Whether you have a site currently, or need one up + running, planning your new website can feel like a really big project. To keep things out of the overwhelming category, I like to break new site builds into 5 main phases: Planning, Design, Development, Testing + Launch. Let’s start at step one, shall we?
Phase One — Planning your new website
The best way to start any project is to create a plan. I know, seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? But what exactly are you planning for… that’s where this phase can help. Before moving on to the second phase of a new site build, I recommend having 2 things:
- A concrete website goal. The mission critical thing that your website needs to do in order to consider it a viable business expense. Because your site will have on-going expenses like domain registration + hosting fees.
- A clear site map of the essential pages you need in your site menu + beyond. This map will help guide your content creation whether you write it yourself or use a copywriter.
And what if you already have a site with content?
Redesign doesn’t always mean redo.
Going through a redesign doesn’t mean that your current site is bad or uninspiring. It simply means that you’re looking to make changes to carry your business forward. And that can be through a chance in services, process, or the audience you reach with your redesigned site.
The redesign process truly isn’t that much different than a fresh site build. And having existing content can be both a pro + a con. While it can save on content creation time, that content can keep you stuck in the old solution.
If you’re working with an existing site that needs a refresh, spend some of the planning stage forgetting that your site exists. Ask yourself the questions below with a clean slate. Then take those answers to your site to see what content still works.
Create your site wishlist
Grab a blank sheet of paper or a fresh Google Doc + list the features that you need / want. Specifically ask yourself what does my new website need to do to be successful? This might be getting new leads into your inbox, converting site visitors to email list subscribers, educating your future clients on your process to save time, or securing $3,000 in new contracts each month so that you can do this full-time.
Maybe all of those sound like things you want, so write them down. This isn’t when we get picky about the plan. Dream big + consider this your ultimate website wishlist.
Remember the headaches you’ve run into in business already + how a website could eliminate those pain points. Look at your goals for your business + get curious about how a website could help you make progress for each target you’ve set your sights on.
Pick your priority
Step away from your wishlist for at least 15 minutes. Take a dance break, walk the office dog, grab a Diet Coke — whatever you need to do to disconnect from the last thing you wrote down. Then come back armed with a highlighter, or the highlighter tool on your computer + get to work pulling out the crème de la crème of your list. But how?!
I’m not at all suggesting your site shouldn’t do multiple things.
Very rarely would a client benefit from a site that truly serves a single purpose. This exercise is meant to pull your “North Star” out of your wishlist that can guide the rest of your project decisions as you move forward. If your site is successful at nothing else but this one thing, the idea is that you will feel accomplished.
- What does your business need to grow? More subscribers, more clients, a faster process…
- What revenue targets do you have for the next 1-3 years? What percentage would come from your site, how much is a conversion worth, what’s your current conversion rate…
- Where is your energy going in the next 6-12 months? Are you creating free content, paid content, new services…
Answering those questions + highlighting the wishlist items that speak loudest to you will help you find the focal point for your project. And if not, having someone on your team to guide a website build is a good piece of the planning phase.
Don’t be afraid to rewrite the items on this paper or document. After a round of highlighting, look for overlap. Could you combine two points into one solid North Star? This is a great time to get specific + include metrics to help you gauge success when the time comes.
Planning your new website architecture
Now that you know your primary site goal, it’s time to map out the pages required to reach that goal + beyond. You can use a fun visual tool for this, or another blank sheet of paper, or even a spreadsheet like Airtable. The method doesn’t really matter, I promise.
Start by listing out the pages necessary to support your goal.
Let’s say you set a goal to secure $3,000 a month in new contracts from your site specifically. In order to do that, you’ll need a page describing your services, FAQs, a contact or intake form, a thank you page with next steps, and instruction pages that you can point your clients to when they sign up for your services.
Then fill in the blanks with common site pages.
Every website needs a homepage. You might make this your services page, but likely it’s going to be a separate page with the homepage featuring the essential service info.
You’ll also want to consider some sort of about page or section, a place for helpful content like a blog, a 404 page, a search + search results page, and a subscribe page if you’re working with a newsletter.
Gather your content
It’s a good idea to gather / write / hire out for your content before design starts. Why? Because form follows function.
Say a designer creates a beautiful homepage design for you with a 3 column featured section below a hero graphic. Yet, you offer a single service + your site goal is to get more subscribers to grow your brand new email list. You’ll waste your time trying to fit your goals into those 3 columns when a single column opt-in box would be a better solution for you.