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October 5, 2010

Website Development Strategy That Will Drive Customers

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Take this one question quiz:

What should be the first step in developing a website?

1. Creating a design to use as a basis,

2. Deciding how the content needs to be integrated and managed,

3. Gathering content from corporate collateral,

4. Developing a strategic plan for your specific needs, or

5. Choose the most cost-effective hosting plan.

In just about any profession other than website development, your answer would be choice 4. After all, you couldn’t build a house without considering the layout, number of bathrooms, and features of the home. You wouldn’t create a design for a major advertisement and then plan the content and message of the ad. Yet, when it comes to website design, often the design comes first and the strategic plan for the site comes last.

Being a veteran of about 20 years in marketing and design, this issue has perplexed me for years. It seems to me that the development process should be:

1. Discover the reason a business needs a website and the expectations of the business.

2. Understand your typical customer and what influences their purchasing decision.

3. Have a clear understanding of how the website fits into the marketing plan.

4. Research to find what customers are searching for in Google, Yahoo in relation to the business (keywords).

5. Carefully plan a site architecture which is best for the demographic, online search trends, and have a site that’s easy for search engines to follow, is designed with the target market in mind, and has clear definitions of conversion goals.

6. Create a design which speaks to the target demographic.

7. Launch the site and begin an internet marketing plan to fulfill realistic expectations.

8. Modify strategic marketing plan as needed in response to real-time data.

Then issues such as server configuration, hosting service, domain registration variables, proper site construction, CMS, SEM, PPC, Social Media, and many other features need to be researched and fine-tuned. For example, choosing a hosting package with an IP that has been associated with a “bad neighborhood” in the past (bad neighborhoods are pornographic sites, etc.) can cripple your website marketing plan before it begins.

Instead the plan is usually:

1. Create a design.

2. Add content. (most plans end here because there usually are no marketing goals for a site.)

3. Contact SEO firm who performs keyword research based on content of site.

4. SEO firm proposes keywords.

5. Site is optimized by SEO firm by editing original site to make it more SEO friendly.

6. Results vary.

7. Usually followed by redevelopment IF business doesn’t lose faith in the internet.

All the details are usually never dealt with because the average designer doesn’t know they exist.

I think the reason the internet world can get away with a backwards strategy is because the design portion is fun, is more tangible, and looks impressive. It gives a client the opportunity to suggest colors, logo position, interactive media, position of the navigation system and other elements. The process usually goes smooth because the developer gets the excitement from the client and the client is impressed by the nice design work. BUT… that’s also why over 99% of all internet businesses FAIL.

Because there is no quality infrastructure and strategic plan in place. Either the site is poorly marketed, keywords are unfocused, or it doesn’t fit into the overall business marketing plan. In most cases, this is where the business owner begins to think the internet is all hype and will not work for their particular business. They disregard stunning statistics, such at 65% of all Americans begin their search for local services on the internet FIRST. This is followed by a competitor leveraging the internet as a strategic advantage and ultimately leads to a loss of revenue by the disillusioned company. So What’s the CURE?

Your website needs to be planned. A thorough understanding of your expectations, target demographic, and geographic influences have to be considered. The proper research needs to be done to assure your internet marketing plan has the right infrastructure and architecture and then you can eat the “cake” (design).

BUT…

This is easier said than done for the following reasons:

* It’s more expensive to create the right plan.

* It’s not as fun to start off with planning, expectations, and realistic goals.

* A good team to create your plan has to understand design, marketing, social media, SEO/SEM, custom development, and customer service to get the job done.

* Most website developers mask their weaknesses. Some are good at design, others technical work, others SEO, but few are good at it all…

* College students and novices practically give away website design which is hard for the business to turn down.

* Consultants usually do not have a complete understanding of the entire process.

AND THE WORSE PART…

Is now the internet developing world has realized that cheaper, do-it-yourself systems sell better than a comprehensive plan. (See our article on “canned solutions.”) So companies like Intuit offer “simple solutions” (because it is high profit, low overhead), and the only one who ends up suffering is your business. Be Smart and Eat Your Vegetables First… Then have Dessert.

Proper planning is the only cure. Hiring an experienced company to help you is the only way you will truly have an opportunity to dominate your market online. It will cost a little more, it won’t be as fun up front, but it will be worth it in the end.


John Carroll is A.C.E. and SEMPO certified and has almost 20 years experience in marketing and design. His internet marketing plans have helped many organizations reach new levels of success using both the internet and traditional marketing techniques. John Carroll is founder of
www.MaxWebGear.com.

8 Responses to “Website Development Strategy That Will Drive Customers

    avatar bharathi says:

    Really a wonderful article. Everyone need to know all these things..Thanks for sharing

    avatar Mike Beeson says:

    Hi John – Liked your article. As a website copywriter, it chimes loudly with what I’ve been advocating for years. The strategic thinking aspect of web development should start with the copy content. I know this isn’t exactly what you’re saying, and I hear what you say about having something tangible to put in front of a client. This can still be achieved while discussing grandiose matters of ‘strategy’, but first in line when it comes to site layout/sitemap should surely be the copy?

    Great piece overall John, but I’m surprised that a coherent content strategy isn’t even mentioned. Working with your list, that should follow “research what customers are searching for…” Without a content strategy, architecture runs the risk of being inefficient or, perhaps worse, inappropriate. A content strategy determines not just WHAT to say, but HOW to say it.

    avatar Semo Septic says:

    Hey John, great article. If we would have had this list before building our site, we would have saved several rebuilds. Will take this and update it. Thanks!

    A brilliant explanation of web design at its best! Thank you for sharing. You are helping give web designers and internet marketers a good name!

    avatar Guy Paddock says:

    John,

    You make several valid points — good article.

    The only major problem I see is that you place “…issues such as server configuration, hosting service, domain registration variables, proper site construction, CMS, SEM, PPC, Social Media, and many other features need to be researched and fine-tuned” as afterthoughts, as part of the plan only after the site has been launched. How do you figure that they can be considered afterthoughts?

    Aren’t all of those things necessary details to sort out BEFORE the site launches? Couldn’t any one of those core structural/stability concerns doom the site if handled incorrectly, even if you understand the demographic and have great content? If your site is down frequently for maintenance, does it matter if it’s structured correctly?

    One other point: I think that your definition of architecture and mine are a bit different. If a site is based on a CMS like Drupal or WordPress, the “architecture” of that system has little to do with who will use the site because such systems can be configured to arrange information whichever way is most appropriate for the target audience (it is what you make it). So, how do *you* define “architecture”?

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.
    I agree that a website needs to be planned.
    I also think that a web designer should have basic understanding of seo in mind.
    If it is done right, it really gets ahead of the game.

    avatar Virtual Avatar says:

    Great post! Planning should be carefully done so in time of execution there would be far less mistakes or doubts.

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