I hate to break it to you. But, just like dating, when it comes to designing a new website for your business, it needs to be about more than just good looks.
That’s why having a clearly-defined and strategic direction for your site design is so important.
According to Dmitry Fadeyev, writing for Smashing Magazine:
“Strategic design is the fusion of your organizational goals with every aspect of your design process. You aren’t simply designing a user interface that looks good and is usable and accessible. You’re designing an interface that will help you accomplish your organization’s objectives.”
In contrast to the “aesthetics-first” approach taken by so many designers out there, strategic web design is all about identifying the primary goals of your business and then using those goals to inform the entire design process from start to finish.
So, with that said, here are the top five steps to keep in mind as you embark on your next design project, be it for yourself or for a client.
Decide on your overall business goals
The first, and most important, step in planning an effective website strategy might also be the most obvious: Determine both the short- and long-term goals of your business and what your website needs to do in order to further these goals.
What are you trying to achieve with this new website or re-design? Is it to overhaul your entire brand identity to attract new potential customers, or to increase sales of your core product?
Let’s say for example that your short-term goal is to increase revenue by X% over the next quarter. Toward that end, some of your website goals might include:
· Increasing traffic to a specific product (or sales) page,
· Increasing the number of subscribers to your email newsletter, or
· Increasing conversion rates on your home page.
It’s also worth mentioning that your goals don’t necessarily need to be so numbers-driven. Maybe you’ve been attracting the wrong sort of clients on your sales calls for the past couple of months, clients who either can’t afford your services or just aren’t a good fit for your program.
In that case, your goal might be to better align your business’s brand and positioning strategy with what your ideal client is looking for. And your website would then serve to project this new brand to site visitors, ensuring that those who eventually do convert are fit for what you have to offer them.
Without taking the time to seriously consider and answer these questions, you won’t have a clear sense of direction about what your site needs to accomplish — or how it ought to be designed. And you might then fall into the trap of spending weeks creating something that looks good but fails to function (or worse, something that looks bad and also fails to function).
Understand your ideal customer avatar (ICA)
Socrates’s famous maxim was to “know thyself.” But if he had been a businessman, Socrates might have instructed his followers to “know thy customer” instead.
Again, this might seem like an obvious step. But it’s also incredibly important and should not be overlooked, because your target audience will have a profound impact on both the overall design and function of your business’s website.
Much of this impact will be drawn from key demographical information, like age, sex, profession, income, and level of competence with technology.
Here’s a rather extreme example to illustrate what I’m talking about:
Disney and The Wall Street Journal do not share the same (or similar) target audiences. One company markets primarily to children and their parents, while the other targets wealthy professionals and businessmen. This is why their websites, unsurprisingly, look absolutely nothing alike.
One site is full of bright colors, flashy animations, and short video clips of children interacting with life-size cartoon characters. The other is stark white-and-black, with selective imagery to highlight the top news stories of the day. (No prizes for guessing which site is which.)
So how to go about determining your ICA?
Start by writing down a detailed description of who you want to serve. This might be a person you know in real life, or someone you just make up.
Really get into the nitty-gritty here, and ask yourself: How old is she? What books does she like to read? Which websites does she visit on a regular basis? Who, or what, inspires her most? What is her biggest pain point, or frustration, in life?
The goal is to end up with a detailed description of the exact sort of person you’ll be targeting with your website.
One important thing to keep in mind: Your ICA might not always be the primary user of your website.
If you’re an SAT tutor or college admissions consultant, for example, your ICA might be a high-school aged student seeking admission to a four-year college or university. However, your primary website visitor is probably not this student, but his mother. And she is likely to be far less tech-savvy than her son and far less likely to be impressed by the latest trends in web design.
“Know thy customer,” and save yourself a lot of potential headache in the long-run.
Map out your sales process
The prettiest, most high-tech, website would be completely useless if it failed to actually accomplish its goal of moving site visitors along the sales process.
So before you actually get deep into the design and development of your site, it would be a good idea to map out just what that process looks (or should look) like.
The goal here is to create a visual representation of your potential customers’ buyers journey — one that includes absolutely everything from how your customers will initially learn about you (whether organically through blog posts and social media, or through paid traffic like Facebook ads), what they should do after landing on your home page, and how they’ll eventually make a purchase from you.
One useful framework to keep in mind during this process is the famous AIDA model. The name is an acronym, and it stands for: attention (or awareness), interest, desire, and action. It’s intended to model the four primary stages that buyers typically pass through when making purchasing decisions.
Consider which stage of the model your clients will likely have reached by the time they stumble onto your website, and you’ll have a clear understanding of exactly what they need to know in order to move forward.
Understand your ICA’s barriers to buying
This step follows pretty closely from the last one. As you map our your sales process in the previous step, take a moment to brainstorm all of the possible concerns that your ICA might have along the way — concerns that could potentially keep him from ever making a purchase.
This could include everything from the price of your product/service, concerns about your expertise, or worry about whether your offer is truly the best thing for him at this point in his life or career.
Here’s a useful exercise in uncovering some of your potential customers’ objections:
Comb through your various social media pages, email correspondences, and sales call logs in order to determine the few most commonly-asked questions from past leads.
Are they asking about your experience? Your competency? Your price? The specifics of your offer?
This will help you determine which questions (and objections) you’ll want to address on your website.
For example: If one of your ICA’s potential barriers to buying is your price, then you might want to take some space to explain in detail every single thing that your clients will stand to gain from the program and why the value you deliver far outweighs the price of admission.
Know what your competition is doing
You can really learn a lot from the other people operating within your niche.
If you haven’t done an in-depth analysis of your primary competitors in a while, then you might be surprised at what you find.
Put together a list of three to five key competitors (any more than this will quickly become overwhelming). Poke around their websites, and try to step into the shoes of your ICA while evaluating them.
Ask yourself: Does the website focus on a single business objects? Is it meant to attract the same (or similar) ICAs? Is it effective in guiding users through the sales process? Does it seem to have a well-planned strategy behind it?
Your goal here is to create a comprehensive list that describes each competitor’s online presence, content, messaging, and overall design.
If done correctly, this exercise can be an incredibly powerful tool for gaining clarity on your website design needs.
That’s why every single one of my client projects begins with a comprehensive competitive analysis, which we then use to develop a clear strategy for building upon my clients’ unique strengths while also capitalizing on the weaknesses of their competitors.
Without such a strategy in place, it becomes far too easy to lose track of your goals and mimic aspects of a competitor’s website simply because they look good or appeals to you — rather than taking the time to consider how (or whether) it actually fits into the overall purpose of the project.
Creating, or re-designing, a website for your business involves much more than just creating something that looks good, although aesthetics is certainly an important aspect to keep in mind.
To get the most out of your new site design, you’ll want to take a holistic approach that encompasses your entire business strategy, including short- and long-term business goals.
By taking a step back and assessing these goals, in addition to the behavior patterns of your ideal client and the strengths (and weaknesses) of your competition, you can effectively align your site and business for success.
It’s a massive undertaking, but one that will be well worth it in the end.