Today we are inundated with information at our fingertips. We as users expect. We expect up-to-date information which is fast, easy to read and most importantly we expect it to be easy to find or better still, it finds us.
Creating a successful website that connects with your users and fulfils their needs takes planning, analysis, great design and development, user testing and a plan to keep it running successfully into the future.
You know it needs updating, so where do you start?
What’s the purpose of the website?
The first question that anyone designing a website should ask is “What are the organisational goals?” translated this means what does the organisation want the website to do? Depending on your type of organisation the purpose of a website can vary greatly.
Goals may be to gain more members, achieve more event bookings, sell more products, distribute information as widely as possible or offer as much value to users as possible plus many more and probably all of the above. List these out and keep them to hand.
Who is the website for?
Now you know what the organisation wants (everything probably and more!). It’s time to think about the website users; after all they’re the ones who will be using the site.
The first step is to define the website audiences. A large website will need to cater for a wide range of audiences which could be both public facing and serve the needs of specific audiences such as professional practitioners. Whereas a smaller site could be purely consumer focussed with the sole aim of selling products or connecting users with companies.
List out all the website audiences you can think of and why they would come to the website, what they might expect to find and what tasks they would expect to fulfil. Some audiences will have similar needs; some may need everything the website has to offer whilst others may only use a small amount.
Starting to think this way is the first step to success, move away from silos of data or internal departmental thinking, this is how the organisation is structured not how users will interact with the website. It will also give you a perfect argument for defining what the website needs to do, because it’s based on real life facts.
A good exercise is to create some user personas, these are website users that you can make up or base on people you know will be using the site. List who they are, maybe what stage of their career they are at and then list what they come to the website for. (check out Jonathan's recent blog post on persona planning here)
Don’t do it all on day one!
The temptation with a new web project is to do everything at once, everything should be automated and all the content will be there to support it.
The process above helps you to define why you need a website and what users will be able to do with it. The next step is to look at the results of the process, talk to users and establish some priorities. What needs will the initial release of the website need to meet? When those needs are met will you speak to the audiences and base the next phase on their feedback?
What functionality will the website include on day one? Functionality usually equals cost, especially if the website needs to pull the data from other systems seamlessly, so it’s worth defining how much of this process will be automated and what budget and human resources you have available.
Being flexible and doing your research means that you can adapt to the needs of your organisation and users to produce a website designed around them and ultimately it will be successful!