Whether your website’s technology is outdated or simply no longer reflects your brand, we’ve pulled together our top 7 tips to help strategically develop a site that will achieve your business goals, creative vision, and prepare you for your business’s next website design project.
Approaching a web design project can be daunting. There are decisions to make, costs to consider, and logistical details to organize. Although it’s a big undertaking, a web design project can also be an exciting opportunity to refine your brand’s public image. This post will outline the key factors you need to know to make the process more approachable and less intimidating.
- Figure out Internal Approval Processes
- Establish A Budget
- Find Inspiration
- Develop a Content Plan
- Gather Assets
- Consider Third-Party Integration
Internal Approval Processes
Before starting, you must review your business’s internal approval processes for the new website. If you are a soloist, this will be optional since you are typically the only person involved. On the other hand, if you are a small business or working with a team, other people or stakeholders will often want to be involved in the process.
Some questions that might come up in this stage are:
- Who will sign off on the design?
- Who determines what content will go on the site?
- What needs to happen before the website can go live?
- Do you need to consult higher-ups or supervisors, and if so, does that need to happen at every stage or just at certain milestones?
Why It’s Important:
Understanding how your business works is vital to ensuring smooth progress during your project. Without securing the proper approvals beforehand, your project could be delayed – and even come to a standstill – while you work backward to get the go-ahead for work already done. Worse yet, forgoing internal approval processes could force you to go back and revise previously approved portions.
Depending on their scope and complexity, web projects can take a long time – anywhere from eight weeks to a year (or more!). Keeping up with approval processes will help your project to stay on track and launch as close to your goal date as possible. Knowing up front who needs to be included and when will help you and your web partner work efficiently toward getting the proper approvals at the right stage in your project.
Establish a Budget
Investing in your business’s website is your most important marketing investment! Be realistic about how much a website will cost, the work involved, and understand that maintaining the content of your website requires you to dedicate time on an ongoing basis. Consider whether you need to hire a photographer for updated team portraits or to capture behind-the-scene images of your studio. Do you need to hire a copywriter to write out your project descriptions or help define your process? Are you also looking to update your business’s brand identity? By establishing a budget, you can plan accordingly.
So much of a website’s communication is visual. A graphic and bold site says something completely different than a site full of natural shapes and neutral earth tones. Developing a vision for your site’s style can be difficult, so it helps to gather inspiration from existing websites you already know and love. This can mean identifying colors, typefaces, and shapes you’re drawn to, along with more general concepts or a particular user experience. You can easily identify trends like the best nonprofit website design examples or political web design trends.
Why It’s Important:
Articulating your vision is easier when you can point to examples of what you like. Bringing several websites to your web designer can offer a starting point for collaboration and help nail down your stylistic expectations from the beginning. Finding inspiration can also help identify any special features you want to incorporate into your site.
Examples also give your partner a better idea of your visual style, taking pressure off of you to articulate a feeling that can sometimes be nearly impossible.
Aside from the visual, a good website is set apart by clear content that is informative and easy to navigate. For many clients who come to us to redesign their site, the project is also an opportunity to revisit and revise their content. This often means pruning old content, editing existing content, or even creating entirely new sections of copy. The content portion of the project is often as big an undertaking as the design!
In preparing for your web design project, you’ll want to develop a plan for approaching your content. What should come over as-is from your current site? What do you want to update? Do you plan on creating any new sections? You can also think about any sitemap and architectural changes you’d like to implement to streamline your website.
Your vendor will act as a partner during this stage, but it’s good for you to develop some initial thoughts and think about what you’d like to get out of the process. Once you know how things will work out, consider which team members will tackle each section. Consider any internal editing and approval periods during this time.
Why It’s Important:
Developing a content plan is helpful to your business and your web designer. It will help you understand what will be changing on the site and how you might update your messaging and positioning to the outside world. The content plan will also allow you to plan the overall web project and timeline better, as you’ll have a clear picture of which team members you’ll rely on for content and potential approval processes.
For your web partner, a content plan will offer a better understanding of your content goals on the new site, which will help to inform the layout, sitemap, and design. It will also help to better plan the timeline around you – for example, for clients doing extensive content overhauls, we can speed up the overall timeline by getting them into the Content Management System earlier.
We often tell clients that “content is the biggest variable” when working on upfront timelines and planning. This is because the content is often overlooked but can dictate so much of the entire process. An initial content plan is essential in ensuring you get a design that best serves you and that the project moves along as quickly as possible.
Planning and Gathering Assets
When thinking about your content plan, you’ll undoubtedly come across instances where you intend to include photo and video assets. These types of visual aids can enrich your content and give consumers a better idea of who you are and what service or product you provide. As the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Online visuals could mean the difference between attracting new business or falling flat. There are many ways to source and use these assets on the site. Knowing how you’ll be gathering them – and potentially even securing them before your project begins – is an important step that contributes to the design progress.
First, you should decide whether to use original images and videos or lean on stock assets. Everyone loves to have custom photos and videos, but sometimes budgets and timelines can be prohibitive. While stock images aren’t ideal, they can still look sharp if you plan for them from the beginning. If you plan to use them, peruse sites like iStock and Unsplash and save the images you like. While it can be tempting to purchase them right away, we recommend holding off as your partner may include some photos in their fee (we do).
If you can – and would like to – use your own images, you’ll want to make sure you have enough to support the design. Ideally, photos should be recent and high quality. For a typical site, we recommend that a client have at least ten really good images that could be used on a homepage or interior pages. Your partner can advise you on the specifics of how your images will fit into your new site.
Some image-dependent sites require many more images than others. If you have images already store them somewhere where you’ll easily be able to share them with the partner, like Dropbox. If you’re taking new images, we typically recommend booking a full day of a photographer’s time and owning the rights to the shoot. Booking a whole day can be an efficient way to get many photos if you plan to stage multiple scenes and options ahead of time.
If you’re unsure of the exact images you’d like to use, let your vendor know the “type” you’re looking for (people, offices, abstract scenes, etc.), and lean on them to find some good images as placeholders in the designs. We do this for clients using stock or original photos, and for clients planning to use originals, the placeholders can serve as inspiration and guidelines for the photographers.
Why It’s Important:
Getting a sense of the type of images you want and how you’ll source them plays an essential role in guiding the general aesthetic of the site. Pulling these materials together in the early stages will help you to stay organized as your project progresses. And in many cases, this also helps to plan your internal timeline and budget.
By keeping the images in a central place like Dropbox, your business and web designer can easily access your latest and greatest assets and decide where to place them on the site.
Third-Party Vendors & Integrations
As you’re planning for your project, think about which programs or products you currently rely on with your existing site. In its simplest form, this item could be where you registered your domain and currently host your website. Your new vendor will likely need this information to take your new site live by pointing the domain at their servers or helping you to migrate the new site to an established server.
On a more advanced level, this milestone focuses on technologies integrated directly into your website. Common examples include email marketing programs like MailChimp or Constant Contact, CRM and marketing automation tools like Salesforce and HubSpot, donation tools like Blackbaud and Classy, social networks like Twitter and Facebook used to pull in feeds, and other platforms that either power portions of your site or get data from your site.
Build a list of these dependencies, the platforms, and their login information to have ready once you select a partner.
Why It’s Important:
Third-party integrations can range from being very straightforward to becoming full-on projects in their own right. By having your list and information ready, your web vendor can start investigating the best approach to integration early on. It can also be valuable to you by acting as a mini audit of the tools you’re already using and paying for. You may choose to prune non-essential items or seek recommendations for new platforms from your vendor. A new website is often a great time to reevaluate your technologies and platforms, as they’re often older than the site itself. This can be an excellent time to switch to a more modern tool (we find this especially true with email marketing tools and donation vendors on nonprofit website design projects).
The list of integrations and tools will help you to avoid late surprises or delays by keeping this important information in one place from the start of the project.
As with any task that requires planning ahead, a timeline is a fantastic place to start. If there’s a specific date by which your new website must go live – like a product launch, a conference, or an important client meeting – your web vendor can work with you to meet your deadline. An upfront goal date is helpful to everyone. We often take that information to build out a very detailed timeline with key dates, milestones, and responsibilities so that everyone can see what’s needed to make the date work.
As mentioned above, web design projects can last anywhere from eight weeks to a year from start to finish. This range is wide, and a lot depends on the depth of your site, the volume of content to be migrated over, and the technical difficulty of building custom features. Beginning the project with a clear timeline in mind helps to manage expectations for everyone involved and can also help set priorities around what to work on and when.
Why It’s Important:
While timelines are undeniably helpful for organization and planning needs, they motivate your team and partner to keep working hard on the project. Collecting inspiration, gathering assets, and developing a content plan take time, and a timeline will encourage you to stay on track and keep your project moving at the desired pace. Even if your timeline is revised or abandoned, beginning with one in place will kickstart the project and the preparatory work needed to get things underway.
Web design projects have many moving parts, but breaking things down into smaller pieces can help make your projects more manageable. Using these tips as a starting point, you’re already approaching your project efficiently and thoughtfully. Combine this with patience, organization, and communication, and you’re well on your way to an awesome new website!