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Website planning

Why read this? : We explore the ins and outs of website planning. Learn how to start with the basics of blogging and how to build more advanced sites. Learn how to plan and optimise your website’s content, style and functionality. Read this to master the art of great website planning.

Website planning

How this guide raises your game :-

1. Learn the basics of blogging to start building your online presence.

2. Go through the 8 key steps of how a website works.

3. Understand how to optimise your website’s content, style and functionality.

The 3 key goals which your digital business model must deliver are to :- 

  • reach customers.
  • engage customers.
  • sell to customers. 

Reach is driven by digital media. You get your key message in front of online customers with advertising.

However, channels like search, social and display limit what and how much you can say. For example, when and where your message appears and  how much time and space it gets. Plus, your message has to fit editorial guidelines.

But if you can make your message stand out against competitors, you can move on to the next step of the customer journey. You want to engage them and that usually means encouraging them to visit your website. 

Screengrab of Three-brains home page - headline says "Ready to raise your game? Outthink, outplay and outgrow competitors with three-brains"

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about website planning?

Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-Brains website planning quiz and see how much you know about website planning already.

Take control with your website

Driving visitors means you control their experience i.e. how your brand interacts with them to drive engagement and sales. A key benefit of having a website is it brings your brand identity to life for your target audience. You can use it to influence them to think, feel or act differently, leading to you delivering your business objectives.

However, the reality of creating and running a high-performance website is more of an ongoing and long-term challenge. Most websites start with simple functionality. They then gradually expand as they learn more about what customers want. So, let’s start with the simplest type of website, a blog.

Blogging

If you’re a complete beginner, the easiest way to start with websites is to blog. Blogging is where you publish copy, images or videos about a topic you believe interests certain people.

Many people blog because they’re passionate about a specific topic. It was our passion for marketing, creativity and e-Commerce that made us start blogging. 

It’s a great way to start engaging customers online. Sites like WordPress, Wix and Blogger make blogging available for free with easy-to-use page templates. 

Your blogging ‘site’ will have its own identity within the blogging site’s platform. Something like mysite.wordpress.com, for example. Blogging is a good way to start creating the basic content you’ll need for your website.

Blogging’s key benefit is it doesn’t require technical expertise. It’s quick and easy to start publishing content. As long as you have a computer and can string a sentence together, you can publish a page. This effectively becomes your first ‘website’. The image above is from one of our very early blog posts.

Blogging site limitations

However, here’s the challenge with blogging. Because it’s easy and doesn’t need technical knowledge, anyone can do it. And they do. 

Latest estimates put the number of blogs globally at 600 million+. The same article suggests there are around 5.7 million new blog posts every day. That’s around 4,000 per minute.

That’s a lot of noise in the blogging space. To make your blog stand out, you have to plan 3 key areas :-

  • Content.
  • Style and design.
  • Functionality. 

Content

First, how do you make your blog content stand out? How do you make it distinctive versus competitors? Is your video content, photography and writing so strong, that you’ll create a unique experience? How do you edit the blog so it’s as strong as it can be? You have to solve these challenges or your blog won’t stand out. 

Style and design

Next, is how you make your blog’s style and design stand out. How do you make it look different? Most blog sites work from similar templates, so will look the same. You’ll also have limits on the typography and colours you can use. And in terms of layout, you may struggle to apply good design principles.

Functionality

Lastly, blogs make it hard to add much interactivity. You can let people comment on posts. And link to where they can buy your brand. But that’s about it. Blogging is a mostly one-way process where the audience only sees your content and that’s about it for engagement. Plus, you also have limited access to the site data and almost no options to use any back-end marketing technology.

All these challenges and limitations usually drive businesses to move beyond blogging and set up an owned website. 

Owned website

Building your own ‘owned’ website is a step up from blogging. You can still post blog content, but you have more control over the style, design and functionality. It’s like having your own home versus renting one. 

This means you directly set up and control all the operations around your website. As opposed to piggybacking on someone else’s platform. 

Before we go on to how a website actually ‘works’ and how you can use it to grow your business, there are a few basic terms to be aware of.

These help you work out what you’ll need to get your website up and running. 

Screengrab of Three-Brains blog page - category selections and search tag options

URL (Uniform Resource Locator)

URLs are the (http:// or https://) address of your website. They’re also known as domain names. If you think of your website as your online home, your URL is the address customers use to find you online. They put the URL name in their search browser or click on it in a link to access your site. 

You can purchase URLs online via site registry websites. Examples include Netregistry, Go Daddy and Crazy Domains. Prices vary and depend on the popularity of the URL name you want. In general terms, category terms are more expensive than branded terms.

Your URL should reflect your brand’s name and identity. Keep it short, relevant and memorable. Shorter URLs work better than longer URLs as customers are more likely to remember them.

Domain suffixes

You also have choices on the ‘suffix’ of the URL name depending on the type of organisation and the location of the business. For example, .com, .com.au, .co.uk, .biz, .org and so on.

As a rule of thumb, .com for businesses is the most common suffix and if your preferred URL is available with that suffix, go with that one. Suffixes with the relevant country such as .com.au or .co.uk can also work for local-based businesses and where the .com is not available or too expensive.

Most of the other suffixes are less common and can be perceived as less trustworthy. 

laptop google search

As part of your website planning, pick a strong URL that’ll be relevant to your target audience, easy to find by search engines and fits with your brand identity.  There are many online guides on how to pick the best URL for your website.

You’ll need the URL to tell people where to find your website. It’s the first thing they see when they search for it online. You normally buy it on an annually renewed basis.

Server

You’ll also need access to a hosting service that’ll provide a server to store the content and data from your site online. There are many service providers. It’s beyond this guide’s scope to recommend one over another. That’s mainly because they constantly change and update the services, prices and support they offer. 

You should research to see which is the best service provider at that time based on price, quality of service and speed. Speed is important. Ideally, your server should be located close to where your user base is to make sure your content downloads quickly when they access it. 

Bear in mind that these companies regularly upgrade their systems. Check the date of any reviews you look at These companies compete with each other. Use that to find the best hosting service at the time for you. And don’t feel stuck with your current provider when your agreement renewal comes up. Most make it easy to transfer hosting between providers. 

When we set this site up, we found this review of Australian hosting services helpful. Alternatively, check out this summary page of Australian hosting options for a different view. For a more international view, this Techradar article is helpful.

Content Management System (CMS)

The CMS is the software system you use to manage all your content. Content covers many areas. For example, articles or blog posts you’ve written. But also your images and videos. Content also covers interactive website elements like links and buttons. For e-Commerce, it also covers product page details like descriptions, prices, tax and delivery charges.

If you started with WordPress or Wix blogging, both sites can upgrade you to a more sophisticated CMS. These add more features at an extra cost to give you more control over the design and layout, for example. Plus, you can more easily manage the technical setup and integration with other software systems like Google Analytics and Facebook pixels.

WordPress example

For example, this site is built with WordPress CMS. WordPress is the world’s most commonly used CMS and has some impressive statistics behind it. It has many benefits, being relatively easy to learn with little need for technical or coding expertise. And it comes with access to a large catalogue of plug-ins. These are small pieces of software you can ‘plug-in’ to add more functionality to your website and make it more interactive.

For example, you can plug in something like ‘WooCommerce” to a WordPress website to turn it from a publishing website to an e-Commerce website. You can add quizzes as we’ve done on many of our content pages.

Note with WordPress, there are 2 slightly different versions. It’s important to understand the differences.

There’s WordPress.org which is a free CMS. It’s normally an option which comes with your website hosting service to install this version.

But there’s also wordpress.com where WordPress themselves are your server hosting service. In this case, you pay for the CMS and server together. and you benefit from more direct support from WordPress themselves. But you lose some of the flexibility you have when you run wordpress.org on your own server.

Beyond WordPress and Wix

WordPress and Wix are easy to work with and have a wide range of applications. They’re popular for a reason, especially with smaller businesses that don’t have technical expertise.

But there are also hundreds of other CMS systems to choose from.

These are often more advanced CMSs with great flexibility and options, especially if you need to allow multiple people access to the system. However, these more advanced CMSs are also typically more expensive and complex to use.

With more advanced systems, you work with the CMS provider directly, and the CMS is part of a wider marketing technology stack. Martech can add lots of value to your business, but it also has its own challenges.

E-Commerce CMS

For online selling, you have to look at specialist e-commerce CMS options like Woocommerce, Shopify and Magento. (See our setting up your own online store guide for more details on these). 

E-Commerce CMS systems have to handle very specific website requirements, such as creating and updating product pages, and managing paymentsprice discounts and delivery. 

These CRM systems have to connect to your ‘back-end’ systems such as those in the order to delivery process. They often come with a long list of testing requirements to manage all steps of the customer journey.

Person paying for an e-Commerce purchase as they hold a credit card up in front of a laptop

The 8 key steps of how a website works

With the URL, the server and the CMS, you’ve essentially bought the address, the plot of land and the architectural plan for your online home. But you still have to build the home itself.

As we said earlier, the 3 key elements of building your website are the content, the style and the functionality. 

But before we cover those, it’s worth a quick walk-through of the context in which those elements sit.

What are the actions that happen or need to happen before the customer interacts with the website? And what are the outcomes or actions which happen after the interaction?

Website planning - website experience

Step 1 - Digital media set up by the website owner

First, the website owner has to let customers know the site exists and make it ‘findable’ online. The goal is to drive traffic to the site. This is generally done via digital media focusing on search, social media and online display adverts. Search will include building backlinks from other sites. 

Step 2 - Digital media ‘reaches’ the target audience

The target audience is exposed to the website details either voluntarily or involuntarily. Voluntary exposure is when they search for something online, and the search engine shows your URL in response to that search. This is the strongest digital media as it’s based on the customer’s direct need. It’s why SEO is a key part of website planning. 

But with social media paid posts or online display, you can also put your URL and website details in front of customers so they’re ‘involuntarily’ exposed. In this case, you have more direct control over where, when and who sees the message. But obviously, the response or click-through rates will be less because the exposure is involuntary.

Step 3 - Browser and Step 4 - HTML

It’s outside this guide’s scope to give a detailed breakdown of the different internet browsers.

From an overall digital marketing point of view, you don’t have to be an expert in all the different browsers. Or an expert in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the coding language which sits behind all websites. 

However, as part of your website planning, you should understand what internet browsers actually do, and what the main ones are. You don’t have to be able to write HTML code, but you do have to understand what it does.

Hypertext Market Language is the universal language of all websites that lets websites “talk” to each other.

HTML example

A website browser like Chrome, Safari or Firefox is in very simple terms a translator service. They translate HTML code into user-friendly text, layout designs and functionality so the user ‘sees’ the page, not in HTML but in a user-friendly way.

From a website planning point of view, your main interaction with different browsers is when you test your website for compatibility with each of the main browsers. Most CMS systems are set up to be compatible with the main browsers, and it’s now less and less common for there to be browser issues. But it’s still common to run these tests to be sure using online tools like browsershots or comparium.

You can see the HTML code which sits behind any website by right-clicking in Windows on the page and clicking “View Source Code” or on Mac / Safari, pressing the CTRL key and selecting “Inspect Element”.

Step 5 - The website - Content, Style and Function

Content, style and function are the 3 central elements of any website. We’ll come onto those shortly. But in terms of the process, one or more of these elements has to be delivered to the user, so there’s an outcome or action.

Step 6 - Outcome to Step 7 - Consumer and Step 8 - Website Owner

As a result of the interaction between the customer and the website, this outcome or action delivers something online for that person. A piece of information they were looking for. An answer to a question. An interesting article. Even just an image or video which meets their needs. Or it could be an actual digital service such as an online order or reservation. 

That means there’s a flow from the website both to the customer and back to the website owner. 

Website planning - jobs to be done 

Once you understand the overall ‘flow’ of the website experience, you can start to identify the jobs to be done to make the whole system ‘work’ better.

We already cover digital media and connected systems like marketing technology and digital data in other guides.

This guide will focus on content, style and functionality. 

Remember, in our digital business model, the key purpose of the website is to drive engagement and sales.

The areas of content, style and functionality are ‘how’ you deliver those for customers. 

A diagram showing the key jobs to be done on website planning - Content, Style and Function, with Acquisiton going into the website and engage, convert and connected systems coming out

Website content – what your site says

Content is the text, images, videos and all other materials which customers see or interact with on your site, Content has 3 main goals :-

  • make it easy for customers to find you. Your content needs to be searchable.
  • help your audience meet its needs. Your content needs to be relevant.
  • to reinforce your brand identity, as part of your overall marketing planning.  

Searchable content - SEO writing

To make your website blogs and articles easy to find by search engines, you have to learn the skill of writing for SEO. (Search Engine Optimisation).

This is a specific skill combining elements of marketing, writing and a knowledge of how search engines work.

You have to understand the needs of your target audience. And be able to write well enough to make your content clear, compelling and readable. 

You do keyword research to write articles and blog posts based on what your audience searches for online. The topics should connect with your brand identity.

Google hmne page on a Samsung phone lores

There are many steps to improving your search ranking. For example, make sure your keyword appears in the title, introductory paragraph and subheadings. Adding links to other parts of your site or other sites also helps with search. 

Images and videos

Content isn’t just text though. It also covers images and videos. For example, pictures of your product or people using it. Or diagrams or infographics which help people understand the information you’re sharing better. It could be logos, icons or other brand identity elements which help customers connect with your brand. 

The key challenge with content is to find relevant topics to cover. The topics need to generate online interest and your brand should have authority to talk about them. 

Creating content is like buying all the bricks, paint, appliances and furniture to build your house. However, you still have to make your house look and feel like you want it to. 

Website style – what it looks and feels like

As you start to create your content, you also have to start planning the overall style and experience of the site. 

The site’s style usually requires an understanding of branding, design and creative / artistic skills. For example, what will it look like? If you already have brand colours and typography from your brand identity, will these work on your new website? Will these be appealing and readable? 

What about the layout of different content areas? Will these follow good design principles? What size will they be on the page? When customers view the site on different devices like desktop, tablet or mobile, will the site adjust responsively?

Working with agencies

When you work with agencies to build a website, they normally propose an art director or designer to make sure the site ‘looks’ great.

They can help you define the overall style of the site. And they can set the parameters on the CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) where the colours, fonts and composition of a website are generally stored.

Marketing agencies will bring added expertise to your website style and design. But they’ll also add cost to the process. You have to decide which matters most. More style or less cost. 

User experience

Another point to remember on style is your website is interactive. Customers don’t just look at a single page. They move around the site. So you also need to plan the ‘user experience’. This is a specialised skill where designers look at, for example, where buttons are placed, how links are presented and how customers interact with the site.

This User Experience skill is about placing yourself in the shoes of a potential user and testing the site to make sure everything works so the user gets what they need. Using the housebuilding analogy, it’s essentially the ‘architect’ role in creating your website home.

Functionality – what it does

For your online home to be ‘liveable’, it doesn’t need to just contain ‘stuff’ and be designed, it also needs to function. Think of this area like adding utilities – electricity, gas, plumbing – to your actual home.

The ‘utilities’ of your website are essentially the HTML code in which it is written, the Javascript which makes it interactive and the data the site generates.

If you build a website on a simple system like WordPress or Wix, templates or plug-ins take care of most of these areas. But with more advanced options, you’re likely to need a developer with specialist knowledge. They have the expertise to create code, set up systems and fix errors.

Web admin

You also have to think about how to “look after” the site once it’s live. Most bigger websites will have a “Web Admin” type role. This person is the first point of contact for any issues. They manage the site day-to-day and take care of upgrades, tweaks and fixes.

Web Admins are also responsible for the marketing technology which underpins and connects to your website. However, they often have to call in expertise from web developers for more technical issues. 

Website planning measurable outcomes

There are 2 main types of engagement you should measure on your website. 

Passive engagement is when there’s some interaction with the website but the user doesn’t identify themselves. So these types of engagement can be measured with, for example, time spent on site or the number of clicks.

Active engagement, on the other hand, is where the customer makes a one-to-one connection. They become a known user. They identify themselves and request further contact. These can be measured with, for example, enquiries, shares, likes and registrations.

Mobile phone showing Google, with the word "analytics" in the search bar

And finally, the most “active” engagement is that which results in an actual sale if you manage an online store.

Of course, every time a customer interacts with your website, they create a piece of data. This data helps you build a clearer picture of their needs and behaviours. However, you have to set up Google Analytics on your website to capture this data. See our digital data guide for more on this.

Website planning connected systems

Having your own website also gives you the chance to integrate it with other marketing technology systems. This integration is often called a ‘digital ecosystem’. See our marketing technology guide for more details on this. 

However, in the context of website planning, 3 key marketing technology tools are critical. 

Analytics and tagging are the systems which capture what people do on your website. And also how they reached your website and where they went next. Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager are the most common systems. 

Databases are where you hold and store information about specific customers who’ve given you permission to contact them. This is usually a list of people’s emails who subscribe to a CRM newsletter. There are a lot of technical and legal considerations when it comes to data. We cover those in our marketing technology guide.

E-Commerce for your website is when you manage your own online store. This demands an extra level of systems integration. In particular, the ability to manage an order to delivery. You also need to securely store the details of the customer’s account and transaction history.

Conclusion - Website planning

Your website is your online home. How you choose to set up that ‘home’ website experience to attract customers depends on your target audience and your brand identity.

It seems daunting to find the best combination of technical setup and user experience when you start.

But work through the steps we’ve outlined and you’ll be well on the way to having a successful website.

You should walk before you run when it comes to website planning. Start with simple content-based sites that help your customers. 

Screengrab of Three-brains home page - headline says "Ready to raise your game? Outthink, outplay and outgrow competitors with three-brains"

As you get more confident and comfortable with how websites work, then you get more ambitious with what your website can do. 

So focus on learning what customers want from your website. That should drive your site’s style, functionality and integration so you build engagement and sales. Getting those means you fully realise the benefit of your website by connecting your target audience, brand identity and customer experience

Three-Brains and website planning

If you’re relatively new to online, we can help you build your website planning skills. We can guide you on how to get more out of blogging and how to set up quick and easy-to-manage content-based websites. 

If you already have a website and need to plan what to do next, we’ve worked with agencies and developers on many large and complex projects. These include e-Commerce set-up and integrations with advanced martech systems. We can guide you through the process of taking your website to the next level with expert and impartial advice.

Get in touch to learn how we can support your website planning our coaching and consulting services.

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