Business Plan
It might be that you need to look at your overall business plan before you get started. Maybe the market research you have conducted pulls out some unpleasant facts. Maybe there is a lack of understanding as to brand values, vision and mission within your organisation. Does the business have a clear vision of the standards and principles it wishes to represent? What is the main purpose of the business? How is it going to grow? How much? How soon? Are the processes in place to allow this to happen? There is far more to business planning than we can go into in a short blog but the truth is that we have worked with small businesses and blue chip clients and everyone else in between and often find a huge disparity between what the business owners think the business plan is, what their staff think it is, and what their customers think it is. We are not business planning experts, but we do always ask for clarity in this area. Why? Because an effective marketing strategy is based on a clear business plan.
Website design and development comes within the remit of corporate branding and marketing communications strategy, which itself falls underneath the main umbrella of marketing strategy. Once one has achieved clarity with regards to one’s business plan (perhaps by undertaking market research and commissioning a business planning consultant to help you to find your way), it is then possible to devise a meaningful marketing strategy. A strategy is the attempt to use scarce resources as efficiently as possible to achieve desired objectives within a certain period of time. Scarce resources mean – to all intents and purposes – time and money. So, if your plan is to increase sales by W and reduce costs by X over a Y period of time with a budget of Z, you are then able to create a meaningful marketing strategy. It is worth noting that financial investment in branding and marketing communications will not provide an obvious and immediate direct response in terms of increased sales volumes. Their purpose is to create a credible and professional platform to assist with the sales pipeline process and to ensure that customer acquisition and retention strategies are far more effective than they might otherwise be.
5. Site Mapping
We are now in a position where we can start to look at top level site mapping, page descriptions and navigation. In other words, the content that is required for display on the website and how it is displayed in a way that makes it simple and comprehensible for site visitors to digest in bite-sized chunks. We need to think about the ways in which people browse for products and services online –this is changing dramatically and will continue to change as technologies develop and online behaviour matures. What works today may not work so well in a year or two’s time, so website design and development is an on-going process of evolution and – sometimes – digital revolution.
6. Keyword Analysis
This is crucial to get right before you write a word – search engine optimisation (SEO) is the best way to generate good quality traffic and good SEO strategy starts with using the right keywords. Think about the phrases (keywords can be one or many words) your potential customers are likely to type into a search engine – and remember, plurals count as different words too. For example, we use keywords such as “Marketing Agencies London” and “Design Agency in London” or “Web Design and Development London” or “Corporate Branding Consultants”. You then need to work out which ones to go for on the basis of search volume, competitiveness and budget. For instance, we would never bother with the search term “Marketing” because it would not make strategic sense to do so. “Marketing Agencies” and “Design Agency” form part of our longer-term SEO strategy.
Hopefully this provides a helpful and useful insight into the processes we go through before we even pick up a pen and start scribbling down some outline creative concepts and first stage design visuals. But the great thing is what we know we are going to be able to develop meaningful and exciting creative concepts because we have given our designers all the tools they need to do so. We have a clear understanding of the business plan, the marketing strategy and the brand strategy. We have done our research and we know what our staff and customers think. We know the top line content we wish to display on our website, the keywords driving our copywriting process, and we know how we are going to help our customers to navigate around the website, maximising the potential to fill our sales pipeline once we get active with our advertising and marketing campaigns. It’s not easy, but it is simple, when you have the right processes in place.