How To Create An Effective Web Site Strategy

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Web sites are so much more about people than technology. As UX designers, a big part of our job is helping everyone working on a web design project understand and agree about what needs to be built. That means involving all the right people and capturing the right information from the start. Creating an effective web site strategy gives design teams clear direction and focus. The best way to approach it is to 1) gather requirements, 2) review existing content, and 3) create a visual blueprint based on 1 and 2.

Requirements Gathering

The word “requirements” is a wonky, old-school IT term. But it’s useful because it reminds teams to focus only on what’s required to achieve site goals.  Capturing site requirements begins with a simple conversation.                 

  • “What does the site need to do for the business?”
  • “What does it need to do for the users?”
According to Jesse James Garrett, author of The Elements Of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web, answering these two fundamental questions will form the foundation of your website strategy. This exercise typically results in a preliminary “wish list” of desired features and functionality.
 

Stakeholder Interviews  

“Stakeholders” is another wonky term for 1) the people who pay you to build a website and 2) anyone associated with building the website. You have to talk to all of them to really nail the requirements. Often the biggest hurdle is identifying who needs to be included and then getting time on their schedules. These meetings don’t need to be formal – people are busy. The point is to make sure everyone who needs to be involved gets an opportunity to be heard.

Customer interviews and user surveys are also a key part of this process. But many businesses may not have the resources to implement these. At the very least, the team should create 3-4 personas (written descriptions of specific audience members) and how they will interact with your site.
 

Who’s The Competition?

Looking at your online competition will show you where your product or service fits in the overall competitive landscape. Ask clients to provide you with links to 4-5 competitor websites and a list of what they like and don’t like about them. While a full competitive analysis will reveal lots of details about the competition, it’s possible that a cursory website review will be enough to see what works and what doesn’t.
 

Content Review

If you’re doing a site redesign you’ll need to review all the existing content. Create a simple spreadsheet that lists all the navigation and content areas of your current site. Then ask yourself these questions:                        

  • What do you have now?
  • What should you keep?
  • What do you need to get rid of?
  • What new content do you need?

How Will You Measure Success?  

What are the success factors that will confirm you achieved your goals? Be sure to include some sort of success metrics. They can be as simple as increasing unique visitors and page views by 25%, or more complex, such as “signing up x number of new online sales leads in our prospect database”. Google Analytics gives you great analytics tools and it’s free. Simply sign up and copy and paste the tracking code into each page of your site.

How Will You Drive Traffic?

How will you get the word out when your site launches? To reach your market you’ll need a highly targeted promotional strategy to persuade people to visit your site. You’ll also need to give them a compelling reason to return. If site promotion is the responsibility of a separate team make sure they are aware of your activities and vice versa.

Documenting Requirements                   

Once all the research is done and stakeholders have put in their two cents, it’s time to officially get the requirements down on paper. The easiest way to do this is to create a more refined version of your original wish list, this time with all the features and functionality prioritized and described in more detail. This becomes your “requirements analysis document” and should be approved by all decision makers.

Information Architecture/UX Documents

The approved requirements can now be organized into a visual blueprint:

  • User Flows – short diagrams representing suggested user paths.
  • Sitemap – a high-level view of the overall site structure and navigation.
  • Wireframes – black and white diagrams of each page that show what content goes where.
These documents should go through a few rounds of revisions as the team becomes more familiar with what the final site will look like. Wireframes are especially valuable since changes are easy at this stage. They allow lots of room for design exploration and different layout choices. But it’s critical to get them approved before moving on to formal (e.g. more expensive) design. 
 

Ready For Design

Taking the time to create an effective website strategy will help you strike the greatest balance between business objectives and user needs. It will also reduce the likelihood of mistakes and re-work later in the project. This will make your design team much more efficient and help everyone keep things on track.
 
How do you create an effective website strategy? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
 
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