Great planning is critical for a successful new website project and helps ensure minimal impact on your historical SEO work. In this post, I share my top 5 tips when planning a new website to help you plan effectively and avoid typical pitfalls.
1. Create a great project plan
A great project plan is absolutely critical to deliver a project successfully. Be sure to put a project plan in place, rather than ‘wing it’.
Using a project management tool like Basecamp or Team Gantt allows you to plan at both task level and as phase level. You can assign tasks to individuals with due dates to keep you on track. This allows you to get a good overview of the project and timings at the same time as being specific about who needs to do which task.
The key phases of the project (depending on its complexity) should include:
- Planning & business engagement
- Research and User Testing
- Prototype (wireframe)
- Copywriting & photography
- Migration and launch
- Post-launch checks
Ensure you plan time to review at each stage of the project and engage with the key stakeholders at key milestones. Give yourself at least one to two weeks additional time between completion of the site and launch to allow for any problems along the way.
You’ll notice that copywriting and photography has its own phase in the above. Whilst this can happen during the development phase and overlap, you will not necessarily know what is required from a copy and photography perspective until the design is signed off.
So, ensure that you plan sufficient time to write (or outsource) any copy you may need for the site along with commissioning photo shoots.
When you come to plan dates for these phases, try to include deadline dates for which key decisions need to be made. The key principle here is to keep the momentum of the project and not unnecessarily prevaricate over a decision. Ensure decisions are made and problems solved quickly with simple solutions to keep you on track.
2. Ensure you have the right resources
In order to build a great website, you need to ensure you have the right resources in place to implement the project for you.
If you’re working with an agency, they should have many of these resources in place already:
- Your project manager will manage the project for you from kick-off through to post-launch checks. If you’re working with an agency you’ll need someone in your business co-ordinating with the agency as the key point of contact.
- To design the website, you’ll need a few different components. First is the prototyping which is typically done by a UX (User Experience) expert. They will design the user journey elements for your site and help make it really easy to use.
- Following the prototyping, you’ll move onto the design phase. For this, a designer will take your brand elements and the prototype to bring the site to life.
- Many clients also take the opportunity to do user research at this phase as well. This includes running User Testing, which takes your key personas, recruits users and tests how they use your current website. This is a vital part of understanding why users do what they do on your existing website. It also helps to inform the design and development of a new website.
Content & Copywriting
- Throughout your project, you’ll need someone to be writing the required copy for your site. You can write this and then pass it onto a copywriter, or alternatively outsource the copy to a copywriter and then proof it yourself.
- You’ll need to factor sufficient time in to write and sign off the copy for each page on the website.
- This can be a time-consuming process depending on how many services/products you have, so estimate generously!
- The development resource you need will depend on what language you’re developing your website in. At Hallam, we develop websites primarily in WordPress. For this, we have the resource for both ‘front end’ and ‘back end’ development. If you’re working with an agency, then they should have this covered for you as well!
- We recommend using a widely known platform for development for many reasons. Primarily, these are that platforms like WordPress have lots of developers that know how to build these sites (meaning that you’re not tied to an agency or developer). They are widely used and so have lots of integration options to work with your business and that it is built in a really SEO friendly way to support your SEO performance.
- If you decide to go down a bespoke website route, you risk being restricted to that developer/agency and changes to your site can be very expensive! WordPress and other CMS platforms allow you to maintain your own website, so long as you’ve been trained on how to use it correctly.
- Once the development is complete, it’s important to test the website works as it should in the different browsers and operating systems. We have a team that test websites and flag up issues before launch using both software testing applications (such as Browser Stack) as well as live testing on physical devices.
- Test on key platforms like Apple and Android mobile OS, as well as tablet and desktop versions to ensure the website displays and works as it should.
Migration and Launch
- For the migration and launch phase, you’ll need a developer that is experienced in site migrations to make the necessary changes to DNS records for you, as well as implementing any redirects for the launch. It’s best to use experts for this step as you can cause some serious issues if you get this bit wrong!
- Once the website is launched, it’s important to remember that your new website needs to be continuously optimised from an SEO perspective. So, you’ll need an SEO expert to keep an eye on the launch and work to keep optimising your key pages.
3. Scope out your MVP
The scope is vital in website development projects. Websites can take years to develop just because of the ‘can we just’ changes that are made throughout the project. Your MVP is your ‘Minimum Viable Product’, which is everything that you MUST launch with in order for the site to function. You can still have your ‘nice to have’ list, but it is important to remember that the priority should be a functioning website that does what it needs to do.
When planning the project make sure you define the full scope of the website, including everything you could ever want. Once you have this, you can then refine the scope into:
- Must have
- Nice to have
- Out of scope
It’s equally important to keep clear of the ‘out of scope’ list throughout the project. This will keep you on track and focused on the most important elements.
4. Avoid unnecessary complication
When you’re in the middle of a project it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. We’ve all been there – the key is simplicity. Often, solutions that are over complicated to build mean that they can be overly complicated to use. Not what you want for a customer facing website!
To avoid this, your designers and developers need to work in partnership to ensure what is being designed is buildable but also in line with the customer expectations.
These elements should be picked up in the prototype or design phases. However, it’s important that if you have made it into the build phase and have large problems that you take it back to the design/prototype stage to confirm the plan before building. Challenge yourself throughout the project to keep it simple.
5. Your launch plan
When it comes to launching your site, there are a handful of key elements to remember:
- Don’t launch on a Friday! (or the weekend for that matter) – It’s important to have the launch on a weekday where you can monitor the website and any issues, with people around to fix the problems
- Make sure you do your redirects
- Check your site’s key stats – Once your site is live, use online tools like Google Analytics to check key metrics to see the impact of the new site. This should include analytics goals, rankings, 404s etc.
- If you have an issue and don’t know what to do, contact an agency – don’t wait months for the issues to resolve themselves.
For more information about a new website project, or for support on an existing project, contact us here.