First and foremost, you should have a good reason to build a website. Most people do have good reasons but they don’t write them down. Take the time to write down why you are building this web property.
You should have an objective or multiple objectives that you want to achieve. For example, you want people to understand what you are researching or teaching. You want people to donate their time or money to your mission.
You should have an understanding of your target audience. Who are they? Do they normally use the web? How do they get their information about what I do?
What’s your story that you want to tell them? So many people don’t figure out the story they want to tell before they begin to build their tactics like a website to reach the people they want to talk to. It reminds of a child chasing after their mother, yelling incessantly, “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom…” When she finally stops and turns around to say, “What?” The child responds with “I don’t know.”
This is what you are going to do and for me, there’s usually only a few strategies out there.
“Outreach” strategy – every tactic (the how) must fall into how you are going to reach the viewer. You are everywhere that your user may be looking for you, seeking your kind of help.
“Expert” strategy – every tactic must fall into how you are going to demonstrate that you know what you are talking about in your field. You are someone that can help them solve their problem.
“Resource” strategy – every tactic must fall into how you are going to give something to the viewer that will help them solve their problem.
There are many others. Like for instance, Southwest’s strategy was to be the lowest cost airline provider. If you added cost without making it cheap to fly then the tactic was rejected. They were always looking to make it cheaper to fly than with anyone else.
Your website is a tactic. Granted, I believe it is one of the most useful tactics but it still should be treated like a tactic.
There are lots of other tactics like magazines, brochures, and white papers but let’s stick to the website.
So you have your objectives, target audience and story to fill your website with. What should you do next?
- Think about your objective and then pinpoint an action that would make the website a success. For instance, the website is a success if people give us their email addresses and want a relationship with us. Or they fill out a survey. Or they read our blog/watch a video (measured by time on site).
- Gather all your content together that will help with this objective in mind. One problem we experience time and again is that the content isn’t ready – it’s not there at all. Building the website without the content is like building a pretty cover to a book without any pages. If you don’t know who to write for the web – then don’t fake it. Ask us questions. People don’t read online unless it’s really, really important to them. Instead they scan, looking for where they need to go next.
- Wireframe the website. Now this sounds technical but it’s really not. Wireframing is just drawing boxes on a page where you think people would be looking for your content. A great rule is “Don’t Make People Think”. Don’t hide your navigation – keep it left or right or horizontal. Be careful with links – if you put too many, it confuses people as to what you want them to do. Big rotator images may look cool to you but if you hid important content in them, people will probably not see it. They scan the page looking for important information – not see your clever ads. People should understand the message in easy to understand terms.
- Clean design with less clutter is always better. Putting lots of bugs (buttons) distract the eye and give them a reason to click on something that probably isn’t that important to you. All images better load fast.
- Test, test, test. Test everything. Navigation, images, load time, usability. Test it all. Why? Because you can. It’s more important that the viewer get a good experience than you doing it your way.
- Don’t force deadlines. Website building takes time. On average, it takes the agency 3-9 months to build a custom website. They majority of that time is usually when people are entering their content. We understand that deadlines are important but if you don’t follow the steps, you’ll probably get something that isn’t effective.
- Be prepared to constantly feed the web machine. Good websites are those with lots of content, constantly being refreshed and attended to. They garner more links, better positioning within the search engines and give the viewers what they are seeking. More information.
If you need to build a website, give us a call or email here at the AgencyND. We will help you through the process and give you a great product (that will probably also win awards) if we can. And if we can’t do it, there are plenty of Preferred Vendors who can help you as well.
If you want to do it yourself, we also have blogs.nd.edu. Blogs can make great websites – easy to use, easy to set up, easy to change. Our WordPress system is free for everyone on campus – faculty can have one without approval (students need to be faculty sponsored, staff just needs approval from dept).
BTW, we’re also looking for a web project manager. If you would like to join our award-winning team here on campus, please fill out the web project manager application.