When you are trying to create your website it is very easy to focus on making something aesthetically pleasing while forgetting to make sure that the website also achieves your business’ online goals.

Strategy is everything!

This is why a well thought-out marketing strategy is crucial to the success of any website design project. Regardless of brand or industry, you need to have a strategy in place so that you are able to identify your businesses objectives and determine what tactics you will need to accomplish them. The process of building out an efficient marketing strategy can be complex and should be examined in three phases prior to a website’s launch:

STEP ONE~Discovery

The initial stage of developing a strategy should always be research-focused so that you have a complete and strong understanding of the business. Doing a deep dive to learn about your industry, and the competitive landscape that is out there is imperative to the success of your project, both from a strategy and design perspective. A mix of both qualitative and quantitative research such as examining current website metrics, engaging in competitive analysis, and having conversations with stakeholders will provide you with findings that will be relevant throughout the entire strategy process.

When it comes to qualitative research, speak with key stake holders at your organization to understand how the web design project will play a role in their job. Whether it’s the CEO, CMO, or various members of the marketing or sales teams, having a clear understanding as to what they need from the website is imperative. Ask questions such as, “How can this site be optimized to help you?” or “What are some pain points you have with the current site?” While a digital team at your company may be more aligned with the project you are working on, it’s important you not solely speak with them. For example, the sales team may not be as involved with the website, but at the end of the day they are the ones that are responsible for client growth, and are vital to the success of the company. Having an understanding of what they think about the website and where it can be improved can provide vital design insights that will help the website generate more sales for your business. This portion of your research should uncover how your website can become a tool for everyone at the company and help the specific needs of their job.

Workshops offer a similar perspective, and allow you to host exercises with different groups of people that make up your target audience to further understand brand positioning, products, and potentially determine some alternative positioning methods that may be more effective. Prior to any workshop, develop an agenda and determine if you or someone else will act as a moderator, to ensure that all topics on the agenda get covered and that time is properly allocated for each question. Throughout these workshops, encourage discussion that addresses topics such as project objectives and expectations, measurement of success, problems with the current site, opinions on design, and structure. Ask attendees to rank the importance of each element they feel strongly about and determine the impact it has on the business and its customers. Use this process as a starting point in determining which the most necessary elements are and then work to address each during your design process.

On the other end of the discovery phase is quantitative research. At this point, your goal should be to gather high-level findings that are backed up by statistics. If you’re interested in research related to your target audience, you want concrete data that is going to provide forward-looking insights on how to best reach them. To gather numbers related to the needs of your target audience, develop surveys through a platform such as Survey Monkey, and disseminate it across email or social platforms to get as much data as possible. By connecting your questions with the users you’re targeting, you’ll get valuable data that you may not have been aware of before.

While it is easy to sometimes assume you know your audience from past experience, that assumption isn’t always going to be reliable or relevant. Conducting your own research with each new initiative gives you supporting quantitative data that will leave you with accurate, unbiased findings that you can eventually use as a basis for decision-making related to design elements, calls-to-action, navigation, and other items that users may want to see or avoid on your site.

STEP TWO~Audit

The culmination of the discovery phase brings you to the first audit—the first real deliverable, that you should be presenting with the decision-makers for your website design project. It’s at this point that you want to take all of your insights from the analysis you conducted regarding audience, competition, and the current website and use them to present a coherent and actionable plan for your website design that will work to achieve the goals you’ve set.

Several online tools can be a huge help when it comes to finding relevant information and determining areas of improvement. With Google Analytics, you can hone in on existing site performance (if applicable) and see firsthand what’s working and what’s not. From there, you can generate ideas on how to best increase results and foster business growth from your website design. Perhaps you found that the bounce rate is high, or that you have low conversions when visitors accessed your site through a certain channel. Taking these metrics and then taking a look at eMarketer, a digital marketing data aggregation service, can help you find industry benchmarks to see if what you’ve found on your website is occurring for other companies as well.

Take an auto-industry website as an example, perhaps you’re seemingly doing well when it comes to mobile users accessing your phone number online and submitting a quote via that call-to-action. If you study some charts from the eMarketer database, you may find that this is not true, and that across the industry, you have significantly lower mobile conversions than other companies, and more prominently displaying the number may remedy the situation.

Presenting insights like these during your audit phase can highlight a potential area for improvements. In addition to comparing industry averages across various web design elements and tactics, this database can also help to identify significant industry trends that you may be able to leverage.

STEP THREE~Web Strategy

Once your audit is presented, it’s time to move on to the web strategy phase. At this point, you want to focus on taking the insights found in your audit and turning them into legitimate recommendations that integrate various creative and design elements.

During the strategy phase, you need to create or envision a funnel that will reflect the buyer journey and how the consumer will likely go through the decision-making process. You may have certain conversion points at the top, middle, and bottom of the conversion funnel, but if they aren’t in the correct places on the site they may be useless. For example, placing a “buy now” button in the in a location where the customer has likely spent only a few seconds on your site and is definitely not ready to make a purchase is going to adversely impact your sales. Consumers should be eased into the buying process, so you need to identify what is going to be at the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel and at the bottom of the funnel, and meet them wherever they are at any given time. The top of the funnel embodies the informational stage of the buying process, and as you move closer to the bottom, tactics become more specific, and the buyer becomes more serious.

Also during this phase, cross-departmental collaboration with experts at your organization will enhance your actionable recommendations. Typically, strategists will collaborate with members of the information architecture team to create things like user flows and pathways, or calls-to-action that will support both usability and web conversions. Sometimes, bringing in a graphic designer to offer creative recommendations and show inspiration behind the branding concepts will help the visualization of the web design project, and bring it to life. From a visual standpoint, creating “mood boards” that are filled with images, text, and embody the overall inspiration of your project can be successful at conveying your design idea. Determine the top three themes that will identify your new brand, and use images and words to create a collage that is representative of those terms, and your brand.

Effective Processes Drive Achievements

While you are developing your web design strategy, every action should be supported and backed up by the specific business objective it will achieve. You want features and content that will constantly keep people coming back. By conducting thorough research, analyzing the insights you find, and applying them to recommend actionable tactics, you can align your business for a success with the projects you work on.

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