10 things I wish I knew before my first website project

Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? There are members of the team at Patch who have been developing websites and project managing them for decades, and boy is there a lot to consider. Whether you’re a business owner or a marketing professional about to brief and project manager your first web build, we’ve put together our guide on cutting the annoying and time-sucking blips from your project, utilising everything we’ve learned over the years – oh, if we knew then what we know now…

If you think you’ve got everything you need, you probably haven’t

We’re not pessimists, promise. We just know humans suffer from optimism bias and most are likely to be optimistic that they have everything, or at least can get it quickly if they don’t. This often isn’t the case and missing pieces are one of the most common causes of delays on web design and development projects.

Make sure you’ve got a clear project scope before you even start thinking about doing anything. This should include deadlines, expectations and every single thing that’s needed for the project. Everything. From logos and colour palettes, images, copy to hosting, APIs and integrations: write down every small (or large) thing that you need from other parties – you don’t want to create something wonderful and then be held up on your deadline because some images from a supplier aren’t ready.

Create a project plan

Yes, you do really need one. Make a project plan, include every person who has to submit something, let them know their deadlines, provide reminders and countdowns: everyone is a link in the chain. Nobody in the chain thinks that a slight delay on their part is going to be problematic – but if you’ve got ten people in the chain with each of them thinking the same way, it’s going to cause big delays. Hold people accountable.

Think about the ‘what ifs’

When it comes to building a website there are a lot of scenarios in which a particular action should equal a particular response. For example, if a user clicks ‘Submit’ on a form, their data needs to go somewhere, and the website owner should be informed of a new enquiry.

Each one of these scenarios should be mapped out: when somebody makes a purchase, we’d like to send them a confirmation email. Or from an internal perspective, when a product or blog image is uploaded that doesn’t fit our standard dimensions, it will be automatically cropped. All of these little details should be in your initial plans from the get-go.

We like to map out processes as diagrams for our clients. This means we have a visual of ‘what ifs’ for their website and allows us to stress test processes and scenarios to ensure that everything is well-considered and functional before it’s even built.

Know your users

As with any area of marketing, you need to know exactly who you’re dealing with. Your product is your product – and we hope you’ve got that bit down – but don’t forget that there’s a lot to consider when it comes to user experience and customer journeys online, too.

It’s tempting to choose specific layouts or features because they look good, but ultimately, there’s a lot more to it. Does it reflect your brand personality and values? Does it lead your visitors on the right journey? Am I reaching my targets in a way that appeals?

Think about different segments within your target market and break them down into groups: are they going to take different actions, or move around your website differently based on their interests or motivations? Consider buyer personas for the different users of your website.

The psychology of UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) is not to be sniffed at: there are reasons we like the things we like, follow particular patterns, choose particular colours, click on certain things and not others.

We encourage our clients to define their typical customer personas and customer journeys so they can understand who their users are and what’s going to work for their market. We often hear from one of our Directors at Patch that ‘it’s not about what you like, it’s about what your customers like’ – remember to keep this in mind throughout the entire process.

It’s important not to get wrapped up in personal tastes and preferences as you are probably not representative of your entire target market. You rarely see Michael O’Leary (CEO of Ryanair) wearing a combination of blue and yellow, at Patch we doubt Mike even likes blue and yellow, we know he’s a clever businessman and probably chose that clashing colour scheme because it resonates budget.

Do your research

On that note, if you’re not somebody who knows about UX and UI as marketing disciplines, do some research before you start your brief. This will give you some core principles and help build an understanding of what works and what doesn’t – and more importantly, why.

When we recommend research, we don’t just mean reading about UX and looking at competitor sites you are fond of, though. We encourage you to perform research within your market and industry and if you have time, perform some quantitative research on your existing website. There are some great conversion rate optimisation tools that will allow you to analyse user behaviour on your current site and determine what works and what doesn’t – all backed up by quantitative data.

Before you create a brief, get a thorough understanding of your market, what’s currently working on your site and what’s not. Combine that with a little knowledge in UX best practice and you’re in a great position to write a top-notch brief. All you have to do then is choose a web design and development agency to bring your brief to life.

You need to think about SEO from the start

Once again, your new website might be beautiful and shiny but if it’s not purpose-serving and nobody can find it, you’ve got a problem.

It’s surprisingly uncommon to see web developers and SEOs go hand-in-hand until post-build. This approach is, quite frankly, a waste of time because all it will do is present your lovely new website with problems as soon as you’ve launched it.

Ensure that your website is SEO-ready from the get-go and throughout the build and you’ll save yourself a whole load of time and problems. When you’re thinking about a layout, make sure it’s mobile-friendly. Make sure all of your copy is optimised with the right keywords, give every page metadata before it goes live, add alt tags to your images when you upload them, make sure it’s compatible with multiple browsers and, for the love of God, create a proper sitemap.

Last but definitely not least, don’t forget to ensure that actions have been taken to minimise loss of rankings if your new site is replacing an old one.

Content is king

It doesn’t really matter how good your website’s design is if people can’t get what they need from it and are therefore not converting. Your content should not only be SEO-good-to-go, but also valuable, informative and engaging.

We live in a world of short attention spans and in which everything has a sense of urgency – I want this now – so try not to go for anything too clunky or involving lots of design gimmicks because ultimately if people can’t get the information they need, they’re outta here and your bounce rate is going to show it. This is the key to conversion and engagement around your site and will encourage your visitors to follow that marvellous UX journey you’ve designed for them.

In case you weren’t aware, your bounce rate will impact your rankings – so there is more to lose than a visitor when someone bounces.

Test your heart out – and try to break things

Avoid delays by testing properly. If you find bugs, fix them and test again. Repeat the process over and over until you’re satisfied that users aren’t going to be presented with anything that doesn’t quite sit right.

It’s also important to ensure that features are robust and that we know what happens under unusual circumstances. For example, we know how we would expect a customer to fill in a form to download a resource. Name goes in name, number in number, and so on. But what happens if mandatory fields are missed, or special characters are added? What do we want to happen if this occurs? Test for every eventuality.

Think about the mobile experience

Ensuring that your website is responsive to different devices brings together key areas of both SEO and UX. In July 2019, Google chose to begin prioritising mobile-friendly websites in favour of those that aren’t, in an update known as ‘mobile-first’. This has a direct impact on rankings.

Secondly, we all know that users are spending more time than ever on mobile devices and a large proportion of search now happens away from desktop. If you’re not considering this, you’re really missing a trick (and honestly we’re concerned for you). 

A website is never finished

Once you’ve launched your website, perhaps even got it ranking well and you love it, your work is not over.

Insights into user experience are constantly evolving – as is your business, hopefully – and times change. Once you have data from your new website, use it to your advantage. Use it to figure out which pages are working well and why, which aren’t and why, and remember to keep track of your SEO data, too – although you’re obviously making SEO optimisations and updates regularly, right? Right?

Still got questions about your upcoming website development project? Get in touch to speak to a member of our experienced team if you’re after some advice.

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