Things tend to get quiet around our offices when December hits. There are certainly last-minute tasks to wrap up and contracts to finalize before the turn of the year, but project work and big plans take a pause as everyone turns attention to family and festivities.
We love this time of year, because it allows us to spend time focusing on big picture plans and goal setting. If one of your goals is to finally tackle that website build or redesign you’ve been putting off, now is a perfect opportunity to get organized and start planning.
I know I need to start planning my website build, but where do I even start?
While websites serve very specific (and, often, very boring) business functions, building a new website, or redesigning an older one, is very much a creative pursuit. The daunting nature of the blank page can stop you dead in your tracks!
The best advice we can offer is to give yourself the time, headspace, and structure you need to get organized and break down the big project into small, actionable steps. These five tips are the same ones we use when we guide clients through a Roadmapping session and are a great place to start yourself, whether you already plan to engage a specialist or you’re hoping to tackle it yourself.
Hang tight for just a second — should you be reading this first?
When Is It Time To Revamp My Website?
Do you really need a website redesign right now? Take a deep dive into BIPi’s recommendations for determining if your site is ready for a refresh.
1. Whether you’re building or rebuilding, start with the sitemap
Assembling a sitemap is the very first step to organizing your creative project. It serves several purposes:
- creates a comprehensive list of the pages you need to have on your site
- visualizes the relationship of the pages to one another
- provides future guidance for developing the site’s navigation
- sets you up for success throughout the rest of the project
If you’re rebuilding your site, start by drawing out your existing site’s map as you see it. Reference your site’s navigation, pages listed in your CMS, a list of results from a site crawler tool, or an index coverage report from Google Search Console (learn more about that one here). Once you have the existing sitemap laid out, you can start revising it to reflect your current needs.
Google can be super helpful (try queries such as “example sitemap for [your industry] site” or “basic sitemap example for small business”), as can competitor websites. There are also tools specifically for sitemapping that can also make step 2 easier; we’re partial to Slickplan, but octopus.do has some additional features like wire framing that are pretty cool!
Make sure you consider the level of service you need for search engine optimization
One of the reason we like Slickplan is that it specifically has space for page meta data in the planner. Intentionally configuring your metadata is the most basic of SEO activities, and sometimes, that’s all that you need.
During the sitemapping phase, set aside time to discuss SEO and how to best leverage it for your specific situation. If you do not rely on search results to bring traffic to your site, you wouldn’t need to worry about SEO at all. But that is very rarely the case. At the least, you want to have control over how your site shows up on search engine result pages. Beyond that, you may need to think about keyword optimization, structured data, existing pages that have high value in terms of historical traffic… all things that an SEO specialist can help you sort through as needed.
These are some examples of sitemaps we’ve created during roadmapping sessions for client site builds in the past
2. Plan for content creation and editing well ahead of development
The biggest hurdle to a website redesign or build is inevitably content; content encompasses copy, photos, graphics, video, calls to action, lead magnets and other downloadable assets, brand assets like color palette and logo, and more.
While we recommend, on average, 8 weeks for a website build, that does not include organizing and assembling content.
For a rebuild, take the time to audit and edit all of your existing content, decide what stays, what goes, and what needs revising. Using a content planning tool of some sort will be crucial. Something as simple as an interactive table of contents in a word document that mirrors your site map can work. We generally use Slickplan for this as well, or a set of Google drive documents and folders. This post on GatherContent’s blog is a great place to start to dive deeper into this step.
Ultimately, you will want final content well-organized and easily accessible by all project collaborators.
3. Identify and prioritize the functionality you need your website to have
This can vary wildly depending on what you need and want your website to do for you. We like to start with a classic brainstorming session, where we list out all of the functions we want out site to do on our behalf — or support us in doing manually — no matter how crazy it may seem. Creating a big wish-list doesn’t just set you up for this particular build; it can often point you to places where you need to streamline your business operations, delegate things to internal resources in a formal way, or outsource tasks to a vendor.
Once you have this big list, decide:
- which items are the most important to you now;
- which items can wait if time, budget, or other factors constrain you now, but that you are 100% confident you want as soon as possible;
- which items you aren’t sure about but you’d like to include in a 3 year plan;
- which items you either don’t need or could be handled by a tool other than your website.
Examples of items that might come out of a brainstorm: a self-service booking tool for your clients to drop time for a call on your team’s calendar, an online intake form that qualifies leads or marks them as not a good fit, an on-demand video library to create a passive revenue stream, a signup form that automatically adds people to your email marketing list.
4. Consider design options that fit your timeline, budget, and priorities
The state of web design today is such that conceptualizing your site’s visual presentation — the colors, fonts, button behaviors, styling of content modules, etc. — can be super easy thanks to builder frameworks and ready-made templates. For new and smaller businesses, a truly custom design isn’t worth burning up a big chunk of a small budget.
The websites that we like to build and support are functionality- and purpose-driven. We love pretty things as much as the next princess, but what we care about is a site that works as intended and has a clear ROI. We frequently start with purchased themes and templates that are customized to our clients’ brands instead of going through a fully custom design phase. Then, we rely on a graphic designer to create brand-specific assets that are used during development. This drastically reduces costs and overall development time.
As you are considering your design needs, ask yourself:
- is your brand well-established with comprehensive brand standards and an already-existing set of assets and photos?
- can you devote ~30% of your time and money budgets to the design process?
- does your brand’s reputation depend heavily on visuals (i.e. you are an artist or work in a creative field)?
- are you yourself, or your team, particularly opinionated or knowledgeable about visual design?
Depending on your answers, a custom design may be called for — or it may be overkill for now.
5. Identify your tech stack, organize your records, finalize your budget, and plan for future support needs
One of BIPi’s original guiding principles is essentially the “campsite rule”: leave our clients better than we found them. Part of what we have found over the years of onboarding new clients with existing websites is a disappointing lack of organization and informed decision-making. This in no way reflects on the client; instead, it’s a sign that previous digital services vendors, who may have built a really beautiful and well-functioning site, have also neglected the long-term health of a client’s digital toolkit. Some, If not all of these, may apply to you, and you should strongly consider doing these as a part of your website build or rebuild project planning.
Audit and organize your tech stack
We’re using the term “tech stack” loosely here. The term originated in software development to describe the list of tools, languages, and services used to build an application (MixPanel has a great post on the topic if you’d like a deep dive). In this case, however, we’re referring to a list of all the tools your business uses to support your online/internet presence.
For example, Berry Interesting’s tech stack includes:
- hosting via SiteDistrict
- domain registration with Google
- WordPress for our website CMS
- OnceHub for our self-service online calendar
- Emma for email marketing and list management
- Google Workspaces for email, shared calendars, and document sharing
- Buffer for social media posting
- Freshbooks for invoicing /li>
- Dropbox for digital contract signing and file sharing
- QuickBooks for bookkeeping and taxes
- Gusto for payroll and benefits administration
- …and the list goes on!
Some items in that list are simply digital tools we use for business operations, but many of these tools directly interface with our website itself. You may want to integrate those tools into your new website for the first time as a part of the build, or you may need to choose new tools to streamline your website’s functionality. Having information about these tools well-organized and easily accessible to your team will position you well as you dive into preparing for your website build.
Document and update records associated with your online properties
Now is the time to organize all of the credentials, log-in links, and billing frequencies associated with your website and digital marketing operations. Your website build partner will need access to many of these during the development process. Additionally, having this information well-organized and in your control means your properties are safe and easily accessible in the event of an emergency.
Establish a realistic and specific budget
One of the weirdest parts of the digital experience is how everything is, on the surface, “free”. Walk over to your local library, grab a computer kiosk, open a browser and BOOM, access to the entirety of the internet, all without dropping a dime. Google, Wikipedia, Wix, YouTube, Facebook… none of those hit your wallet.
Dig any deeper than that, though, and you can start to see how there actually is a cost to everything. Wanna watch a YouTube video? Sit through some ads first. Wanna check out photos of the family party you couldn’t make last week? Sign up for that Facebook account using your personal info. To quote the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, “If you’re not paying for the product, then you’re the product.” When so many things about the internet seem free, it can make it challenging to wrap your head around paying for a website at all, much less start to figure out what it should ultimately cost.
To start figuring out your budget, think about both the cash and the time that you have available to invest in your site re/build. Take a look at the priorities and desires you’ve articulated in the first 4 steps and determine what you’re willing to DIY versus what you are willing to pay for. You might also talk to fellow business owners about what they spent on their site build, or take a look at pricing lists on vendor websites (you can view BIPI’s pricing guide here).
You don’t have to have this completely nailed down, but you do need to have a good grip on the resources available to you so that you can share them with vendors as you shop around for the right fit. Remember – cheaper doesn’t always mean the better choice… and more expensive doesn’t always mean a better site.
Make concrete plans for the ongoing health of your website
No matter what platform you choose to use for your website build, you will need a plan to ensure your website is running smoothly and functioning properly.
For Squarespace sites, this might include a weekly check-in on the Google sheet where contact form entries are stored to ensure submissions have been appropriately fielded. For WordPress, you’ll need to perform regular software updates (we recommend a 2x/month routine plus as-needed updates when there’s a known vulnerability). You may want to establish a routine for website analytics reporting, or build a content calendar that includes regular blog posting.
Your website needs tending in the same way a garden does; build-it-and-forget-it is rarely an approach that will serve your business goals!
Engaging a website strategist for the planning phase
The Berry Interesting team adores the planning phase of a website project. While we’re most passionate about ongoing support over the long term, the “blank slate” of a site build and the opportunity to set things up well from the beginning is a super satisfying endeavor!
Our roadmapping sessions are specifically designed to walk you through this process and set you up for success — whether you work with us for the build or not.
If BIPi isn’t your cup of tea, we are always happy to help connect you to a team who is! Regardless of who you work with, pre-planning and organization is key to the success of your website build! Look for a strategist who you can trust to give you honest feedback, who cares about your success, and who takes proactive steps to keep you informed, independent, and organized.