One of the first questions I ask people when we start discussing their website project is about their content plan – it goes something like:
- What pages will you have on your website?
- Do you need any special types of content, such as a blog or a gallery?
- Are there any particular features or types of functionality you already know you want, e.g. a home page slider?
Quite often, the response is “I’m not really sure – I haven’t planned it all out yet.” Other times it’s a quickly brainstormed list of the same pages you see on just about every somewhat similar site, without much specific thought to how each page will be used or whether it’s actually a useful addition to this particular website.
While it is perfectly fine (and, actually, often desirable) not to be 100% set on the page structure of your site at the outset of your project, there are a few things that you should have at least a general idea about. In today’s post, I’ll outline my thoughts, as well as some suggestions from a few very smart pros from various related fields, on the following questions:
What should you know before you start getting quotes for a website project? Who are the various professionals that can help you create your early website content plans, if you’re not equipped to do it yourself?
What do we call this work?
There’s a lot of jargon around building the content for a website, everything from “content strategy,” to “information architecture,” to “site map.” There are some recommended resources at the end of this post where you can dive into the details of these different terms, as well as various tips and strategies for tackling this stuff.
Meet the Experts
The three experts adding their voices to this post are all involved in content development in various ways:
The Communications Pro: Diana Ecker
Diana is a writer, editor, and communications/ branding professional based in Palo Alto, California. She helps small businesses & entrepreneurs “identify, shape, package, and communicate the mission of [their businesses] with exceptional clarity and confidence, online and in person.”
The Designer: Breanna Rose
A talented web and graphic desinger, Bre has created website designs for the likes of Josh & Naomi Davis from the popular blog Love Taza and has a popular blog of her own where she shares everything from inspiration to tips on making it as a freelancer.
The Marketing Expert: Isa Maria Seminega
The brilliant mind behind Noisette Academy (among many other projects), Isa is an experienced marketer who has worked with everyone from top UK brands such as Virgin and Financial Times to independent micro-businesses. She also runs Happy Piece, an accessories brand with a social conscience.
Before you contact your first designer
At the most basic, I believe that before you start shopping around for design quotes you should have:
- A clear understanding of the goal(s) for your website, including the most important 1-3 things you want people to do when they come to your site and why they matter
- An outline of pages
- For each page, a short description or summary of what that page is for and what it will contain
- For each page, general notes or estimates about the volume of content (e.g. about how many photos will you include in that gallery, or how often are you planning to blog?)
- Examples of any specific layout/ content/ functionality ideas you’d like to incorporate (these could be links to similar features on existing sites, rough sketches, and/or detailed written descriptions)
But wait… about those website goals
- Isa Maria Seminega
Once people see the words “website” and “goals,” funny things start happening. Maybe they do a bit of Google research and fall into the dubious world of sales (aka squeeze) pages, or they read an article about someone else’s business goals and think “sure, those sound good.”
Before you even get started defining your goals, especially if you’re working on a brand new venture, you’ve got to take the time to evaluate what you’re actually offering.
According to the experts
When I asked the experts what someone creating a new business website should do first, both Isa and Diana lept to remind me that substance comes before any kind of design thinking. Isa recommends the following approach to getting started:
Before you consider creating a new website you need to make sure you have products and services people desire. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your website is you still won’t get any sales. A unique and creative website can really take your business to the next level but only if you have a business model that works. Consider who you customers are, what you’ll be selling them, and how you will make a profit.
Next, consider the purpose of your new website and how it fits into your overall business strategy. Marketing is about communication and you can only communicate effectively when you know what it is you want to say and why.
Diana says that ideally you should be prepared to go to a designer and confidently say:
“This is who I am, this is what I’m about, this is who I’m trying to reach, this is what I know about those people, and this is how I want them to feel when they visit my site.” And even, “Here’s the content I’ve developed,” or “Here’s a combination of what I’ve written and what I’m thinking about including.”
Of course, this isn’t necessarily any easy thing – boiling down who you are and what you want to do is hard work. But, it’s completely necessary to at least have started before you contact a designer (or developer).