There are a number of ways to plan a website, everyone will have their own way, but here are a few tips to get you started. Taking inspiration from the processes we use here, and also others who have shared their tips online.
It is also important to note that everyone works differently too and the these ideas and concepts of planning a website project should be adapted to work best for you and your business.
After reading numerous articles on how to plan a website, it seems the general consensus is to start with objectives, or the clients objectives. What is it that the client wants to see when their website is finished? Do you have a good idea of the product that will be displayed or sold on this website? What is the purpose of the site?
At PB Web Development we make sure that these goals are clearly defined as and overall website objective and business adjective as well. If you're selling something on your website then it has to be clear to the user what is being sold and how to go through the purchasing process for that particular item.
So first step is to set your website goals and objectives.
Next you should undertake some research. What better way to get some inspiration than looking at other websites. Make a note of the ones you like or prefer. Look at the layout, colours. features etc that you would like in your website.
You can take some time to scope out the competition. You don't want to finish your website and find that it is almost identical to that of the competitors.
It will really help if you look outside of your country and your niche that you are working with. For example, if you're working in the recruitment space, you may find all the other recruitment website that are out there are all the same, kind of boring and leaves little to the imagination. Crossing over into photography or something completely unrelated will yield completely different ideas and concepts in website design. Of course some of these won't fit well with your target audience and overall website goals but it is something to consider to make sure you don't end up looking like the competition.
What content will be showcased on this website? Is it a blog style, or an online store, maybe it is for a once off event. Whatever it is for, you need to plan what pages you want on the site.
Start off by writing all the types of content or content pages you could possibly want on the website. Cut that down to the essential pages that will reach your website goals, and then organise it into about 4-5 categories that users will use to navigate and explore your content.
At PB Web Development we like to use card sorting exercises that help collaboratively organise and explore content that is being developed for a website.
Planning by Bringing Everything Together
It is a good idea to write everything down, we use a program called Balsamiq to create sitemaps of potential websites. The sitemap lists all the main topic areas of the site, it can also contain subcategories. This will give you a good idea of how big the site will be. Later on in the planning stage you can use Balsamiq to create wireframes of the website.
If you have are interested in using Balsamiq, here is a quick tutorial on how to create wireframes in the program.
It is important to consider who the website is for, because it can be all too easy to fulfill your own needs. The visitors to the site must be able to receive the information that they are looking for. How will the site look and feel? Who is the site aimed at?
Consider writing test scenarios for these users and how they would potentially be using the website. These test scenarios can then be used by the development team to build user test cases and by the usability team to test the website usability at a prototype or launch phase.
Other issues you have to consider is the design of the site and how you’re going to approach the design phase, planning this out with the client is important. Your pre-planning will save time in both the design and development stage. The design concept of the site must be clear before you can begin the development stage of bringing all the ideas together to create a functioning site. Using Balsamiq helps speed this process up and gives you and the client a clear idea of how the content on the website will potentially be laid out.
How will you test your website? Both testing the usability of the website but also platform compatibility. You want it to work for everyone. Testing the site on people who had no part in the creation of the site is good for feedback. Ask them to access the site and find certain areas of the site. They will be able to deliver unbiased feedback. You would have determined test scenarios if you setup use cases for testing on the website.
How will you maintain the website? Are you going to be continuously adding content or is is up to the client? It is important to consider this in the planning stages and liaise with the client so both parties are on the same page.
There is no point of building a website and then just letting it sit there hoping for the best. All website need a marketing strategy, maintenance plans to keep it safe and secure as we future upgrades, tweaks and changes to improve functionality and site usage.
However you approach the planning of your websites, it is important to do before pushing any pixels on the screen. It is just as important to do all the planning with the client that you're working to best communicate all the ideas and concepts together. It is their website!
References and Further Reading