Questions you should ask before building a new website
One of our challenges here at Cayenne Creative was to create a standardized process that we could apply surgically to all digital projects in the shop. We polled all our internal stakeholders for their input. We spent countless hours compiling all of our notes, strategies and concepts from every department, including brand strategy, development, account management, social media, digital advertising, copywriting, and design. We ended up with an 80-page document chock full of plans, flowcharts, and tiered services. Then we hired a guy to come in cold turkey and try to make sense of it all.
Not long afterward, our lightbulb moment happened. There really isn’t a one-size-fits-most approach that is practical in its minutiae. Our resulting 80-page manual was unwieldy and cumbersome. Every business model, technology infrastructure and web development request is incredibly different and we needed a process that could be more dynamically nimble. While it was helpful to have a benchmark procedure in place, the plan needed to evolve into a simple guideline. It was more helpful to have a standard to snap back to than a comprehensive book of lengthy procedures that most people wouldn’t crack open on a regular basis. It was more beneficial to stay at the 10,000 foot level with the process as opposed to diving into the jungle of details that come with many digital projects. Of course, that isn’t to say that the details of each project aren’t important. It’s quite the opposite. What we found was that the smallest details were incredibly important, but also varied greatly from project to project.
With that in mind, we were able to create a set of questions to help guide every client’s project from the simple brochure site, to the comprehensive and integrated e-commerce tool from concept through development and launch.
WHY ARE WE BUILDING A NEW SITE?
To quote Simon Sinek, it’s important to Start with Why. Why are you building a new site? You may find that there are many answers to this question, but often this is a great starting point to help drive the early design concepts. Most established business aren’t starting from scratch on the web. Uncovering the driving factors for the new web project and getting them written down and prioritized will help shape the overall infrastructure that needs to happen during the development process. Is there some process happening manually that needs to be digitized? Is there a new software platform that needs to be integrated? Has there been a paradigm shift in the business model or brand strategy?
Often, we find that a client’s answer to “Why” is much simpler: The old site is tacky and we hate it. That’s a legitimate reason to start fresh. It’s not uncommon for us to see older sites that have a patchwork or piecemeal quality to their aesthetic or code structure. They’re functional and getting the job done, but they could be doing so much more. Bits and pieces of code have been tacked on or stripped away as the needs of the business evolved over time. If your website’s back-end feels like a game of Jenga that’s gone on 30 minutes longer than structurally possible, it’s probably a great time to re-evaluate your business’ web needs.
WHAT METRICS OR DATA POINTS ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE?
Ideally, your business should be data driven and goals should be quantifiable. Does your current website help or hinder those efforts? There are many platforms available for web development and many more tools at hand to help measure what your site traffic is doing. Chief among those tools is Google Analytics, which will help you see aggregate traffic data. For more about the basics of the platform, check out our recent blog on the topic. There are also many enterprise marketing technology solutions that will allow you to track individual prospects across your site and social media channels. Pardot, HubSpot, InfusionSoft, Marketto, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and several others can provide powerful insights and marketing automation and tracking components. Depending on your business goals, the existing data will help set a benchmark for success. Are you looking to increase web traffic overall as part of an awareness campaign? Are you interested in strategically marketing specific products or services? Your measurements should be easy to find and analyze. Let the data inform your strategic decision making. If you find yourself pulling spreadsheets from multiple sources or breaking out the abacus to measure your web goals, we can help you refine this experience with technological solutions.
HOW DOES YOUR SITE CONVERT VISITORS?
Every organization has a different way of thinking about or categorizing customers, prospects, partners, clients, visitors, and leads. The function of most business websites is to convert anonymous internet traffic into some type of business transaction, be it relationship-based consultation or transactional e-commerce. When reviewing your site from an end user perspective, how well does your current site accomplish this function? Additionally, what happens when a visitor makes the decision to reach out? Is this conversion tracked in some way? Whether it’s a phone number, contact form, automated chat bot, or carrier pigeon queue, it’s good practice to track this data and make the process as simple as possible. Do you have multiple contact forms or conversion points that essentially do the same thing? Are your interior pages feeling redundant? Do you have a cluttered navigation menu?
Take a tour of your site in your ideal customer’s shoes and start all the way from the beginning. If you really want to take a holistic look, think about what actions a visitor might take to find your site in the first place. Google your company’s name or some related phrase that should direct traffic to your site. Did you wind up on the home page or somewhere else? How far down the search results did your website appear? How many clicks did it take to find a form and fill it out? How long did it take to find contact information?
HOW ARE YOU CURRENTLY PRIORITIZING SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is largely seen as a black magic, the manipulation of a complex, often-changing algorithm or a secret code that once cracked will yield a jackpot of free leads, visitors, or sales. If that code cracking is done wrong, however, the punishment from Google is steep. This mythology is perpetrated by self-righteous, entrepreneurial marketers who want to heighten complexity and fear in order to increase the demand for their services.
At Cayenne, we don’t work like that. In a world of rising complexity we offer simplicity. To confusion and needless jargon we provide clarity and plain speak.
SEO is Google’s evaluation of your authority in a specific domain or area of expertise and their level of trust in your brand and their willingness to recommend it to their customers. It is a measure of knowledge, a grade if you will, and that grade is earned by demonstrating proficiency in four ways:
- Technical and UX Proficiency: A measure of how well crafted your site is. Does Google see the level of skill that makes them feel our client’s brand is credible? Is the coding tight? H1 headers, load speed, image optimization, mobile optimization, time users spend on pages, lower bounce rates, and other items, all play roles in this determination.
- Media Investment: Does the brand invest in its own content? If you have content that you genuinely want people to see, why wouldn’t you invest something in having them see it through display ads, banners, paid social media posts, or other digital sponsorships? This is measured, not only in paid search spend, but in the reaction to that spend. Are users clicking through and finding quality content? This is measured by click through rates, Length of time on page, and low bounce rates.
- Client Generated Content: This is measured by quality, quantity, and frequency. Does the client make frequent updates? Do those updates include keywords and search terms? Is there depth of coverage clustered around certain topics? Is the content easy to read with bullet point lists, correct spelling and grammar? Are there YouTube videos and other content formats?
- Earned Validation: Do other, highly regarded sources reference your content? Do others express their confidence in what we have to say by way of backlinks, likes and shares, user reviews and similar efforts?
SEO is a process, not a purchase. It takes time, energy, and investment. It is not a silver bullet, either. Like any means of attracting customers, it is an investment that should be planned for and prioritized against its potential strategic, business or tactical impact, rather than the constantly moving shiny object it often appears to be.
WHEN DO WE NEED THE NEW SITE TO GO LIVE?
A food analogy works best here. Yes, you could fully cook barbecue ribs in the microwave faster than in a smoker. However, would you be satisfied with the results?
Think intentionally about your deadline. Is there a specific marketing event where your new site needs to be online? Have you planned enough time for the discovery, design, and content curation? Are your goals realistic for coding and development in terms of technology stack integration?
WHO WILL MAINTAIN THE SITE AFTER LAUNCH?
A disorganized approach to post-launch web maintenance is how sites often end up in the Jenga end game scenario described above. Our philosophy here at Cayenne is to build something you can be proud of, but also maintain independently, if your team is so inclined. Our clientele has a wide range of development experience and proficiency. There are some sites that we host and maintain completely, from content curation to coding updates. There are other sites that we launch and then give the keys to client’s internal web team. We’re more interested in partnering with you to create a practical business tool that can grow and evolve with your company.
Have ideas about what your next site should be like? Contact us today and let’s start the conversation!