Planning for Success: What to do Before You Build Your Website

Looking for help to build an effective web presence? You’ll get the best finished project by spending more time planning so you can save time doing.

The following is an excerpt from The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing, by flyte's founder, Rich Brooks.

Planning for Success

You don’t start a journey without knowing where you’re going. Well, unless it’s one of those walkabouts or other personal enlightenment journeys, but this is your business we’re talking about, so it’s time to get focused.

There are several aspects to the “pre-game” of building a successful site:

  • Understanding who the website is for
  • Understanding their problems
  • Understanding how you can help them
  • Understanding what you should measure

If you haven’t yet, please download the Lead Machine companion workbook at . If you go to the Planning for Success section you’ll be able to work on your own successful website.

The questions and statements that follow will help you develop a strategy for success. I’ve broken them into categories for your company, your design, and your marketing. These are based on the client intake sheet that we have developed for our own projects.

Your Business

What is the primary function of your business?

Pretty straight forward: what do you bring to the market place? Do you provide pizza, travel, or bookkeeping services? Another way to think about it: what would someone Google to find your business if they didn’t know your company name? I.e., “Boston delivery pizza,” “guided bicycle tours,” or “small business bookkeeping company.”

What are your top three business goals?

You may have more or less, but more than three and they start to get diluted. “To make more money,” is too vague. Try using SMART goals:

  • Strategic
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

“To generate five hundred qualified home buyers through our website within six months of launch” would be a much more effective goal.

Who is your target audience?

This is a place where too many businesses fail. I’ve been told, “employers, employees, and people looking for a job.”  So, um, basically everyone who’s not retired?

Or the guy who ran a restaurant and said, “Everyone who needs to eat to survive.”

Funny? Possibly. But for a single Tex-Mex restaurant in Portland, Maine, that doesn’t serve breakfast or booze, I think you could have narrowed it down just a wee bit, no?

See how narrow you can make this target audience, even if you feel you may be excluding some of your audience.

That restaurant may have been better served by targeting middle-income families within five miles of Portland who like Tex-Mex food and often go to the mall or the movies on the weekend.

John Lee Dumas, the Entrepreneur on Fire, taught me about developing a business avatar. This is the embodiment of who your ideal customer is. You can give him or her a name, a job, an address, a favorite hockey team, the way she likes to pass her Saturday’s or how many hours a day he spends on fantasy sports sites.

Marketing to this avatar helps you focus your message and it will still attract people who don’t match up with this avatar.

Check out my interview with John on How to Unleash Your Business Avatar here.

What are your site visitor’s goals when they come to the website?

Where most people fail on this question is that they mistake it for what THEY want out of their audience, not the other way around.

  • They want to learn more about my products and services.
  • They want to meet my staff.
  • They want to buy from me.

While some of those may be true, it may not be the first thing that your customer may be thinking when they come to your site.

If they’ve got grubs destroying their lawn, their goal is to get rid of the grubs and get back their healthy lawn. Whether you or the next company has the right solution, they really don’t care.

Now, if you’ve got an organic solution and your competition doesn’t, then you might say that your site visitor wants to find an environmentally friendly way of saving their lawn.

If you’re a restaurant, your site visitor may want to check out your menu, see your hours, or get directions. They may also want to find a place to host a corporate event or a kids’ birthday party.

Remember that this is about what they want, not what you want.

Who are your three biggest competitors?

Avoid the “no one. No one does what we do” answer here. Keep in mind that even if no one does exactly what you do, there may be other solutions to your potential customers’ problems.

You may have the only archery range in town that has a birthday room, but there are certainly other activities parents can choose that will entertain a dozen ten-year-olds.

If you really find yourself struggling to find other businesses that are similar, consider businesses you don’t compete with because of geography. You may be the first gluten-free bakery in your town, but there are plenty of others you can find across the country.

If you’re doing something completely revolutionary, market ignorance could be your biggest competitor. In that case, education and content creation will be critical to your success.

How do you differentiate yourself from these competitors?

This will help guide your copy, the photos you choose, and all of your marketing. You should be crystal clear on what these are. Visit your competitors’ sites (if appropriate) to understand how they are positioning themselves.

Your Website

If your website had a job description, what would it be?

Imagine you were hiring for this position…what would that job description look like?

  • To educate parents on the dangers of lawn pesticides and show them there’s a safer way that actually works.
  • To generate leads from local small businesses who are too small to have an internal HR person but need help staying compliant with state laws.
  • To sell home decor products from our online store.

What is the main reason you are redesigning your website?

Is your website tired looking? Is it not mobile-friendly? Is it not generating enough traffic or leads? Did you recently change your name or branding and now your website is out of sync with the reset of your marketing?

Are you introducing a new product? Looking to attract a new audience segment? Did you outgrow your neighbor’s brother-in-law?

What is the main business problem you hope to solve with your new website?

Do you need more search engine visibility? Traffic? Leads? Are you launching a new product and you need to build awareness? Are you trying to provide more value to your members? Are you trying to double sales this year?

How will you measure its success?

What are the KPIs (key performance indicators) that will help you track if and when your site is successful? It could be revenue goals, the number of leads, or downloads at your site.

If you currently have a site, what specific areas of your site are successful? Why?

Are there parts of your site, like a resource center or blog, that are working well? Do you have an Ask the Expert form that gets a lot of traction? Are there features of your online store that people really like, such as a comparison tool or ability to zoom in on a product photo?

Which are unsuccessful? Why?

Don’t fall into the “ugly baby” syndrome here. That’s where you hear from people they love your website. Nice to hear, but who ever told a parent they have an ugly baby? The same is true with an ugly or ineffective website. People don’t tell you, they just leave.

One thing you can do is look at your Google Analytics (assuming you have it set up.) It can help you identify underperfoming pages. Pages where people visit but then leave your website.

Or perhaps you have a lot of shopping cart abandonment. Or people aren’t signing up for your email newsletter. Or you hate the colors of your site. Or it’s difficult to make updates. You get the picture.

Use a few adjectives to describe your brand’s identity.

This isn’t Mad Libs. Try and be as spot on with your brand (as you see it.) Are you irreverent or trustworthy? Cutting edge or established? Modern or traditional? Transparent or mysterious?

Use a few adjectives to describe how you’d like your site visitors to perceive your website.

There will hopefully be some overlap in vibe, if not in word, with the previous question. Professional. Modern. Fast-loading. Easy. Surprising. Deep. Clean. Organized. Fun.

From a design perspective, list three websites you like and why.

These don’t need to be in your industry. The last thing you want is a me-too website that looks like a competitor’s in a reversible jacket.

Why do you like them? Is it the photos? The structure? The navigation? The color scheme? A specific element on the site that makes it easier to use?

Do you have marketing material that the website must complement?

Marketing and branding are all about consistency. Your website should match your business cards should match your signage should match your slide deck, should match your…you get the idea.

Is your logo up-to-date and representative of your brand?

I bring this up because we’ve design modern looking websites that almost fall apart because of a dated or poorly designed logo. It’s like pairing a classic black tuxedo with a My Little Pony bowtie. (Not judging here.)

If time and budget aren’t pressing concerns, have a professional assess your logo.

Do you have brand colors?

Some colors don’t work as well online as they do IRL. See: yellow.

Also, just because a color appears in your logo doesn’t mean it has to be part of your website palette. In fact, choosing different colors can help your logo pop and be more memorable for your site visitors.

Your Marketing

A lot of questions about your marketing have been answered in the questions about your business and your website. However, these questions will help determine where you want to spend your marketing efforts.

How important is search visibility to your business?

While some businesses feel that their website is only for people to evaluate them based on referral, most businesses benefit from a presence at the search engines. How important search is to you will help determine what type of investment you need to make.

According to a recent article from Infront Webworks the top 10 results on the first page get 91.5% of clicks, followed by 4.8%, 1.1%, and 0.4% respectively for each page that follows. Whether a lead is worth $10 to your business or $10,000, you can see the value of appearing on the first page for relevant searches. When trying to determine the budget for SEO, keep in mind the opportunity lost by not being on the first page.

In the chapter on SEO we’ll dig deeper into how you can reach the first page of search results for your targeted keywords.

Is your location important when it comes to search?

Google’s local search results show a “snack pack” of three local solutions.

These generally appear above the organic results. If your business is “geographically challenged,” then getting into the snack pack can be critical to your success. There’s a lot of factors that go into these results, from location to citations to reviews.

Again, in the SEO section we’ll look at more factors that impact whether you get into the snack pack.

What are some of the keywords & keyphrases that your ideal customer would use at Google to find a company, product, or service like yours?

This is a great brainstorming exercise that gets you thinking about how your potential customers really search for you.

What are the 5 – 10 most common questions you get from customers?

Think of the questions you get every day from customers. The questions about durability. The questions about how the product or service works. The questions about price. If you’re not sure, ask your sales team. Your customer service reps. Re-read your emails. Check the intake forms on your website.

If these people knew enough to ask you, that’s great! But think of the thousands who have the same question, but don’t know who to ask. Who do they ask? They ask Google. And if your answer is one of the best results, Google will drive all those people to your site.

Where does your audience hang out online?

Maybe they hang out on Facebook. Or Pinterest. Maybe there’s a Harley Davidson discussion forum where they spend most of their time. Or a forum for quilters. Maybe they like watching videos, or listening to podcasts, or reading the local paper online.

Wherever they hang out is where you need to hang out, too. And if it’s not a place you can hang out, maybe you can write articles there, or advertise or sponsor the content.

If you’re convinced they absolutely don’t hang out online, or at least spend most of their time offline, you may need to consider more traditional methods to drive traffic to your site, such as TV ads, billboards, and pony express.

If you’re not sure where they hang out, consider sending a survey to your current customer base, asking them where they spend most of their online time. You can create a free survey using Survey Monkey or Google Drive.

How many hours a week does your business have to put towards digital marketing?

This will help you prioritize what you’re going to focus on. There’s a big difference between being able to spend an hour a week and 10 hours a week on your digital marketing. If you don’t have much time, but need a lot of marketing, you may need to hire someone to write your content and promote it through social channels.

Do you like to write?

If so, writing blog posts, email newsletters, and white papers may be a great way to grow your business. If you hate writing, or you’re not a great writer, consider outsourcing this or finding a different platform to build credibility.

Do you like to speak?

If you like to speak, podcasts, webinars, or online videos might be a good fit.

Is your product, service, or other offering “demonstrable?”

If so, videos might help drive interest, traffic, and sales.

Your Assets

For this section you’re just trying to get a handle on everything you need when assembling your website. It’s kind of like putting out all the ingredients before you start cooking.

Do you have photos to use on the website?

While stock photography can fill the gaps, you’re not going to use stock photography for staff photos or the front of your building.

Do you have videos to use on the website?

In general, videos should be stored off site on YouTube or Vimeo, and then embedded in your website.

Do you have a copywriter on staff?

I cannot stress enough the importance of a copywriter. If you are not one by trade, employ one, hire a contractor, or use the one provided by your digital agency.

Do you have analytics for your current site?

Looking at how people are finding and using your current website can greatly improve the effectiveness of your new site.

For example, on a previous version of flyte’s website I had a page for every presentation topic I covered. I wanted to clean up the site and streamline it, so I planned to remove those pages and just list my featured topics on one page.

After reviewing my analytics, however, I saw that those individual pages were pulling in hundreds of new visitors a month to our site from the search engines. Needless to say, they were spared the ax.

What now?

At this end of this process, you should be crystal clear on the following items:

  • Who this website is for (your ideal customer)
  • Where you can reach them
  • What they are suffering from (problems, needs)
  • How your website can help solve or address their problems

Once you know the answers to these questions, a lot of the other pieces will fall into place.


The Lead Machine is available at Amazon in paperback or for Kindle. (It’s free if you have Kindle Unlimited, so what are you waiting for?)