How to Plan For a New Website

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  • 9/11/2020
    Creating or redesigning a website is a journey that’s hardly ever taken on a straight and narrow path. Ask any web team and they’ll tell you it’s more like a journey through the Rocky Mountains in a horse-drawn carriage. You’ll get there, but you can expect a few bumps along the way!
     
    The best way to keep your carriage heading in the right direction is to plan in advance. Know what to expect throughout the website journey, what you should have on hand and exactly what it will take to get from Point A to Point B.
     
    Not sure what you need to plan before the project starts? Read on and we’ll give you the inside scoop.

    What do I need to get started? 

    Before you can jump into website creation, you’ll need to secure access to a few basic platforms that will allow “behind the scenes” access to your current site and establish a foundation for your brand identity moving forward.
     
    Make sure you’ve obtained the following before project kickoff:
    • Assets including brand standards, logo files, photography, etc.
    • Google Analytics/Google Tag Manager access
    • Current CMS access
    • Content inventory of all blogs, pages and relevant content on your current site or within your company files.
    • Access to your marketing automation platform to send your site survey out (more on that in a minute!).
    • List of customer emails for sending your survey.
    Once you’ve checked everything off this list, you’re ready to start the real planning process.

    How to plan for a new website

    1.       UX audit and survey of current site

    Ideally, you want your whole team to kick off the project with a deep understanding of your brand, company history, current website framework, target customers and goals for the new site. A UX audit will help you organize this information.
     
    The point of a UX audit is to determine what is currently working on your site vs. what is not. This discussion can start internally, with your team working to determine what they want the site’s users to see and access.
     
    However, oftentimes the internal team is just too close to the website to really know what the user needs and have a clear picture of the customer’s journey. It’s not your team’s fault! Usually, they’ve been trained to focus on lead generation or sales and the less lucrative parts of the website get passed over like the salad at a barbecue. 
     
    Cue the website survey. Developing and sending a survey about your site to a handful of current customers can provide extremely valuable data for planning the new site. A survey provides the answers your team needs so that you don’t waste time bickering over your Menu Navigation buttons. 
     
    A survey should be carefully constructed, with every question designed to help build your new site. Ask users what sections they most often visit on your site, what buttons they would logically click to navigate to a certain page and what they want to see at the end of site construction. Note that these surveys are mostly incentivized. They can get long, and it’s difficult to get people to fill them out without some sort of compensation.

    2. Analyze assets and audits

    Once you have the results of your UX survey, schedule a team meeting to talk through the following:
    • Everyone’s thoughts on brand guidelines and assets. Is your current brand still working? Is this the vibe you want for your new site? Will you want to create new assets, like a video, that you should plan for in advance? 
    • The outcome of your UX survey. What key findings came from the survey? How will you use them to help build the site?
    • Red flags within the site’s current back end. This is where it helps to bring in the IT department or a third party agency specializing in site development. Have an individual well-versed in security audit the site’s back end and search for any security risks or concerns that need updated with a new site.
    • Check your current website traffic to establish benchmarks for the new site’s performance. 

    3. Plan your content

    On a new website, content is key. It’s also usually the biggest hurdle in the journey. Trust us, we speak from experience when we say your site content should be thought about up front and started as quickly as possible.
     
    That’s not to say it can’t change as you move through site design, but establishing a foundation up front can save you 1,000 headaches later on, and ensure the project launches on time.
    You’ll need to write out new content or transfer content you like from your old site and get it all in one place. We use GatherContent to keep everything straight during site construction, but you’re welcome to use something as simple as a Google Doc or Google Drive file system or as robust as Kentico Kontent to keep everything in order.
     
    Here are some key content pieces you should be thinking through up front:
     
     

    4. Build a visual sitemap

    A sitemap is a file with a list of your new website pages. A legitimate sitemap should be created and built into your new site so that search engines, like Google, can intelligently crawl your site. The file will tell Google the pages or files you think are the most important on your site, and provide information about the files and pages to Google to better help it search through your site.
     
    Since we’re still in the planning stages of your site, the sitemap can be purely visual. Use a whiteboard or software like LucidChart (our fave!) to map out the pages on your site in a simple, easy to understand chart. Websites usually have a clear menu navigation of four to six main pages, accessible from the home page. (i.e. About Us, Contact us, Blog, Products, etc.) Start with these overarching categories, then draw lines to the pages that these main pages will navigate out to. For example, an About Us page could link users to your company Mission Page, Staff Introductions Page or an overview of the markets where you sell. 
     
     
    Use your team’s site goals and the data from your UX survey to inform your sitemap. Check that it flows logically and that users have clear paths to all important parts of the site. Make final touches and provide the team with a final copy.
     
    This visual sitemap can serve as a checklist for website construction (once a page is done, check if off the map!), and can help your web developers later on when they build the actual sitemap file.
     
    And with that, congrats! You’ve laid the groundwork for the straightest, narrowest possible path, and you’re ready to start actual web design and development!

    How long until my site launches?

    The planning process may feel like it took you a lifetime, but remember what we said about the straight and narrow. Diving in without laying the groundwork for your site can take the journey from a horse-drawn carriage through the Rockies to a wheelbarrow ride up Mount Everest. A good website takes time, and your official timeline will depend on several factors.
     
    The size of the new website, functionality and what you want the site to accomplish play the biggest roles in determining project length. A simple website with a few pages and no fancy schmancy site features will take less time than a site with 100 pages and an e-commerce function.
     
    In our experience, time to launch can often depend on how picky you are. And, hey, there’s nothing wrong with being picky. You invested the time and effort, and your new site should be something you’re proud of!

    Website journey tips

    While we’re still in the planning phase of your site, we wanted to share two key bits of advice that are absolutely critical to remember.

    Plan for things to go wrong

    Going back to our metaphor, odds are your site creation process won’t be as simple as cruising down a freshly paved highway in the Plains States. You’ll encounter some twists, turns and bumps along the way.
     
    The most common thing we see sites get set back on is content. Failing to plan content up front or undertaking huge amounts of new content can be extremely stressful and even set you back by months! Always remember that writing things will take longer than you think, so keep it as simple as you can and see what you can repurpose from your old site as often as possible.

    Get everyone at the table sooner than later

    All decision makers and stakeholders should be there without you throughout the planning process we just discussed. If you take 12 months to plan a new site and then proudly show your boss the finished project, there’s no guarantee they’ll love it as much as you do. 
     
    Bringing key stakeholders in later in the process can cause several issues and extend the timeline. Avoid this by insisting that at the very least everyone attends planning meetings, but communicate that it’s best to have everyone involved consistently throughout the full site construction.
     
    Our unofficial third tip is try not to stress! The website journey is just that—a journey. Trust your teammates, trust the process and unleash your collective creativity to build something amazing that lasts for years to come. 
     
    Working to get your new site off the ground? Schedule a free session with a thunder::tech website planner! Click here to reach out for answers to all your questions.
    About the author::
    Gillian Sweny is a Senior Account Manager at thunder::tech. She manages and oversees multiple projects and accounts daily while continuing to build strong client relationships. She has a passion for fitness and all things chocolate, because life is all about balance.
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