In this blog, I’m going to address a question that plagues the vast majority of our early phase clients. I often see and hear from clients who are just setting out to start their business—or just standing up their first website—that this one sticking point has caused months of frustration, analysis/paralysis, and delays in achieving their goals.
If you’re reading this, I’m here to reassure you—you aren’t alone in this. By the end of this blog, you’ll be equipped with the understanding and confidence to venture forth and plan (or communicate your needs to someone who can help you plan) your budding website.
A quick recommendation—have a pen and paper ready to take notes as we walk through this exercise. It may just help jump start the whole creation process ;).
Let’s Keep It Simple and Start with Strategy
Unless you’ve already got a stable and successful business with recurring monthly income—and therefore probably have the empirical customer feedback and data to know what you want… the best strategy to get started is almost always “Keep It Simple”. Some refer to this as KISS (“Keep It Stupid Simple”, “Minimum Viable Product” our “MVP”, etc.).
In this spirit of simplicity, let me just lay out the most common web functionality needs for you. I’m taking this approach because different sites have different needs—and webpages are ultimately what enable us to organize your website’s capabilities. They also empower us to track user behavior and optimize for conversions—but we’ll get to that in another post.
In order to be successful doing business online in 2019 and beyond, the majority websites are going to require at least the following:
- A description of the business, product(s), service(s), project, event, or promotion
- A method of contact (email address, link, contact form, etc.)
- A method of subscription (gathering email address, I.e. “contacts”)
- A method for payment (you might just start out with a contact method)
In addition, the following elements might be important for you to share the word about your business/project and will you grow your online footprint.
- News and Press
- A Blog
- A calendar/schedule
- A photo or art gallery
- About the Company information (team, mission, Vision, goals, etc.)
- Various Other Landing Pages (For specific campaigns, engaging with specific groups of customers, etc.)
Depending on which of these needs resonated with your project—jot down a short list of the webpages you foresee needing.
Other Types of Functionality That May Warrant Their Own Webpage
There are a wide variety of other pages that can be implemented depending on your purpose. If you’re a musician, you might want to include a “Gear Used” page. Restaurants will need a page dedicated to the menu (Really both a product AND a service). Many online business enjoy sharing recognition with their “Affiliates & Partners” through a page that showcases those relationships. Often
You get the idea. And I hope this exercise has given you inspiration for other ways of presenting information and engaging with your prospective audience. This short creative process has forced you to think several steps ahead and envision the direction you’d like your website to go.
Now Let’s Focus on Being Productive
Okay. Now you’re probably thinking we’ve veered off course. And.. you’re right in part. We want to keep this simple from the beginning. Let’s do just that. Put an asterisk next to only the webpages that are most critical for your site. Your list probably shouldn’t have more than 4-5 elements. If it does, that’s fine—but we’re going to prioritize the top 3-4. In most cases, these are the first five elements we mentioned (primary descriptions, contact method, subscription, payment, and terms).
Now, it’s time for the big question… How do you want to organize your website needs? Try to put yourself in the shoes of a web visitor.
Depending on the needs we’ve just outlined and how clearly you’ve defined your business, product, or service—it may be possible on a single page. However, it may be more digestible for the end user to visit a homepage (“hub”) and navigate to individual pages that provide more information.
Let’s take a moment and visualize your site’s hierarchy based on the outlined needs. Your site may have just one scrolling page that includes all of the necessary elements in it stacked vertically. Alternatively, you’re site could be somewhat flat—having a homepage and then any number of secondary pages linked from the homepage and your website’s navigation.
If you are building an E-commerce website and selling a large number of products—your “Shop” page is likely one of those second-level pages, indexing and sprouting off for an individual page devoted to each product.
I would recommend you map this out briefly on a piece of paper. This will enable you to better visualize the structure of your website, as well as fine-tune it and gain efficiencies or insights into how you would prefer the layout be once you see it on paper (and before the work gets done on the computer). I do this, because—as a visual learner—it helps me to see and improve the end result. It also helps you to understand what sort of navigational or design elements will help your audience reach the content they need. But, that’s a conversation for later!
Honestly. That’s It.
We could sit and debate the nuances of design and the particulars of the latest trends in UX/UI (user experience and user interface) for days. In doing this, all we’d be doing is making assumptions about your end users. The best thing we can do is to rapidly develop and deploy a high quality and well-laid out site—and integrate the necessary analytics to allow us to spot trends and understand user’s behavior. We can use that data to optimize your site for the future, but there’s no easy way out or getting around this struggle.
Congratulations! If you followed along with pen and paper, you should now have a solid understanding of all the key elements and functionality your website needs to get started.
If you’re building your website on your own—this is a key foundational piece. Keep It Simple! Start with the basics. You’ll be able to add on additional functionality in some fashion at a later date once you have paying customers contacting you. You might have to re-architect some of your site or add a service that costs a little more—but the price of that is likely much less than the cost of lost progress.
If you’re working with a freelance web designer or agency, you should now be equipped with an understanding of what you want and need. If you identified blogs, news, additional pages, tools, etc. you can choose how much you want to tackle in your initial web launch. Among the advantages of working with a web design professional—you can tell them your longer term goals and ask that they build a foundation that supports all of your needs—but to limit initial work to the scope you’ve outlined.
I am always a proponent of the “Less is More” mentality. Start small. Once that’s launched, you can go back and ask for or add additional pages and functionality and determine the cost of those as they are needed.
With this power, you can continue to build on these so that you’re website becomes a more effective and integrated tool for your business.