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How to Plan a Website: Ask the RIGHT Questions

So, you’re planning a new site. Not like your current site where the last update was two years ago touting something that is now woefully out of date, but something with an actual content strategy, frequent updates, and consistently fresh content to lure in unsuspecting visitors and the ever powerful Google machine.

Sounds great, but how can you make sure that everyone can post their blogs, update their landing pages, and share the latest multimedia goodness with the world? To do that you need to share the content creation love, and unless you’re a company full of web savvy techno geeks, you’ll be needing a Content Management System (CMS).

However, CMS platforms are not one size fits all, and the choice you make at the very beginning of the project will have lasting ramifications on the sites viability and future enhancements. So you must choose, but choose, wisely; a hard to use CMS will alienate your site editors, and failure to plan could result in costly rework down the line. So yeah, no pressure.

To start with, you will need to ask yourself some basic questions about your site to make sure your decision is based on the proper facts. These are the same journalistic 5 W’s (and one H) but they break out a little differently.

The last question to be asked is How (as in, How will everything work) which can’t be summarized in a bullet point. How, Where it will be hosted and Who will build it are all questions that can only be answered after the following planning questions are answered:

Why: Why are we building a website?

What: What do we need to do to accomplish our goals?

When: When do we need it?

Why are we building a website?

This is the key question to consider before a dollar is spent on design or development. Many companies have a good idea of what they are trying to accomplish with their site, but

Do you need to communicate to current stakeholders?

Do you need to collect sales leads?

Are you trying to sell products?

Are you trying to inform consumers so they build affinity for your brand?

There are probably several answers to this question for each site, but the primary objectives need to be addressed first to make sure that all of the decisions made support the overall objective. A good design, great CMS, and snazzy code are all great things, but if all of that effort isn’t focused toward fulfilling the primary goals of the site, that work will have been wasted.

What do we need to do to accomplish our goals?

Once you know what you are trying to accomplish, you can then decide how you will measure your success. You can set a baseline for performance using industry averages or past experiences and use this to determine will you are doing.

For an online store it may be sales, an informational site may focus more on how much traffic is received, or a service oriented site may be a mix of the number of visitors and the number of qualified leads that submit a contact form.

When do we need it?

In truth, this probably has already been answered fairly early on, but this can be trickier than it appears. The standard answer is always right now/yesterday but it is important to know what deadlines are being worked towards and why. Arbitrary deadlines may mean that sacrifices are made in the name of timeliness when a more deliberate approach would provide greater returns and usability over the life of the project.

Know the difference, a product launch or trade show may be worth the tradeoff, but having something up by September 1st because that’s what it said in last year’s sales plan could waste time and effort when October 12th would have worked just as well.

Once you have these questions answered you can move onto the implementation and detail questions confident that you are on the right path for a solid, long term solution.

About Steve Sanchez

Steve Sanchez is a web developer with 18 years of experience in the IT field and has made it through multiple paradigm shifts unscathed.  He is currently slinging code and architecting sites in a variety of .Net platforms.