What does it take to build web presence that helps your business grow?
Success of a company often rests on how well your website generates leads. When your company is preparing to invest in a new website, you should not underestimate the skill set that will be needed to build an effective web presence. Often, companies focus a great deal of attention on design aesthetics, and not nearly enough on the many other aspects that help to turn website visitors into prospects. Whether you will work with an agency or plan to embark on the project with your IT team, you need to develop a winning strategy to build an effective lead generating website.
Step 1 – Discovery – building an effective web presence
One of the most important elements of building an effective web presence is defining your target audience, understanding their challenges and problems they are trying to solve. This is THE MOST important phase in your website design project. If you want to build an effective web presence that is constructed and developed for ROI, a website that becomes a marketing and sales engine that resonates with your customers and potential customers…than you need to start with a Discovery Phase.
Discovery is the phase that agencies and consultants insist upon but many internal teams tend to skip over or rush. It takes precious time: not just the brand or marketing team’s time, but the time of many people in the company charged with giving input and gathering documents and information.
Taking the time to thoroughly understand your business – where you are today and where you want to go – as well as your customers and market landscape is the only way to develop a winning strategy.
Too many times, teams make decisions based on what they think they know. Discovery work shakes the trees for the good stuff, the information and thinking that aren’t so apparent in the day-to-day of a business.
- Different leaders have different perspectives about where their part of the business is going. Often there are discrepancies among executives’ vision for the business that most don’t even know exist.
- Departments might not share challenges they face with other teams in the company.
- Valuable knowledge about the business and industry is locked inside people’s heads.
- Your market changes all the time. What was true a year or two ago probably isn’t true today.
- It’s difficult to truly understand your customers and what they want. And companies often forget to stop and think about things from the customers’ prospective.
- Spending the time to examine the landscape and dig under the surface of the business helps marketers and brand teams build a strategy based on reality.
Who should you interview?
Usually you’re limited to a certain number of stakeholder interviews because of cost and time restrictions. So, when choosing who to include in your interviews, you have to choose wisely. Consider including at least a couple of representatives from each of the following categories:
- Senior leaders of the organization, including the C-suite and division presidents or senior vice presidents, who can speak to the company’s vision and business strategy.
- Marketing representatives at different levels: the chief marketing officer or VP of marketing and marketing directors/managers who can talk about brand positioning and marketing strategies.
- Members of the sales team, including sales leadership and outside and inside sales representatives, who can discuss the sales process and how customers make decisions.
- Product managers who talk about product strategies, customer or user scenarios and personas, and product history and development roadmaps.
- Customer support managers or account managers who can share common customer questions, issues and concerns.
- HR leaders who can talk about objectives and messages for employee engagement and recruiting.
Should you include customers in your interviews?
Any time you’re able to talk to customers, it adds a whole new dimension to strategy discovery work. Talking to customers can help you validate the perspectives of your internal people, who can sometimes be too close to the business to see it realistically.
If there are several different personas or industries you focus on, then you should get a good sample from each. Although the various personas will navigate and visit the site in different ways, and through various touch points, at some point their individual paths will crisscross. But initially, you want to connect and engage with each persona as they interact with the website, delivering a customized nurturing and engaging experience.
During the discovery process, if this is a website re-design, it’s important that you find out which pages of your website are most popular by using google analytics reports. Once you have the list of pages that drive most traffic to your website, make sure you migrate them to the new website and improve on the content to generate even more traffic in the future.
Step 2 – User experience and wireframing
Behind a great website is a great wireframe
The wireframing stage is the early opportunity to get everyone involved on the same page, investing in a company’s capacity to become an online powerhouse.
The success of building an effective web presence is often contingent upon how well the user flows meet the needs of the target audience (personas), as well as the needs of the business. Because wireframes lack visual detail, the user flows are in the heart of the prototype. Unadorned templates offer you a way to focus on key aspects of a website’s pages, creating the smoothest flows for users to accomplish their goals.
Focusing on User Experience
Wireframes make the user’s experience central. They offer an objective look at the way a website will work, and how the visitor will navigate it. They anticipate and guide the evolution of the website visitor — from a prospect into a customer. Wireframes prepare the website to grow along with its userbase.
For the engineer, wireframing will help pinpoint flaws in the site architecture, or highlight how a specific feature should work.
A well-made wireframe will also show how the site will expand over time. A company might offer a dozen choices today, a hundred next year.
Wireframes both ensure and illustrate your site’s structural capacity for growing while respecting the integrity of the information architecture, the website design, and the user’s experience.
Here is an example of a wireframing prototype developed for one of our clients. As you can see, it is possible to navigate it as an actual website and click on various buttons to experience the workflow. https://marvelapp.com/275290i
Desktop, tablet, and smartphone use can all be anticipated through wireframing. So, mapping the user journey also means anticipating the devices used for interacting with the business, and what problems or advantages users might experience with these devices. It means anticipating how you’re going to make them feel — both in the use of the site, and in the service or product.
Share your prototype with internal team, stakeholders and gather their feedback. Also share it with your customers and ask them for feedback as well. Most people are visual at it will be easier for them to navigate the prototype and make recommendations for improvement.
Step 3 – From Wireframe to Website Design Prototype
If you don’t have brand guidelines, this is the best time to focus on it. If your brand been around for a while you might want to revisit and consult a designer in regards to latest design trends in the industry. It will take time, energy, research, and talent to establish your branding. So, the sooner this process begins the better. If you are considering complete rebranding, this article will help and guide through the process.
Setting clear brand guidelines allows you to dictate exactly how your branding should be used and keeps things cohesive, no matter who is working with your brand.
Your brand guidelines should include:
- Core Values, Mission Statement, and Slogan – define your company
- Color Palettes – all colors translated to CMYK, RGB, and Pantone
- Fonts – all acceptable fonts to be used in branding
- Styling – how combination of colors and fonts should be used to communicate brand message
- Acceptable manipulations – logo can be used with drop shadow
- Unacceptable manipulations – logo will not be curved
Userflows translated into website design
“Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.” – John Medina
Persona research and user workflows that were implemented in the wireframes now need to translate into the website design and connect with the audience though visual ques such as imagery, iconography and CTAs.
Imagery and illustrations need to support your brand voice and help move the website visitor from awareness to consideration stage. As a result, taking the user closer to making a purchasing decision. Here you can see the design prototype that represents user journey different personas can take to navigate the site. Example of design prototype link.
Share your design prototype with internal team, stakeholders and gather their feedback. Also share it with your customers and ask them for feedback as well.
Royalty free images
Imagery and visuals are extremely important in todays’ customer driven websites. Here is a list of sites that have royalty free images you can use for commercial or personal needs.
It is important to keep in mind that as your website grows and new content added, the workflows might need to change.
Step 4 – Development
Web development is a step that customers usually are not involved in. However, you as a customer must be involved in selection of the Content Management system that will be powering your website. This is a crucial step and selecting a wrong CMS system can paralyze your organization.
What is Content Management System?
A content management system is a fast, easy way to deploy a complex, content-focused site. Content management systems (CMS) are developed and designed largely on a modular basis, so that you can create a visual template and then “plug” your content in as you go.
Open source vs. commercial solution
Almost all of the major content management systems are open source. Drupal, Joomla, WordPress — they are all distributed on an open source license. And there’s a reason for this. Open source products have more community support; they grow faster and are easier to learn and develop for. And, obviously, they’re much cheaper, free.
But that’s not to say there isn’t a place for commercial content management systems. In general, a commercial CMS is best used when there are security or regulatory concerns, or when there is a very specific type of content that you wish to manage.
During the selection of CMS system you want to look for something that has a lot of community activity and many avenues through which you could acquire help, such as forums and a help desk. When looking through community content, you want to find a solution that has a significant number of add-ons, plug-ins, and other out-of-the-box systems. From open source prospective Drupal and WordPress have the most of the add-ons and plugins and mostly don’t require a lot of technical knowhow to install and configure them. Most of the configuration is done through visual UI interface.
Depending on your website, you may be fine with an out-of-the-box CMS or you may need to customize it a great deal. Any open source solution will be able to be modified and extended, and most commercial content management systems have ways to customize their templates and features. But the ability to which you can easily enact these changes will depend on the content management system.
As an example, while WordPress is user-friendly, its focus is primarily in blogging and that is what its programming is focused on. To extend WordPress into a non-blogging site may be prohibitively difficult compared to more open content management systems. For more extensive e-commerce portals and non-blogging applications, Drupal, Joomla, and ExpressionEngine would all be significantly better choices.
Speed, Appearance and Ease of Use
With all that going on in the background, it can be easy to forget the most important thing of all: customer experience. Some CMS solutions simply create more user-friendly websites out-of-the-box because of their architecture and templates. Other CMS systems may feel clunky or outdated until you update them personally. As a user you may want to find a content management system that offers a wide variety of polished, professional, and responsive design templates.
WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and ExpressionEngine all come with templates — and most of them today are also responsive. WordPress has more templates, but Drupal and Joomla still have hundreds of professional (and often free) options.
You may want to test out few systems before you make the final decision. Moving forward, the management and maintenance of your website will be highly dependent on your content management system — and you may find some modifications more challenging in different CMS platforms than others.
Step 5 – Content Governance and Creation
First, what is Content Governance?
Content Governance is a set of guidelines that determine how an organization creates and publishes content. It defines the roles, responsibilities, ownership and expectations. Content Governance can help you avoid getting sued or embarrassed, or both.
Successful Content Governance begins before a single word has been written. If you’re a small or med-sized company, you probably won’t need the same governance model global corporations use.
Before you embark on content creation you should get few things on the paper. One of the things that’s consistently difficult about content governance is the long-term content management and keeping sufficient resources for content creation.
The people who have the subject matter expertise required to create and maintain content are often some of the most overworked employees in any organization. As your team creates content, each person has to answer one question why am I making this? Content creators need not only focus on the current article but see the big picture and company vision.
Success definition will vary from company to company and from channel to channel. Some organizations might be more focused on content repurposing and for them the success can be defined as a possibility to reuse content in different forms such as video, blog post, visual infographic. Others might focus on one of these areas. Content can serve three functions: to inform reader, to entertain reader, or to provide an opportunity for the company. From a company’s view, success is defined by metrics of KPI. Not every blog, video or tweet will directly generate a sale, but each channel provides its own opportunities. Using Facebook for example you should aim at larger number of likes, shares and views.
You put all the work and the content is complete. Now it needs to go through accuracy and brand voice check. Your Content Governance process needs to count for that and set necessary steps and resources in place. Next step of the process is buy-in and management approval.
As you create and publish content on the newly designed website, check metrics against your initial projections and benchmarks. For channels that are not performing well, revisit your strategy and focus on areas where you do see big wins.
Step 6 – Launch
Here we are at the end of this long post on building an effective web presence. If you are reading this, you have all the tools and tips needed to start your own project. At this point you have done:
- Persona research to better connect with the user and communicate the value proposition of the organization.
- Created seamless workflows to guide the user from awareness to consideration stage and help them get closer to making a purchasing decision.
- Created branding guidelines
- Translated user workflows into an effective web presence. Included branding, CTAs and tested it with internal team and customers.
- Created content governance guidelines.
- Selected the right content management system to meet your needs.
I hope that by now you can see that creating an effective web presence that constantly performs and helps your business grow is not an easy task, but this what we do in our practice every day helping WDB customers succeed in the marketplace.
Further reading to help you with digital marketing