Deploying an engaging, well-functioning website can shape your online presence and might be your first interaction with your audience. However, building a website can be a laborious process that can seem daunting. Oftentimes, clients will come to us inspired for change, wanting to rebuild their current website from scratch — likely because their previous implementation is beyond repair or has hit a wall for how well it can be updated and modernized. In these situations, it’s important to lay the foundation and plan properly to ensure that a future implementation of the website leverages pre-existing assets, evolves, and meets business goals. In this article, we’ll highlight the most strategic questions to ask your team when embarking on a new website build, so you can feel confident in the planning and execution of this process.
The first consideration is to get a thorough understanding of your audience. Knowing who you are serving and who your customers are, on a behavioural level, will help you determine what they want to achieve, making it easier to cater to their needs. Study the behaviours and patterns of your target user and solicit direct feedback to gain insights into their needs. Beyond that, meet them where they are. Your audience is online to solve problems or achieve their own goals. Research common search queries and keywords, conduct a competitor analysis, and read consumer trend reports to build a picture of your potential website users and how they will get to you.
A website isn’t an end unto itself. It’s a starting point for a relationship — a conduit for growth. Before undertaking the process of designing an entirely new website, it is crucial to first clearly define your business goals and the metrics you plan to measure. Some of the goals you might set for your website could be based on objectives for brand awareness, lead generation or revenue.
Once that’s clear, you will need to find ways to best implement those metrics through data collection across your site. By thinking through these components first, you can ensure that the architecture and design is there to achieve these goals and actually drive your organization forward.
Once you’ve identified your audience and what you want to achieve, the next step is to determine what information you will provide them so they can meet their goals. They will be coming to you to meet some opportunity or overcome a challenge, and when you’ve got their attention, it’s vital to provide a frictionless solution. Design your website with their journey in mind, and optimize it with intention. Craftsmanship is critical, so pay attention to the most fundamental elements:
Strategically piece together engaging content in order to tell your story. Every element is an opportunity to showcase your brand and create a compelling user journey that solves your audience’s needs. ECommerce websites need to pay special attention to product discovery and product descriptions — so many storefronts do a bad job of the basics and, really, it’s an opportunity to impress potential customers.
Designing your User Experience (UX) begins with this question. It is important to think about your message and the emotions you want to provoke. The UX should make it easy for your audience to accomplish their goals, and flow easily through the content. For example, if your goal is to generate more sales, it should be easy for a user to navigate from homepage to product page to checkout without friction — in fact, optimizing to reduce this friction is the primary function of most eCommerce businesses where conversion optimization is a priority.
But, it’s just as important to approach this from an emotional point of view: how do we want to leave people feeling? We have our own goals we want to achieve, and actions we want the user to take, but how can we create ease, and delight as they engage with us? How do we make this functionally and emotionally rewarding for our most important audiences?
We rely on research, data analysis and user interviews to have an initial understanding of our user, but it’s difficult to answer all of these questions all at once. So, in order to make progress and evolve the experience over time (the most valuable application of agile methodology), it’s fair to base the initial website UX on a hypothesis. This is where it’s critical to use the right tools — whether it’s FlowMap, Sketch or Figma — to develop an initial blueprint of the experience and create a design system that can be modified over time as new knowledge and understanding of the ideal website experience emerges.
Don’t jump into development too soon! Selecting the right platform and tech stack will make the difference between a nimble presence that grows with you, or a constant headache that feels like a teetering house of cards. To decide, determine your functional requirements? Functionality will determine the next steps when choosing a platform to build on. If you are intending to set up a storefront then an e-commerce platform like Shopify often makes the most sense. If you need to offer your audience specific functions like scheduling, messaging, or account management this will change how you approach your technology plan. Ease of use and budget are both topics you want to keep front of mind when narrowing down your list of web platforms. Don’t default to tools or solutions just because you’ve heard of them: just because Wordpress worked for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right for you. In fact, too many businesses default to Wordpress and invest time and money building ill-performing, disposable websites with a short lifespan.
The best website platform is the one that’s right for your business. It should suit your needs, and offer the right features, while staying in your budget and skill level. Some approaches require the “creation” of code and modules from scratch, while others need “curation” to select from a predefined menu of options and plugins to achieve the desired result. We’ve summarized a wide array of website design platforms in the visual below, however this list is not exhaustive and misses out on some exciting new approaches — such as headless CMS and commerce systems. Instead, treat these comparisons as a primer for what you need to look out for when selecting a solution for your brand, whether that solution is on this list or not.
✓ This platform offers basic solutions
✓✓✓ This platform offers more advanced solutions
✓✓✓✓✓ This platform offers the most solutions
Webflow was built for designers, so you can create a beautiful website from an experience point of view first. There is no coding required to launch a stunning website, which makes website creation less technical. The drag and drop builder on Webflow’s frontend editor is easy to use but still gives you access to advanced levels of CSS customization and interaction design.
As well, Webflow provides a stellar CMS to clearly define and structure the content you want to drive your site templates. This makes administration and content management a breeze. An eCommerce plan provides payment processing and additional features for product management.
If you’re looking for a secure, robust website platform that will allow you to stand out with stylish templates, Squarespace is for you. It’s a great option for individuals, small businesses, and small catalog eCommerce sites, and is easy to use for beginners. It does offer some payment processing options, however is limited to Stripe, Apple Pay, and Paypal.
Squarespace remains a go-to option for campaigns, products and companies that need to launch with a slick look, and get it all done by yesterday.
When new consumer brands think of building their eCommerce website, the first option they likely think of is Shopify. Although it comes with a higher price tag, it’s worth every penny in terms of software management, integration, payment processing and inventory management. Shopify also offers robust native reporting tools, and hundreds of free drag and drop template editors.
There was a time not too long ago when Shopify was considered the upstart and more “serious” eCommerce brands relied on self-hosted, enterprise eCommerce solutions like Magento. Since then, Shopify has matured significantly and now their Shopify Plus enterprise offering is second to none.
With Wix, you can create better websites with mobile-responsive templates, seamless drag & drop and unlimited customization. Like Squarespace, the platform is fully hosted, has hundreds of fully customizable templates to choose from and dozens of free and paid apps. There is a free version available, as long as you’re ok with a Wix promotional banner on your site.
No longer the dodgy website builder for solopreneurs, Wix has grown into a strong competitor for Squarespace.
Building a website on the Hubspot platform is a great option for companies with a business-to-business offering and a sophisticated content production and lead generation process. The drag and drop website builder integrates seamlessly with the Hubspot sales platform, and allows you to easily track leads as they move through the sales funnel. It has a ton of great, native features like SEO, email marketing, and social media integrations.
HubSpot isn’t just for websites, though. Companies that implement HubSpot as a solution are looking for an integrated sales and marketing team so that CRM, sales enablement, digital marketing and customer service can take place in one central hub.
Wordpress began life as the simple publishing tool for bloggers to self-install. Since then,WordPress has evolved into a one-stop-shop for users looking to have a mix of custom-coding and drag-and-drop plugins to deliver their website. With thousands of themes, eCommerce capabilities, and multiple editors to choose from, Wordpress offers solutions for any sized business. However, it can offer a steep learning curve for new users to fully leverage its power.
Even though Wordpress is a popular option for corporate websites, the software’s DNA as a blogging platform is still visible in the control panel. It’s too cumbersome to be effective for professional users who may opt for Webflow instead. And it’s not simple enough for less sophisticated users who may opt for Squarespace or Wix.
Once you’ve understood your audience and selected the right tools to create an engaging site that solves user needs, you’re ready to launch, right? Not quite. Now comes the fun part.
Building a website involves a team of designers, developers and project managers to have a smooth process. The team will spend numerous hours creating the frameworks that will morph into the finished product. This synergy between the design and development teams forms the beautiful website users enjoy using every day.
The build begins by combining the wireframes, UX and IA to create a fully functional site inside a web development framework . The engaging copy and imagery will now appear on the specific pages, and the project will start to look more like a cohesive experience than a pile of templates.
Once the first draft is designed, the site will need to undergo a rigorous quality assurance (QA) process. Before going live, you’ll need to develop a stringent QA process: list the functionality, content and design expectations, and place them on a matrix of web browsers and devices, from mobile phones up to tablets and large desktop screens, so you can verify and validate the expected experience and functionality in many different scenarios. Beyond that, it’s recommended that you get another pair (or many pairs) of eyes on your site before telling the world about it. Distribute a staging link internally, and engage your team members and trusted advisors to look for critical errors and omissions.
After addressing the issues that have come up from your internal team–and you have triple checked your work–you’re ready to hit publish.
Once your site is live, there will be edits and improvements that suddenly become visible. This is an expected part of the process and you should expect a round of “fast follow” changes to your live site. However, making changes to a staging site is much easier and less risky than making changes to a live, production website. A staging site is a perfect replica of your live website that only you can access. Working through these new issues and changes that arise will take some time, and is a normal part of the web development process.
Whenever we approach any website development project, we see it as an iterative process. We understand that it should never be in its final form; instead, it is something to be built upon and updated as necessary. Businesses change and evolve constantly, so why shouldn’t websites?
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