As you consider what your website of the future will be, consider starting your planning process by answering a few questions: What factors should you consider when creating your goals? What data should you use in the formulation of your content strategy? How should you determine your audience or audiences?
The website planning process has gained some maturity and requires clear, comprehensive steps to manage properly.
Like any good Marketing Action Plan, an interactive strategy should be designed to adapt as needs and resources change. The current Stamp website planning process covers a range of steps from planning to execution, with related steps grouped into distinct phases—Discovery, Experience Design, Visual Design, Development, and Launch.
The Discovery Phase
Questions we want to answer: “Where do we stand? What goals do we want to accomplish?” The first step is to “discover” the client’s vision for the project. This includes both needs and wishes. To do this, Stamp consults with clients to review their existing Marketing Action Plan (MAP), should they have one. We strongly urge clients to utilize this tool, as it sets a clear path from the outset and helps to prevent wasted effort on unnecessary marketing efforts and trends. Our interactive team also reviews website analytics and other available research data to identify details and patterns that reveal the user habits of your website’s audience. We are then able to determine the performance of the former or existing website and related marketing efforts to establish a hierarchy of goals for the new website and determine the measurements of success for the project.
The Experience Design Phase
Questions we want to answer: “What information are we providing? What interactions are we seeking?” Before we start dressing up a website, we need to take steps to determine what a website visitor’s experience should be like in an ideal situation. Where will we guide them with our information? What interactions are we hoping to encourage? Early on in this phase, we work with the client to determine all Calls to Action (CTAs) for the website. These are usually determined by the goals defined in the Discovery Phase. And since the ideal visitor progression through a website isn’t guaranteed, we must have a plan in place to guide the website visitors regardless of what page they are entering on or viewing. Time is also spent defining a content strategy. What voice will the website copy take on? Who will create that content? What is the plan to continually keep the information up to date? Content is what drives audiences. While you should aspire to new heights, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Adopt a phased approach, and determine your content creation goals. Once the plan for content creation is set in motion, the first thoughts as to how that content will be laid out on the website begin to take shape in a step we call wireframing. During wireframing, the Stamp team will prototype layouts of key pages. The number of pages wireframed differs per project but is now always done with a mobile-first strategy to allow for a clear delineation of ordering information from most important to least important (not that anything is “unimportant!”). As you work through the prototypes, the questions you need to keep asking are, “does the content order make sense?” and, “are we driving visitors to our desired interactions?”
Throughout this phase, we work with the client to gather content to be used on the website.
The Visual Design Phase
Questions we want to answer: “How do we guide visitors through our website? How do we steer them toward our CTAs?” At this stage, you can begin to think in terms of website design and how you want to dress up your content. But to what end? During Experience Design, you prioritize the content in order of importance and make decisions on what should be the end goal for each page and section, as well as for the website as a whole. During Visual Design, you use the placement of design elements and actual content to tell your story. This combination of elements is what draws the visitor’s interest and keeps them engaged. We do this by converting the skeleton layout wireframes into actual fleshed-out website designs. This approach usually follows suit as users transition from mobile to desktop. The importance here is that you keep the mobile presentation trim and bandwidth-friendly while giving users a visually striking and engaging experience. As you move up to larger screen sizes and device processing capacities, you can expect to incorporate more opportunities for interaction and visual flair to help enhance and guide the user experience.
Any related or perimeter marketing materials are generally designed at the same time or close together to create cohesion.
The Development Phase
Question we want to answer: “How do we make the visitor experience intuitive and seamless?” During Development, the team gets into the nitty-gritty of converting visual representations into HTML and interactive pages. If a Content Management System (CMS) is involved, the team will marry the coded templates into the software as well as begin entering actual copy and media. Even though the developers are continuously testing throughout the entire website development process, there is always a final proofing and testing pass made through the website to ensure a high-quality finished product is delivered that meets industry standards and validation. The client is involved in almost every step of the website production process but is encouraged to be extra diligent in reviewing and approving the final website before launch to ensure all their needs and expectations are met. Stamp also coordinates a training session with the client to thoroughly cover all aspects of maintaining the website through the control panel.
At this point, we hold hands with the client and push the big red button to launch the website...and everything is done! But not really. We work closely with each client through the end of this phase to monitor and modify the website until we get the optimal internet presence desired. And when Stamp has been engaged in an ongoing site maintenance agreement, we continue to work with the client on an ongoing basis to ensure content is fresh, the design is functional, metadata is optimized for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) purposes, and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) efforts are as successful as possible.
Why is it so complex?
While we have only provided a brief description of what each step in our process involves, you still may be asking; “why is this process so complex?” What you have to keep in mind is that the interactivity that websites provide is precisely what makes them complex resources. And the more content that gets added to a website over time, the more complex it becomes. And as many of these scenarios as possible should be pre-planned for or unintended issues can be created as websites evolve over time.
If websites are not being updated and evolving they are dying.
The internet has been around for some time now, but compared to other methods of communication, interactive technologies are still constantly advancing. Likewise, the current Stamp website production process is not what it was five years ago and is completely different than it was TEN years ago. It’s the same life cycle any budding industry (like social media) goes through or any established industry (like print) already went through. And changing technologies demand updated development processes. So when you think of the website planning process, rather than ask yourself, “why has this process gotten so convoluted?” we encourage you to consider that the process has in fact gained some clarity, allowing for website development to be more effectively planned and managed.