Everybody needs a strategy, and since your website (probably) can’t think for itself, it’s going to be up to you to figure out what your website’s strategy is. So, what exactly is a website strategy and how do you get one? Whether you already have a website strategy you want to improve or you’re starting from scratch, we can help you get to where you need to be.
Today, we’ll talk about four pillars of focus for your website strategy:
- Defining your users
- Defining your user paths
- Defining your site structure
- Defining your content strategy
But first: what is a website strategy? In its most basic definition, a website strategy is the plan you’re following to achieve whatever goal it is you’ve set for yourself. Do you want to attract more visitors to your website? Do you want to increase users’ time on site? Do you want to sell more of a product or service on your website?
With a strategy in place, you can focus on actionable paths and items to achieve your wildest fantasies (okay, maybe they’re not all that wild). Having a strategy alone isn’t going to get you to where you need to be, though; you’re also going to need to execute on that strategy.
So, let’s begin with one of our four pillars to see just how we can begin building a strategy to execute.
Defining Your Users
Before you can think about what the goals are for your website, you need to think about the users for whom your site is built. Knowing your users, their goals, and how they use your website will guide you toward making decisions with them in mind, which helps you establish your website strategy.
Who is your current user base? How do they even use the website—on a phone, a tablet, or a computer?
If you’re selling a product or service, do you know who your customers are? Do they predominantly fall into a specific age group, and if so, are you tailoring your content to that age group?
If you don’t know the answers to questions like these, it’s time to dig into your analytics—whether those are specific to your website or, if you’re someone who sells a physical product or service in stores, extend to the real human people spending their time and money with you.
A helpful exercise to get the ball rolling is to define personas. A persona is a made-up representation of a person who uses, or may use, your site. Their behaviors and traits may be based in reality, but their names, photos, and personal details are generally a facsimile of their real-life counterparts.
You’ll want your personas to represent the users you either are already targeting and hope to retain or, possibly, new types of users who you are hoping to have walk through your virtual door.
Personas can be defined in several different ways: you can either utilize the existing data and analytics you have to establish your personas, or you can dive in a bit deeper and run interviews or focus groups with your existing user base. With the latter, you’ll be able to receive more real-world feedback, though not everybody will have the time and resources to run a focus group. Once your personas are defined, it’s time to figure out exactly how these users are supposed to work their ways through your website.
Defining Your User Paths
The moment you know your users and their needs, you can begin to map out the user paths. Defining your user paths is a massively important step of your website strategy. In fact, it should be done before beginning designs or even wireframes. You don’t want to just throw a hero there and a call to action there without thinking about whether or not those elements should even be on a page in the first place. A design process without fleshed out user flows runs the risk of turning out a scattered and confusing final product.
But, what is a user path? A user path, put succinctly, is the flow a user follows as they navigate your website. If your end goal is for a user to sign up for an email newsletter, how do they get from landing on your website to signing up for the newsletter? If your end goal is for a user to make a purchase, which path does the user follow to ensure they’re presented with all of the information they need to complete the transaction?
Based on your research, you should know the reasons your users are coming to your website. Whether it’s informational, to purchase products, to interact with a community, or any other number of reasons, your research should be able to tell you exactly who your users are and how they use your website.
That isn’t all you’ll want to know, though. As much as you need to serve the needs of your users on your website, you also need to serve the needs of your business. Don’t get so tied up in defining all of your user needs that you forget your own business needs.
You may have a new product or service launching that you’re going to want to push users towards, or you may be pivoting away from one aspect of your business to another. Without negatively affecting the experience for your existing users, you may need to focus on how to drive your own objectives; and these may be different from anything your users have talked about during your research phase.
It’s also important to consider brand new users. Your business objectives may be easy to communicate to the users you’ve had for years, but how will you communicate your objectives and goals to someone who is seeing your website for the first time? How will you educate, inform, and lead these brand new users so that they can follow the correct path to find what they need?
Another important factor to consider with brand new users is the way they got to your site in the first place. Did they see a promoted post on social media? Did they click on a paid ad somewhere else online? Did they find your site through an organic search?
The way users get to your site is important, as well, and may need to be tailored for each medium. For a user who finds your site through an organic search, the homepage may not be the first page they land on. Instead, they may see a single product page. For a promoted social media post or paid advertisement, you may want to send users to a landing page specific to the content of the ad rather than pushing them to the homepage without any guardrails. If your aim is to convert users to signups or purchases, you’ll want to ensure that you’re doing everything in your power to guide them to the correct spots from the very beginning.
The important thing to remember is to guide your users, whoever they are and however they reach your site, to meet two sets of goals: yours and theirs. Along the way, though, you need your website to act as a guide to get the user exactly where they need to be. You don’t want to push a newsletter signup or product purchase call to action too quickly. You’ll want to make sure the user has been provided with the proper information flow so that they can make an informed decision once they land at the final step of their intended user flow.
Defining Your Site Structure
So, now that you’ve got your user paths mapped out, it’s time to move on to thinking about your site structure. A decent amount of this work may be done for you already. If you already have a website, you should have a solid starting point. You may already know the pages and relationships you want to keep while identifying other pages that are low performers and can either be completely axed or swallowed up into other pages.
Another chunk of this work is going to be laid out by way of your work on user paths. By defining the paths you want your various users to follow, you’re going to essentially be creating something akin to a sitemap or flow chart of pages and content.
Don’t stop there, though. It’s great to have an understanding of your heavy hitters like your homepage, landing pages, and product pages. What about everything else, though? Are you going to be producing regular content with blog posts? Will you publish case studies, press releases, or other forms of content?
If so, where will this content live and how will a user find it? How will your various types of content interact with one another to bring the user along for the ride? If part of one of your user paths is to show a user a portfolio of your previous work, how are you going to drive them to that portfolio?
You’ll also want to think about when it’s important to show a user specific types of content. If you’re selling a product or service that lends itself to a portfolio page, you may want to bring the user to your portfolio page before driving them to product pages. If your goal is to educate users before leading them to a contact form, how will you structure the content so users can be sure they’ve exhausted their research before filling out a contact form?
Site and content structure are not just where the pages and posts live throughout your site, though. You’re going to want to think about how the content is laid out on individual pages, too. When a user comes to a landing page, especially if it’s their first time on the site, you’ll want them to feel like the content makes sense and provides them with enough information to make an informed decision as to where to go next.
Again, as with your user paths, don’t simply slap content into a website or even a single page without thinking through what that content actually means, what it says to a user, and how it guides them to meet their goals.
Defining Your Content Strategy
You know your users. You know how you want your users to use your site. You know how you’re going to arrange and structure the content on your site.
The last piece of the website strategy puzzle is to define your content strategy. By this point, you should know what types of content you’re going to be producing: blog posts, case studies, data visualizations, etc. So now it’s time to think about how, and for whom, that content is going to be produced.
Have you decided to write blog posts for your site? Great! Have you decided who these blog posts are for? Have you settled on a tone or style for these blog posts? Maybe not?
Having an additional content stream outside of landing pages and product listings is a wonderful way to bring users back to your site. While most of your content may be generally static and unchanging, blog posts could be published several times a week. Before you begin writing these posts, though, you need to nail down your audience and writing style.
Are you writing blog posts for users who have never heard of your products or services before? Will these posts be used as a means to educate folks on individual parts of your business before driving them to another part of your site? Will you only publish news and general company information? What about tutorials or real-life testimonials from customers who have used your products or services in the past?
If you’re going to be talking to your audience, how will you talk to them? Are “we” going to be doing something in these blog posts? Am “I” telling you how I’ve done something? Or am I telling “you” what to do and how to do it through a tutorial or educational post?
Keeping a consistent voice, tone, and style in your blog is going to be important so that your users know why they’re coming to your blog in the first place. Of course, you can have different categories of posts for different tones or purposes, but it’s important to know that upfront and to be able to drive users to those specific posts so that they don’t have to hunt and scavenge through your site to find their desired content.
Finally, don’t forget to nail down who is going to be writing your content. Are you a one-person shop running a small business? If so, can you realistically keep up with a steady stream of one or two blog posts a week? If you think you might run out of steam after a few months leaving an abandoned graveyard of decaying blog posts, then it might be beneficial to seek out a dedicated content person or team.
The content doesn’t end once a user leaves your website, either. You may find yourself needing videos, tweets, and stories produced and not enough time to produce them all yourself. Before you get in over your head and dedicate yourself to producing a high volume and/or high quality of content, make sure your plan is sustainable.
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of all of the things you need to think about and do when planning your website strategy. This is just the start of your journey!
What may be the most important piece of the puzzle to remember is this: not every website strategy is going to be the same. The process is going to be different and hold unique challenges for every website and project. You can’t apply a blanket set of rules to every website strategy project, but you can have a set of touchstones to point you in the right directions.
As long as you are thoughtful, listen to the demands and requirements of the project, and tailor your process and deliverables to each site, project, or client then you’ll find the overall rhythm that works for you while still providing an exceptional and distinct end product. When you’re ready to discuss and build your website strategy, contact us. Let’s work together to define your course of action.