How to Plan a Website
The following is an edited version of the “How to Plan a Website” chapter from my upcoming ebook. To make sure you don’t miss out on its release, subscribe to the 603 Copywriting newsletter. It comes out once a month, and you get free content that I don’t publish anywhere else. Isn’t that nice?
Chapter Two: How to Plan a Website
Before you hire a designer, before you register a domain, before you write a single damn world, you need to know how to plan a website. It’s no good diving in headfirst and making it up as you go along. You need to put together a roadmap for your site.
Because a successful website is the result of careful planning as much as it is good writing.
Don’t get me wrong, good writing is a factor – that’s how I pay my mortgage after all – but great writing thrown at a website won’t work as well as you’d hope.
So let’s get down to planning. What do we need to plan out before you start typing your homepage?
First Steps – Questions
Getting down to brass tacks, there are four things to ask yourself (that aren’t “can I learn how to plan a website?”). The answers are going to influence everything else you do on this site, so it’s worth taking the time to think about these in some depth.
- Why do You Want a Website?
Is it because your competitors are all online and you want to be amongst them? Is it to drive sales and enquiries? Is it to show off your work and build your reputation?
- What Kind of Site?
Do you want a brochure site for readers to browse as they consider your services? An ecommerce site where you sell directly online? Or a portfolio site where they’re dazzled by your brilliance?
- How Will Visitors Find You?
Through Google? If it’s through Google, are you looking at natural results (the so-called ten blue links, plus local listings) or paid search (the AdWords ads)? Are they going to be looking for your brand after all the offline marketing you’re doing?
- How Will Your Site Be Structured?
This is where we bright together all the three other parts of your plan and build the sitemap for your website.
So that’s three questions to look at first. Why, what and how.
Time for some answers.
Wait! Aren’t We Forgetting Someone!
If you’ve already worked out who your audience is, well done you. Skip this box.
If you haven’t, take a pen and paper and jot down the answers to the following questions:
- Who is your ideal client?
- Do they know who you are?
- Are they comfortable using Google to find information?
- Do they make impulse purchases, or do they need lots of detail?
You might also want to check out the related reading section for a link to John Espirian’s video on “pen portraits” to work out how to profile your customers.
How to Plan and Define Your Website’s Objectives
You’re asking how to plan a website. So there will be questions. The first of which is this. Why do you want a website? Typically, a business owner wants a website either because they’re losing business to the competitors that already have sites, because they want to sell directly online, or because they want to show off work without paying to have thousands of brochures printed.
Think about your main objective, and then see what that means for your plan.
“I Want to Get In Amongst My Competitors and Raise Awareness”
Right. This means we need to plan for a brochure website that shows off your services.
“I Want to Sell Products in an Online Shop”
Ecommerce. You need an ecommerce site.
“I Want to Show Off My Skills”
A portfolio site!
Now you have that objective, write it on a Post-It note and stick it next to your computer. Before you do anything, look at that note and ask if it’s going to help you meet that objective.
Types of Website
As you can see, we’ve identified three main types of website. Once you know what kind of site you’re writing, and how visitors will find it, we can start on the structure.
The Brochure Site
A brochure website is all about providing readers with the information they need to confidently make a purchase.
A homepage is a given, obviously, as is a reputation-building about us page (see chapters four and five), but the majority of heavy lifting on this website will be done on service pages. Each of these pages should be an island, explaining to readers just what they’ll get, and just why they’ll need it.
For bonus points, add an FAQ page, which you can regularly add to as readers ask you more questions.
The Ecommerce Site
Think Amazon. Think EBay. Think one of millions of online shops.
Your ecommerce site should efficiently funnel readers towards checkouts. Your homepage will be copy-light, and your about us page is entirely optional.
The hard work here comes from writing dozens of individual punchy product pages, each one designed to get that person to click “Order Now” or “Add to Basket.” I explain more in chapter seven.
Attention-grabbing, Brief, Compelling. That’s the A-B-C of ecommerce writing.
The Portfolio Site
This is all about your skills, which means it’s all about results, which means it’s all about your clients.
A short, confident website homepage. An in-depth, confident about us page, and a brief, punchy services page explaining what you can do.
Then it’s all about testimonials and case studies. With a brochure site, you explain why your services are great. With your portfolio site, you show why your services have been great for others.
Show, don’t tell. No wonder web designers love them.
Oh, if you’re wondering what sort of website you need to get in amongst your competition and sell directly, or to combine any two objectives, that’s simple.
Combine the types of website. Add more service pages to your portfolio site, or add loads of case studies to your ecommerce site. That’s the wonder of a website – you can always add more.
Where’s The Traffic Coming From?
Right. You know what sort of site you need and why, so all that’s left is to wonder where the readers are coming from.
If you’re relying on brand traffic, you want a domain name with your brand name in it, and you need to make sure your homepage makes plenty of references to your company name and brand. That should be enough to help you crack the search engines for brand name searches (unless you’ve called yourself “Shoes” or “Porn,” in which case there are about a billion reasons you’re buggered).
Combined with some good content marketing, offline outreach and good old fashioned networking, that should help you capture those people who already know who you are.
But what if people don’t know who you are?
In this case, you need to look at optimising your website for the search engines, and the first part of that involves finding what your clients are looking for.
As we go on, I’ll give you SEO tips for writing the site, but when it comes to keyword research, I highly recommend checking out Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO, or the fantastic and affordable Fresh Bananas SEO course.
If you’re trying to get traffic from the search engines, be very wary of DIY site building services like SquareSpace. Sure, they say they’ll make SEO simple, but some charge more to let you edit important things like meta titles, while others pretend outdated things like keyword lists still work.
Your best bet is a self-hosted site built with a WordPress CMS. Downloading the Yoast SEO plugin will then help guide you through the fiddly bits of optimisation.
Once you have your list of words to target, my upcoming free copywriting ebook will help you optimise the site for them, but it could take a while.
SEO takes effort, time, and has no guarantees. But there is a shortcut.
By setting up a Google AdWords account, Google will guide you through choosing your keywords, and then you’ll pay them every time someone clicks on one of your adverts and enters your website.
AdWords especially works for brochure and ecommerce websites, where the content of your service pages and product pages will be focused enough to help out your AdWords “relevancy score” which can help keep costs down.
So, now you know why you need a site, what kind of site it’ll be, and how people will find it.
Congratulations. You’ve learned how to plan a website. I’m proud of you.
How to Plan A Website: A Summary
Before planning your site’s structure, you need to answer three questions:
- Why do I want a site? To challenge the competition, to sell more, or to show off my results? (Or a combination of all three?)
- What kind of site do I need? A brochure site, an online ecommerce shop, or a portfolio? Do I need a hybrid site?
- How will people find the site? Do they know my brand, will they find me in Google’s search results, or should I pay for AdWords adverts?
These are simple questions, but they’ll influence everything you do. So make sure you’ve written the answers down. The simple website plan you’ll find in my finished ebook is a good place to do that.
How to Plan a Website is chapter two in my upcoming ebook, “How to Write a Website.” Make sure you get your hands on your copy by subscribing to my newsletter. Just click right here.
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