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Website planning

Why read this? : We look at the role your website plays in digital planning. Learn how to get started online by using a blog site, and then what’s need to create your own website. We also show how to plan and action key areas like content, style and functionality. Learn how a website actually works, and the key jobs you need to do. Read this to learn how to get better at website planning. 

Website planning

How this guide raises your game :-

1. Learn about blogging, the easiest way to start a website. 

2. Learn the 8 key steps of how a website actually works.

3. Build your knowledge of website content, style and functionality to run a more professional and advanced website.

As per our digital business model guide, there are 3 key goals which drive your digital marketing plan. You want to reach customers. Engage customers. And of course, eventually, you want to sell to customers. 

Reach is mainly driven by digital media, but for engagement and selling, that’s where having your own website really comes into play. 

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

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The challenge of digital media

When you advertise on digital media channels like search, social and display, your content has to work within the ‘rules’ of those channels. These rules govern how, when and where your content appears.

For example, your content needs to fit within the editorial guidelines of the platform. These rules also govern the formats and sizes you can use. How big your images are and, how long your videos play. And you do all this with competitor advertising sitting in the same channels which creates more noise. 

In short, you don’t have full control from a creative or technical point of view.  When you have your own website however, everything is under your control.

Take control with your website

With your own website, you have the maximum amount of control over how your brand presents itself to customers.

As per our benefits of your website article, your website connects your target audience, your brand identity and your customer experience together. You create an ‘experience’ on your own terms to guide the customer towards a goal.

But the ambition for your website to do all these things for customers and to deliver on your business objectives is one thing. The reality of creating and running a high performance website is another. 

Most websites start off very simply with basic functionality. They then gradually expand and grow as they learn more about their target audience.

So, let’s start with a look at the simplest form of website you can use, which is a blog.

Blogging

If you are a complete beginner, the easiest way to get started with websites would be to start blogging on sites like WordPress, Wix or Blogger.

Blogging is where you publish copy, images or video about a topic you believe is of interest to people. Many people blog because they’re passionate about a particular topic.

Obviously, for us, we’re passionate about marketing, creativity and e-Commerce. 

But for businesses, it can be a great way to get started with engaging people online. Sites like WordPress, Wix and Blogger make blogging available for free and their sites offer easy to use page templates. 

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

The major advantage of blogging is it doesn’t need much technical expertise to set up. It’s quick to set-up, and start publishing content.

As long as you have a computer and can string a sentence together, you can publish a page which effectively becomes your first ‘website’. Our own website started off as a blogging site as you can see from the above image. 

Blogging site limitations

However, here’s the challenge when it comes to blogging. Because it’s so easy and doesn’t need technical knowledge, anyone and everyone can do it. And they do. 

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

That’s a lot of noise in the blogging space. So, there’s 3 challenges you face if you only use a blogging site :-

  • Content stand-out.
  • Style and design stand-out.
  • Functionality challenge. 

Content stand-out

First, how do you make the content of your blog stand out? How do you make it distinctive versus all that competition? Is your video content, photography or writing so strong, that you’ll create a unique and distinctive experience? How do you edit the blog so it’s as strong as it can be? These are the type of things you need to plan for, otherwise your content won’t stand out. 

Style and design stand-out

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

Functionality challenge

And lastly is the lack of interactivity or functionality you can add to the site. You can usually let people add comments to posts. And you can point people to where they can buy your brand online. But that’s about it. 

For the most part, blogging is a one way process where the audience sees only your content. You also have limited access to the data behind the interaction. And it’s a challenge to connect other online systems to a blog, beyond basic linking. 

For all of these reasons, that’s why most businesses eventually move on to have their own owned website. 

Owned website

A step up from blogging would be when you decide to set up your own ‘owned’ website. You can still post blog content on this website, but you can also add additional 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 piggy-backing on someone else’s platform. 

Before we go on to talk through how a website actually ‘works’ and how you can use it to grow your business, there are a few fundamental terms you need to know.

There are the basic things you’ll need to set up your own owned website. 

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. And if you remember the analogy that your website is your online home, then your URL or domain name is the address you give customers so they can find your online home.

The URL is the name customers will put in their browser or click on to access your site. Or that’ll appear when they search for your site or relevant content you provide.

You can purchase URLS online via site registry websites. Examples include Netregistry, Go Daddy or Crazy Domains.

The price can vary greatly, and depends on the popularity of the URL name you wish to purchase. In general terms, category terms will be more expensive than branded terms to buy.

Your URL should as much as possible reflect the name of your brand and your brand identity. If possible, it should be relatively short and memorable. Shorter URLs tend to perform better than longer URLs because 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 business 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 be able to tell people where to find your website. It’s the first thing they’ll see when they search for it online. It’s normally purchased on an annual renewal basis.

Server

You’ll also need access to a hosting service who’ll provide a server to store the content and data from your site online. There are many providers of this service, and it’s beyond the scope of this guide to recommend one provider over another. And in fact, it’s a challenge to recommend a specific provider because they constantly change and update the services, prices and support they offer. 

We recommend doing some online research to see which is the best service provider based on price, quality of service and speed. Speed is important as your server ideally needs to be relatively close to where your user base is to make sure that your content downloads quickly when accessed. 

And bear in mind, that these companies do constantly invest in new technology, so you should keep an eye on the date of when any reviews were made. These companies do compete strongly with each other and you should use that to your advantage to find the best site hosting service at the time for you. And you should not feel stuck with one when your agreement renewal comes up. Most of the companies make it easy to transfer hosting between providers. 

When we were setting our own website, we found this review of hosting server sites from Australia to be really helpful. Alternatively, check out this nice summary page of Australian hosting options for a comparable view. For a more international view, this article on Techradar was also helpful.

Content Management System (CMS)

This is the software system on which you manage all your content. Content covers a wide range of materials. These can be articles or blog posts that you’ve written. But they also cover your images and videos. Content can also cover all the interactive elements of your website like links and buttons. For e-Commerce, it also covers all the product page details such as descriptions, prices, tax and delivery charges.

If you’ve started with WordPress or Wix blogging, both of these sites will be able to upgrade you to more sophisticated versions of their CMS. This will add more features at an additional cost. So you will be able to have more control over the design and layout for example. And you’ll be able to more easily manage the technical set-up and integration with other software systems like Google Analytics or add a Facebook pixel.

WordPress example

This site for example is built with WordPress CMS. WordPress is the world’s most commonly used CMS and brings with it a number of advantages. It is relatively easy to learn without the need for a lot of technical or coding expertise. And it comes with access to a large catalogue of plug-ins. These are small pieces of software that you can ‘plug-in’ to add extra functionality to your website and make them 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 have done on many of out content pages.

With WordPress, you should note that there are two slightly different versions. It is important to understand the differences. There is a version called WordPress.org which is a free CMS. It’s normally an option that comes with your website server agreement to install a version of wordpress.org

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

Beyond WordPress

WordPress and Wix do have a wide range of applications and they are popular for a reason, especially with smaller business who do not have technical expertise.

But beyond WordPress though, there are hundreds of other CMS systems to choose from.

There are more advanced CMS systems which offer great flexibility and options, especially if you need to allow multiple people access to the system. 

But these more advanced CMS systems also tend to come with more cost and complexity.

For most businesses, we have found WordPress and Wix to be solid performers unless there is a specific use case that they cannot meet.

For these more advanced cases, normally you would work with the CMS provider directly, and the CMS would be part of a wider marketing technology stack such as we cover in our guide to marketing technology. Bear in mind, though martech can add lots of value to your business, it comes with its own challenges. 

E-Commerce CMS

For online selling, you need to look at specialist e-commerce CMS options like Woocommerce, Shopify and Magento.

We cover these options in our article on setting up your own online store. E-Commerce CMS systems need to cope with very specific website requirements, such as creating and updating product pages, and managing prices and price discounts. 

E-Commerce CMS systems also need a high level of integration into your ‘back-end’ systems such as the ability to manage the orders to delivery process. They often come with a long list of testing requirements to manage all steps of the experience for customers. 

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

How a website actually works - the 8 key steps

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 need to build the home itself.

As we started previously, the three key component 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 of where those elements sit.

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

Website planning - website experience

Step 1 - Digital media set up by the website owner

As a first step, the owner of the website needs to make the site ‘findable’ online. This is generally done through digital media with an initial focus on search, supported by social media and online display support. We cover the basics of these channels in our separate digital media guide.

Step 2 - Digital media ‘reaches’ the target consumer

The target consumer will be exposed to details of the website either voluntarily or involuntarily. Voluntary exposure comes when they search for something online, and the search engine provides your URL as a potential answer for that search. This is the strongest digital media because it is based on the consumer’s direct need and why your SEO is important as part of your website planning. 

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

Step 3 - Browser and Step 4 - HTML

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

From an overall digital marketing point of view, you don’t need to be an expert in all the different browsers. Or for that matter on Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the coding language that sits behind all website. 

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

Hypertext Market Language is the universal language of all websites and it’s what 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 that the user ‘sees’ the page, not in HTML but in a user-friendly way.

From your website planning point of view, your main interaction with different browser will be 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 its’ still common to test the browser compatibility with the different browsers and the different versions of each browser using online tools like browsershots or comparium.

You can see the HTML code that sits behind any website by in Windows right-clicking 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 central three components of any website, and we’ll cover how to manage these in more detail below. But in terms of the process, one or more of these elements needs to be delivered to the user, so that there is an outcome or action.

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

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

That means there is a flow from the website both to the consumer and back to the website owner. 

Website planning - jobs to be done 

So, 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’.

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

So in this guide, we’ll focus on the role of content, style and functionality. 

Remember, in our digital business model, the key purpose of the website its to drive engagement and sales (or conversions).

The areas of content, style and functionality are ‘how’ you create that engagement for consumers. 

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 that sit on your site, Your content should be developed with three goals in mind. Firstly, to make it easy for customers to find you. This means your content needs to be searchable. Secondly, to  help your audience meet its needs. This means it needs to be relevant. And finally, to build your brand identity.

This means it needs to integrate with your marketing planning.  

Writing articles and for SEO

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

This is a specific skill that combines marketing skills, writing skills and knowledge of how search engines work.

You need to understand the needs of the target audience. And be able to apply the principles of good writing to make your content relevant, helpful and readable. 

If you’ve done keyword research, you should be writing helpful articles and blog posts based on what your target audience searches online. The topics should connect with your brand identity.

Google hone page on a Samsung phone lores

There are some basic techniques to learn to improve your search ranking. You should make sure your keyword appears in the title, introductory paragraph or subheadings for example. If you can add links to other parts of your site or other third party sites, that can help your search authority.

Images and videos

Content doesn’t just cover text though, it also covers images and videos. This can be pictures of your product or people using your product. It could be diagrams or infographics that help people understand the information you are sharing better. It could be logos, icons or other brand identity elements that help build the connection with your brand for the consumer. 

The key challenge with content is to find relevant topics to talk about.  You might find topics that generate a lot  of interest online, but your brand needs to have relevant authority to talk about those topics. 

Creating content is like buying all the bricks, paint, appliances and furniture to build your house. However, having a bunch of content is only the first part of the job when it comes to building a website. 

Website style – what it looks and feels like

As you start to build up your content (often referred to as ‘digital assets‘), you also need to start planning out what the overall ‘style’ and ‘experience’ of your website will be. 

The style of the site usually requires some understanding of branding, design and creative / artistic skills.

For example, what will the size look like? If you already have brand colours and a preferred typography from your brand identity, will these work when you transfer them to your new website? Will these be appealing and readable? 

What abut the layout of your different content areas? Will these follow good design principles? What size will they appear on the page? When consumers view on different size devices like desktop, tablet or mobile, how will the site adjust to take that into account?

Working with agencies

When you work with agencies or specialists to build a website, they’ll normally propose an art director or designer to work on making 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 need to balance out which matters most to you. Better style or cost saving. 

User experience

Another point to remember when it comes to style, is that your website is interactive. Customers don’t just look at a single page. They move around the site, and so you also need to plan out the ‘user experience’. This has become a specialised skill where designers look at, for example, where buttons are placed, how links are presented and how consumers interact with various elements on 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 from the site. To keep the housebuilding analogy going, it’s essentially the ‘architect’ role in creating your website home.

Functionality – what it does

In order 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 that the site generates.

If you are building a website on a template system like WordPress or Wix, you can use templates or plug-ins to take care of most of these areas, but if you are looking at more bespoke solutions, then the likelihood is you would be working with a developer with specialist knowledge. They will have the expertise to create code, set up systems and fix errors.

Web admin

You also need 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 that underpins and connects to your website. However, they often have to call in expertise from web developers for more technical issues. 

And of course, every time a customer interacts with your website, they create a piece of data. This data can help you build up a clearer picture of their needs and behaviours. But you need to set up your website with a tool like Google Analytics to capture this data. See our guide to digital data and insight for more on this.

Website planning measurable outcomes

There’s two 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 consumer does make a one-to-one connection. They become a known consumer. 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.

We cover the data and insight that sits behind your website planning in a separate guide

Website planning connected systems

When you have your own website, you also open up the flexibility to  integrate it with other marketing technology options. This integration of different systems is often called a ‘digital ecosystem’. We cover in-depth all of the tools in our guide to marketing technology

However, in the context of website planning, there are three key marketing technology tools that are most often used. 

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

Databases are where you hold and store information about specific customers who have 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 your consumers depends on your target audience and your brand identity.

It can seem a daunting challenge to find the best combination of technical set-up and user experience when you start out.

But if you work through the key steps outlined in this article, you’ll be well on the way to having a successful website.

We do recommend you walk before you run when it comes to website planning. Start with simple content-based sites that help your consumers. 

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. 

And don’t forget, it’s important to build knowledge of what your target audience wants from your website. That’s when you can really ramp up the style, functionality and integration with the wider digital ecosystem. Remember, the key benefit of your website is that it connects your target audience, your brand identity and your customer experience

Three-Brains and website planning

If you’re a small or new business, three-brains can work with you to build your website planning skills. We’ve lots of experience in this area. We can guide you on how to get the most out of blogging and how to set up quick and easy to manage content-based websites. 

If you already have a website and want to plan out 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.

Contact us if you want to know more about how we can support your website planning to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services.

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