How to Create a Simple Website Plan that Will Get You Big Results

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Every business should follow a structured website plan to build a successful website faster and more efficient. I know the feeling.

You realized it’s time to build (or redesign) a website for your business.

But, you don't know where to begin:

  • What content should I include on my website?
  • Who should be involved in the web design process?
  • How will my website help support my business's goals and objectives?

You also have a million other priorities in life:

  • A 9-5 job
  • Going to the gym
  • A relationship
  • Family events
  • And more

The thought of creating a website for the first time can be overwhelming due to many reasons.

I remember when I designed a website for my first client back in 2013. I didn't have a clue what I was doing.

The result? An unsuccessful and disorganized website without a plan.

I had failed my client and myself.

I don't want this to be you.

In today's online world, a website isn't a nice-to-have. It's a must-have.

According to smallbusiness.com, 71 percent of small businesses have a website. 92 percent of small businesses without websites say they will have a website by the end of 2018.

Not only is a website a must-have for small businesses in 2018. A website that supports and achieves your business goals is now a necessity.

But how do you begin with building a website that helps achieve those goals?

Through my experience in my web design, I've developed a structured website planning process that has become an essential part of my work.

By following this detailed plan, I have been able to build successful websites for my clients and myself.

I'm sharing this step-by-step website plan I follow to help you:

  • Build a website faster and more efficient
  • Deliver a successful website
  • Identify and avoid roadblocks early on
  • Create a website that aligns with your business strategy
  • Hold yourself (and others) accountable

What is a Website Plan?

A website plan is a document that identifies the main goals, target audience and key messaging before creating anything. A well-executed plan helps keep you focused and sets the direction of your project.

The Process of Making a Website

The process of a making a website plan is a lot like constructing a building.

Like Miko Coffey says in her book, (affiliate link)

To construct a building, we first need to consider what type of building it will be: a hospital, shop, house, office or any other building. Who will use it? What functions will be performed there? This will tell us what shape, size, and structure the building needs to take. We then need to gather our raw materials before the construction can start. Once we have put together the shell and framework, we can start installing the core elements, such as plumbing and fixtures, which makes the building operational. Finally, we apply the paint and furnishings an are ready for opening day."

These are some of the same steps I follow to plan a website.

First, I create a plan for my website by determining objectives, goals and my target audience. Next, I gather and create all the assets like text, images, and media. Finally, I build out my website and get it ready for launch.

Components of a Website

Before I share my step-by-step website plan, it's important to understand the main components of a website. This will help you understand the web design process and how to create your plan.

Miko Coffey outlines the main components of a website in this post. You will also often find these components defined by other web designers.

Components of a website

Structure - Refers to the way in which different elements of a website are put together. Often times tools such as a sitemap and wireframe are used to define a website's structure.

Function - A function is an action you want your target audience to take on your website. For example, signing up for a newsletter, purchasing a product, requesting a quote or signing up for your blog are some common functions found on websites.

Content - The content of a website refers to text, graphics, video and other related media included on each website page.

Design - Design is the look and feel of your website. The feel refers to how a website appeals to your audience's emotions. Words like fun, playful, professional, creative, and vibrant are emotional words that can describe your website's impression.

The words used to describe the feel of your website often influence the look of it. Features like fonts, colors, lines, and patterns all help define the look of your website.

How to Create a Website plan

Now that you have a basic understanding of the main components of a website, we can get started with how to create a website plan.

This plan will walk you through each of the core stages of the website planning process in the order I recommend.

Download Your Website Plan Template

Make sure to download your website plan template and fill it out as you go through each section.

Download Free Website Template

A website plan is one of the most important, if not the most important part of building your website. It lays the groundwork and sets the direction for your project.

Below is a sample website plan laid out for you. Be sure to download your website plan template and fill it in as you go. Keep this plan by you at all times so you can refer to it throughout the project.

Website Plan Sections

This website plan template consists of 4 sections:

Section 1 - Business Information Section 2 - Target Audience Section 3 - About the Website Section 4 - Project Details

Section 1. Business Information

The first section of your plan summarizes your business and how you want it presented online.

Company Mission Statement

The first thing I do when starting a website plan is by writing down the business's mission statement. Your website should revolve around fulfilling the mission statement for your customers.

Define your mission statement by asking yourself:

  • What purpose does my company serve?
  • How can I summarize that mission in one or two sentences?

If you don't have a company mission statement yet, follow CoSchedule's template below to get started:

{My company} exists to {provide benefit} through {product or service}.

To give an example let's look at my website, Tyler Zipperer Designs.

I started Tyler Zipperer Designs to help small businesses and entrepreneurs get started with online marketing and web design.

Based off of my company description, I crafted my mission statement to be:

Tyler Zipperer Designs exists to help small business and entrepreneurs reach their career goals through growing their online presence.

Everything I do on my website, including this post, helps fulfill my mission statement for my customers.

Brand Image

The next part of the website plan is to list words that describe your brand image. The words you list down will be important when it comes to the design of your website.

Ask yourself:

  • What words would I want a stranger that lands on my website to use when describing my website?
  • What impression do I want them to leave my website visitors with?

Example of words you can use for your brand image

For example, luxurious, creative, modern, clean, resourceful, simple, beautiful are all words you can aim for in your brand image.

List down 3-6 words that you want your audience to use to describe your brand. Then use these words to influence your design decisions later on in the web design process.

Brand Image Resources

SWOT Analysis

The next step in your website plan is to conduct a SWOT analysis.

According to CoSchedule,

"A SWOT analysis helps you understand internal and external factors that can make or break your success toward your marketing goal. SWOT is an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats."

By conducting a SWOT analysis you will begin to understand what separates you from your competition.

Use these insights to fuel your website's content and design strategy. Play to your strengths and opportunities and understand what might be preventing you from achieving them.

The first part of the SWOT is to analyze your internal resources.

Strengths

Strengths relate back to your business goals and objectives. To help determine your strengths, ask yourself:

  • What does my business do well?
  • What resources do I have (people and tools) that I can use to my advantage to help build my website?
  • How is my business different from the competition?
  • What processes does my business have in place that helps us stay efficient?

List these strengths down in your website plan template.

Weaknesses

Weaknesses are characteristics that put you at a disadvantage or prevent you from reaching your business goals. To help determine your weaknesses, ask yourself:

  • Where can my business improve?
  • What is not going well right now?
  • What setbacks or roadblocks prevent my business from making progress?
  • What lack of technology may prevent my website from achieving its goals?

List these weaknesses down in your website plan template.

The second part of the S.W.O.T. is to analyze external factors.

Opportunites

Opportunites are ways that you can improve your business' performance and competitive advantage. To help determine your opportunities, ask yourself:

  • What is going on in the market that I can use as an opportunity on my website?
  • What is changing in the industry that I could take advantage of?
  • What new website trends could I capitalize on?

List these opportunities down in your website plan template.

Threats

Threats are anything outside of your control that may prevent you from reaching your business goals. To help determine your threats, ask yourself:

  • What is our competitor's website's doing better than us?
  • What are we doing that our competitors are also doing?
  • Are there any political, social or economic issues that could prevent my website from being a success?

List these threats down in your website plan template.

SWOT Analysis example

You now have a completed SWOT analysis. Use your analysis to help understand the internal and external factors that could make or break the success of your website.

Section 2. Target Audience

The second section of the website plan summarizes your target audience and what actions you want them to take.

Target Audience

Your target audience is the ideal customer you want to attract to your product or service through your website.

As you build and design your website, you always want to keep your target audience in mind.

How do you find out who your target audience is?

One of the most common exercises is by creating buyer personas.

What is a buyer persona?

According to Hubspot a buyer persona is,

"A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers."

I'm not going to go in depth about creating buyer personas, but you can use the resources below to help form your target audience.

More Buyer Persona Resources

Purpose

Once you determine who your target audience is by using buyer personas, the next step is determining your audience's purpose.

Start by asking yourself,

"If my ideal visitor stopped by the website, what would I want them to do before they left?"

  • View your portfolio and fill out a contact form?
  • Call your business for more information about your services?
  • Read a blog post a sign up for your newsletter?

Determine 3-5 purposes you want your target audience to take and list them down.

When it comes to designing your website, make sure your purpose is clear and easy to find.

For example, it's clear that one of the main purposes of Squarespace's website is to choose a template and start a free trial of their product.

To fulfill that purpose, Squarespace designed a template library where you can browse through different designs and start a free trial with ease.

Example of Target Audience Purpose on Squarespace Site

Section 3. About the Website

The next section of the plan summarizes the goals of your website and how you will achieve them.

Goals

It's important to be clear what the goals of your website are before you start building. Otherwise, why build a website at all?

You also have to have a way to measure your goals once you set them.

So how do you get started with setting goals for your website?

S.M.A.R.T Goals

SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

  • Specific - Your goal must focus on one clear metric.
  • Measurable - You must have a clear way to measure your goal.
  • Attainable - Your goal should achievable, but still push you beyond your comfort zone.
  • Relevant - Your goal should be in align with your business objectives and what resources you have available.

Time-Bound - You must set a date or time frame that your goal will be achieved by.

Use this template from CoSchedule to help put your S.M.A.R.T. goal into context.

Example of CoSchedule's SMART goal template

By {insert day, month, year}, the {insert your organization’s name} website will reach {insert number} {insert metric} every {insert time frame}.

To give you a realistic example, here is an example goal that I set for my business this year.

By December 20th, 2018, Tyler Zipperer Designs will generate 90 email subscribers every month.

Resources for Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Functions

I explained functions earlier in this post as an action you want your target audience to take.

Example of functions from LeadPages

To determine your functions, make sure they are in align with the S.M.A.R.T business goals you set and the purpose of your target audience.

Let's look at an example marketing plan purpose, goal, and function below:

  • Target audience purpose - Read a blog post and sign up for a weekly newsletter.
  • S.M.A.R.T Goal - Generate 100 newsletter sign-ups every month for the next 6 months.
  • Function - Include a newsletter form on all blog posts and footer of website

List down 3-6 functions that are most important for your target audience and goals.

Content

I described content earlier as text, graphics, video and other related media included on each web page.

You don't need to go into a whole lot of detail in this section. Giving a simple summary of what content you need to have included on your site will work:

For example:

  • Five website pages: Home, About, Contact, Portfolio and Services
  • A photo gallery that includes 10 images of our best work to include on the portfolio page
  • Two case studies that show potential customers how current customers use our services
  • A pdf download of our services so visitors can access more information and print them out
  • Logo files in png and .ai format

You get the idea.

You will use this section to help form your outline and content creation later in the web design process.

Integrations

These are the tools and platforms that you will integrate with your website. Often times website builders like Squarespace, Wix or Wordpress will have built-in integrations. Other times you will need to research how to integrate other tools with your website

Examples:

Tip: Test your integrations before you launch and make sure they work.

List down all the tools and resources you need to integrate with your website. Be sure to test them and make sure they work before you launch.

Site Management

Your website is an ongoing project. If you have many people involved with your website, it's important to understand roles and responsibilities. (If you are a solopreneur you can skip this section)

Ask yourself:

  • Who will take care of the more technical aspects of the website?
  • How often will we update the website and who will do it?
  • Who will manage the blog and share updates on social media
  • Who will take the photos to include on blogs and new web pages?

List the person's name down and their responsibilities. Identifying people involved with your website will help set expectations before things start getting busy.

Section 4. Project Details

The last section of the website plan covers the details and timeline of your project so you know who is involved and when tasks will be completed.

Project Team

Your project team consists of the main stakeholders involved with your website project. Be specific on what each person will do and make it clear what's required of them.

Some example team members you should include are:

Project lead - Who handles organizing the project and making sure you meet deadlines?

Decision makers - Who is the final decision maker(s) when it comes to website copy, content, web pages, and template selection?

Content providers - Who will write the copy? Who will provide photographs? Who will gather the logo and other design material?

Content editor(s) - Who will review website copy for misspellings, broken links, and grammatical errors?

Tip: If you are a single-person business use tools like Grammarly and Hemmingway to help with editing content.

Web designer - Who will design and build the website? This could also be the project manager.

It's important to list down all the people that will have a part in your website. This will make sure people are on board from the beginning and will help hold them accountable.

Project Timeline

This is one of the most important parts of your website plan. Your project timeline will help manage your project from start to finish and make sure it's launched on time.

The best way to start with your project is beginning with the end in mind.

The best way to start with your project is beginning with the end in mind. Based on the content and design requirements of your website plan, determine a launch date for your website.

Pick a date that seems reasonable to do the required work, but also pushes you at the same time. My best advice is to pick a date and stick with it!

Once you have determined your launch date, work your way backward. Start by listing all the necessary steps it will take to complete the project.

For example:

Launch date: February 21st

Key milestones:

  • Promote website on social media – February 22nd
  • Launch: February 21st
  • Testing: February 19th – February 20th
  • Site build: February 10th – February 18th
  • Finish template styling: – February 9th
  • CMS/template selection: – February 6th
  • Content creation/gathering: January 26th – February 4th
  • Finish website outline: – January 26th
  • Finish website plan: – January 24th

This is a simple way to lay out your launch date and key milestones.

Tip: Many people find it useful to create a project calendar in a spreadsheet or use project management software.

Project Management Tools I Recommend

Trello - Trello is a free collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and where something is in a process.

CoSchedule - CoSchedule is an easy drag-and-drop content marketing calendar that allows you to plan, create, and promote your content all in one place.

Wrike - Wrike is an online project management software that gives you full visibility and control over your tasks.

Project Budget

The last part of your website plan is the project budget. In this section, you will write a detailed estimate of all costs required to complete project tasks.

For example:

Sample budget outline

Some costs you may inquire during the web design process:

  • Web and domain hosting
  • Website builder subscription (If you decide to use a website builder)
  • Web designer - If you decide to hire an outside freelancer or agency
  • Photography
  • Email marketing tool

List all the costs in your website plan and add up the final estimated total. It's always better to estimate a bit higher than expected to be cautious.

You've Completed Your Website Plan!

Congrats you now have a documented website that plan that will help you launch a successful website on time. Have any questions about the website planning process? Leave a comment below and let me know where I can help