Your company’s website needs to be the heart of your digital activity. It’s the primary medium through which your brand connects with its audience.  Keep this in mind as you plan a website design.

As you might imagine, nailing the website is essential to succeed in your digital marketing program. Otherwise, it’s going to be nearly impossible to create a good first impression, keep visitors on your site, and compete in your industry. 

Whether you’re working with a designer or an agency, planning the outcome of your newly created website will help you make sure the final result meets your expectations.

It’s utterly disappointing when you invest in a new site that doesn’t look or function like the one you envisioned. Think of waking up early on Christmas morning to open what you think will be a fantastic gift, only to find a boring pair of socks.

But rest assured, this is totally avoidable when you and your designer or agency collaborate on a plan. 

When you write down what you want and need from your website,  those notes will become directions that will help you:

  • Get a better website that does what you want, and
  • Possibly save money by simplifying the process for your team.

Ready to get your plan rocking?

Get search engine optimization right from the start

Search engine optimization, or SEO as it’s known in our industry, incorporates a series of strategies and tactics to improve the chances of your website’s pages ranking higher in search engines. The higher you rank, the greater the likelihood of people finding your business online.

SEO includes an audit of your website to make sure it’s technically sound, keyword research, competitor analysis, content creation, and more.

The SEO audit

Whether you plan a website from the ground up or decide to redesign an existing one, an SEO audit needs to be part of your plan.

The audit will reveal if your website has any technical issues that will hurt your search engine rankings. Companies unwilling to invest in SEO typically find out their competitors rank higher than they do.

An optimized website creates a better user experience. If your website is too slow, customers will leave your site without learning what you have to offer. If your website does not look good on mobile devices, potential customers will not stick around.

SEO is critical. Think about it, why would you invest good money in marketing your company online if your website is not optimized and will only lead visitors to abandon it?

When AE Design Co. works with small businesses, we conduct an SEO audit and analyze your website just like Google would.

An SEO audit and necessary improvements give your site the best chance to rank higher. (Sorry, no one can guarantee you will land on the first page, not even us.)

Keyword research

How do you attract your ideal customer? It requires proper research: Keyword research.

Search engines like Google are one of the most effective channels to bring people to a particular site like yours, and keywords, or search terms, are at the heart of it. 

Users enter words or phrases related to what they’re looking for – keywords – and search engines give them the top websites related to them.

Search engines use complex algorithms to match the intent of the one searching with a particular page’s intent on the internet. This is why keyword research and a well-written, well-structured web page or blog post becomes critical for your online success.

Think about the main keywords your ideal customers use to find businesses like yours. These initial keywords will give your SEO manager a good starting point to do further research.

This will make your SEO manager’s job a bit easier and likely save you money.

However, if you are not quite sure what the best keywords are, the AE Design Co. team can help you. 

Competitor analysis

Ever wondered what it takes to stand out from the competition?

Well, knowing your competition is a great place to start. If your brand is going to differentiate itself from others in your industry, it makes sense to understand your industry and competitors well.

Successful competitors are full of insights about how to succeed.

Studying them will reveal whether you have any “holes” in your marketing strategy. Competitors will stand out from your brand if you’re lagging in some areas.

Closely analyzing their marketing approach will also give you ideas about what you could do better or differently.

Look at your competitor’s marketing efforts. What channels do they leverage? Are they doing anything that stands out? What resources do you have that they don’t and vice versa?

When you plan a website, include any information that will help your team create a more competitive design.

Create buyer personas

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to understand who your ideal customer is.

Buyer personas, also called avatars, are fictional characters representing your typical customers by describing their characteristics to the Nth degree: Is the buyer a man or woman? How old? Where does the buyer work? What does the buyer do on days off? Where does this customer vacation? Any kids? What kind of car is in the driveway, and where is the neighborhood? The more you define your ideal customer, the better you can market your product or service.

If your buyer persona is a mystery to you, then how can you ever customize a marketing message to attract customers? If you build decks, then you know not everyone is in the market for one. You want to find homeowners with disposable income, not renters.

graphic showing a jigsaw puzzle with the words buyer persona for a story about how to plan a website

Marketing today is not about telling people how great your brand is. Yes, it’s important to create this impression, but tooting your own horn too much will turn off potential customers.

Your focus should be on the customer. How does the product or service you provide solve their problems? Offer them value, make them feel comfortable, and give them hope that you have the answer to their problem. 

Digital marketing is like dating. You need to build a connection first, or your offer won’t be heard. It’s like proposing to someone you just met! (Not going to happen.)

Buyer personas help you build that connection. When you know your avatar inside and out, your marketing materials and campaigns can build goodwill, rapport, and trust. 

Knowing your customers’ budgets, goals, demographics, and other characteristics make your content feel like it was designed specifically for them – almost like they’re talking to a caring friend. 

Without this clear picture of your buyer persona, your message won’t resonate.

When you plan a website, including avatars will help your team create a more suitable site for your ideal customer base.

Positioning: why is your brand different?

With so many options, your brand needs to convey it offers something others don’t. What is your unique selling proposition? What are you doing to position your brand?

If your competitors achieve this, but you don’t, customers will probably gravitate toward them.

It’s logical to pass this fundamental information to whoever is helping you create your site. After all, you want this message reflected throughout the pages of your site. 

Consider this when creating a positioning statement:

  • Why should anyone trust you over someone else? 
  • How do you do things differently?
  • Why does your product/service matter? 
  • What is the real value you provide?
  • What problems do you solve?

Networking

The networks and relationships you’ve built form an essential component of your company’s success. Whether online or offline, here are some important points to include in your plan:

  •  The groups you belong to, like trade associations, nonprofit organizations, and community service clubs.
  • The social channels through which consumers and businesses talk with you.
  • Your business partners.
  • Companies that let you publish guest posts on their blog.
  • Corporate sponsors.

Let your connections know you are building or redesigning your website. It could lead to additional business from people within your circle, or your friends might generate word-of-mouth advertising as they tell others about your company and site.

Content marketing

Some consider content marketing a recent phenomenon because of the proliferation of the internet and digital marketing. However, John Deere pioneered content marketing more than a century ago when it produced a magazine highlighting its products and how they helped people just like you.

Businesses do the same today, but instead of distributing content by mail, it gets sent out via email, blog posts, and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

To be successful, you need to provide the most engaging and valuable content. The reason is quite simple:

Content is king.

Content marketing is one of the most effective distribution channels, and this will not change anytime soon. Its return on investment is in a class of its own.

When you launch your site, we recommend publishing a handful of articles right away. Your initial blog posts should deal with major topics that are indispensable for your audience. They should cover somewhat general topics that are easy to link back to later as you publish more posts. 

Keyword research and competitor analysis reveal many topics about which you can write. Also, think about what topics resonate most with your audience and how they search for them on Google.

Just a reminder, before you do this, be sure to create your buyer persona first. That will help you pick better topics for your target audience.

Design research

Even if you’re working with the best designer in the world, providing some details about what you like and what you want can lead the process to a better end result.

People do, in fact, judge a book by its cover.

Your design is your brand’s cover. 

Write down your expectations and the impression you want to make and feel free to go into detail. Do you want your menu to be on a banner on the side? Which emotions do you want to promote with your copy and colors?

This doesn’t mean that your plan is final and isn’t open to changes. Your designer can make suggestions later if they have better ideas. 

Photoshoot

Stock photos provide a simple solution to get images on your website, but nothing beats the real thing.

Stock photos have their place, but actual pictures showcase your brand’s identity and strengthen your connection with visitors. If you use stock photos, they should be an addition to real ones.

A professional photographer can best capture the essence of your company, but don’t ignore what you can do with your smartphone. Use actual photos when you can.

Write some notes about the real photos you plan to include, and how they could fit in your site. Many companies make employee headshots on their team page essential. It’s good to include a few pictures of your (happy) team here and there.

How do you pull all of this together for a new website?

There are so many components when you choose to redesign or build an effective website that the process can be a bit overwhelming for small businesses. 

To make sure your new site does well in the many areas discussed here, check out our amazing website planning worksheet

graphic for website planning worksheet

Just answer the questions to fill the brief document and show it to your team. It’ll take you no longer than a few minutes, and you’ll get a better website in return.

Before we wrap up, I wanted to remind you that building a website is just the tip of the iceberg for leveraging digital marketing.

After this foundational step, your company will also need to manage multiple distribution channels to get heard.

This means even after you invest money creating a wonderful website, it’s not necessarily going to get you more business. There’s a lot more to marketing

Don’t fall for the internet myth: If you build it, they will come. The reality is, if you build it, they will come with a solid marketing plan and execution of that plan.

If you need guidance navigating the complex marketing maze, just know we’re here to help. 

Let AE Design Co. Guide You as You Plan a Website 

We built AE Design Co. to help small businesses with all things marketing – including website creation, SEO auditing, keyword research, competitor analysis, lead generation, and so much more. Business owners and managers who work with us discovered they suddenly had extra time to make their companies more profitable because they got to focus on operations while we focused on marketing.

Ready to give us a shot and kick-start your digital marketing results? 

Schedule a Free Marketing Audit & Strategy Session today.

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About April Edwards

Hello! I'm AE Design Co's lead Digital Strategist & Creative Director. For over 15 years, I've been helping busy businesses get a grip on their marketing to increase profits year-over-year.

Meet me!