What to Expect When You're Expecting a Website (Part 1)

pencils on top of a book with notes written inside

Websites are important. Not just to us, as a marketing agency (since developing and deploying websites is a large part of what we do), but to many people: businesses, organizations, non-profits, and individuals, alike. Maintaining an online presence is an expectation now that the whole world, practically, has a window to the Internet in their pocket. A quick search of “why are websites important” yields 39 million results that parrot the notion that if you don’t have a effective website, you’re missing out on opportunity. Pleth agrees.

Maybe you’re a bit “behind the times”, or the money wasn’t there last year, or you simply don’t know where to start, but you know that need a website. Now. You’re not sure what to do or what you need. That’s where this series comes in. We’ll let you know what information you should have and what to expect when you’re expecting a website, including tips on how to make your life — and ours — a little easier.

Not Quite Magic

Building a website is a long and difficult process, at worst. There are a lot of moving parts to orchestrate, often under tight time and/or budget restraints. However, there are several considerations that a potential website owner can think about before consulting someone that helps the process run faster and smoother for everyone.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Abraham Lincoln

This ingenious quote succinctly sums up an important point: establishing a plan will dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes the person (or agency) you hire to make a website. The more time that’s spent answering questions before a call is made, the more time is saved later, during development.

Sharpening the Axe

To get started, answer these questions:

  1. Why does this website need to exist and what is the one thing it needs to do well?
  2. Who will use this website and what will those people want from this website?
  3. What is my goal for this website and what does its success mean, in this case?

These three (-ish) questions may seem complicated at first — they’re very open-ended, with answers that can vary greatly — but they’re absolutely necessary. The data that comes from answering these questions can affect how a website functions, how it looks, and the types of content that it displays. It may also help determine that a website isn’t necessary at all; maybe using a social network as a hub for interaction will yield the best results.

The Information You Really Need

The first question should yield what web design folks call a minimum viable product, or MVP. This is, essentially the one thing that the website does well — it’s primary function. Only one function sounds extremely limiting, but oftentimes users don’t need (or want) distractions. Once you collect some information about how people use the MVP, you can make better decisions about how to add functions or content that make people want to come back to your website.

The second question addresses who your website reaches: your target audience. The needs of a user that is 60 years old is much different than a user that’s 17. This information can heavily affect a website’s design (with the previous example, consider eyesight and text size) and tone of the content (formal v. informal).

The most complicated question is the third: What is success? Measuring the success of a website (typically through analytics tracking) isn’t an exact science, as there are dozens of metrics that can be measured. For websites with purchasable products, the measurement may be a dollar amount (which is easy to track and to understand), but for others it may come down to the amount of times a page is viewed, or where your website appears in search results, or how often a link is clicked, or even a combination of these. This is referred to as a KPI or a key performance indicator.

Start Small and Scale

As your website develops, allow specific measurements to change, hold tight to your goals, and keep in mind that starting small and simple is best; smaller goals are more realistic and easier to achieve. Starting small and scaling up to a product that is more robust is the way to go. Don’t be afraid to be simple. One of the most visited websites on the internet — google.com — is just a search box.

Keep watch for part two of this series, which will cover the other information we collect before we go into full-on production.