Websites are one of the most challenging design projects a Chattanooga business can take on. Without the right approach, timelines can get extended over and over again, content creation can get burdensome, and you could end up going through all that work to end up with a website that doesn’t accomplish your goals. So, here’s a handy guide on how to prepare to work with an agency on developing your website.
Think about who will use your website
I put this tip first because it’s the most essential. When you think about your website, your instinct will be to ask yourself what aesthetic you like, what word choices would speak the most to you, what features you would find the most helpful. It’s important to recognize that instinct, put it aside, and view the website from the perspective of the people who will be using it.
We use “user profiles” to facilitate that perspective shift. On something as small as a index card, we create a person with a name. We write down things like their age, income, family status, interests, etc. As much as possible, we base that info on actual data like memorable clients. Then, every time we make a decision about the website, we think about it from the perspective of our user profiles. You can help in the creation of user profiles by:
- Identifying a few real people who are representative of your client base and writing down what you know about them.
- Collecting any data you might have about your clients. If you already have a website and you’ve been collecting analytics, access to that info would be helpful.
Write out a list of phrases that describe your service or product
Everything that’s written for your website needs to be targeted, in part, to search engines. If there are phrases on your site that match what people type into search engines, your website will rank higher on the results page. That’s key because the first five results get 75% of the clicks (source). We use your list and tools like Google’s keyword planner to figure out what those phrases should be.
Purchase a domain
If you have an idea for your website’s URL, go ahead and purchase it. Domains are cheap and you want to make sure you don’t lose your domain to someone who bought it out from under you. I learned this the hard way. Our agency’s URL (madebyserve.com) was my second choice. The first was bought by someone else because I decided to wait on buying it. Here are some tips on good domains:
- Try to keep it short. Your domain is probably going to be what you will use for email addresses. You want it to be easy to share and easy to remember.
- Try to match your profiles on social media. For example, if your company’s domain is books.com, your twitter handle should be @books. It’s helpful when everything is consistent across the board.
Start creating your website’s content
There are a number things you can start now that will make it easy for your agency to launch your website quickly and on time. Here’s a few examples:
- Team members. A lot of websites have an about page where employees are listed. Go ahead and contact a photographer (let us know if you need a recommendation) and schedule a time in the office for everyone to get their photo taken. Ask everyone to send you a short bio that can be added to the site.
- Blog Articles. If you’re going to include a blog on your site, it’s ideal to launch your site with 3 articles already written. You can task someone on your team to start writing those or you can hire a professional copywriter to write them for you. We know a few copywriters if you need an introduction.
- Testimonials. Social proof is a time-honored way to help new clients trust you. Start reaching out to past clients and ask them for a testimonial and a photo.
- Stats. Some websites feature important numbers like how long you’ve been in business or how many clients you’ve helped. Spend some time brainstorming which numbers would be helpful and research the correct figures.
- Copy. Don’t feel you need to write the final draft of the text that will go on your site. But, starting to put some words on paper will help to keep the process moving forward. For example, if you know you want to include a section narrating your company’s history, go ahead and write a couple of paragraphs. That way, we know the dates and events you want to highlight.
Create a mood board of website designs you like
Of course, you don’t want your website to copy someone else’s. But, if you create a mood board to start saving examples of sites you like, that will give your agency an idea of how to create a unique aesthetic you’ll be proud of. You can use Pinterest to pin websites or you can just copy and paste URLs in a Google Doc. I challenge you to go beyond Chattanooga or your local city. Go beyond your industry. Find sites that draw you in and make a strong first impression. You may not be able to say why you like something. That’s ok. Being able to reference the website itself will be helpful. Here are some sites that can get you started:
Visit your Chattanooga competitors’ websites
The purpose of scoping out your competitors is not to steal their designs, but to help you think through what your website needs and how it could stand out. If they use a repeated pattern on their site, like a bright highlight color, it might be best to avoid adopting the same on your own. They may offer a feature that you think users will love, like submitting a lunch order through the site. That might inspire you to offer something similar.
Evaluate which website features are a need and which ones are a want
It’s easy to get feature hungry when you’re working on a new website. But, you want to carefully consider which features would be nice to have and which would help your website achieve its goals. List all of your ideas out and note which ones you need at launch, which ones could be re-evaluated at a later date, and which ones are impractical.
Prioritize what content you want to feature first
While there’s an unlimited number of pages you can have on your site, your website’s users have a limited attention span. An eye-tracking study found that users spend 74% of their time on a website on the first two screenfuls of the home page (about 2,000 pixels down). That’s limited real estate that needs to be used for maximum effect. Start considering what information needs to displayed in those 2,000 pixels and what information can be displayed further down or on other pages.
Determine what actions you want your website’s users to take
Your website should repeatedly make winsome calls-to-action (CTA). Do you want users to sign up for a service? Do you want them to call a salesperson? Do you want them to subscribe to a newsletter? Should they watch a video about your company culture? Remember that the more CTAs you have on your site, the less effective each CTA will be. Only make as many CTAs as are necessary.
Ask yourself if you can commit to writing a blog
Writing blog or news articles is a fantastic way to keep your website feeling fresh and to add content that search engines will pick up (helping your search ranking). But, keeping up with blogs can be onerous. I cringe a little bit when I visit a website’s news page and there are only a couple of posts that were published months or even years ago. Before including a blog on your site, come up with a plan for how you will ensure it gets populated with fresh content on a consistent basis. Will you hire a copywriter to provide an article a month for you? Will someone on your team be responsible for writing the articles? If you have a plan for your blog, it’s more likely it will stay maintained.
Partner with Serve
If you found this article to be helpful, consider interviewing us to be your website design and development agency. Reach out and let us know about your project.