Successful websites are relevant, fresh and give visitors a reason to return time and again. Achieving this requires more than slapping together a site using some keywords, graphics and content that promises quality products at a low price. (How many times have you heard this claim, anyway?) Maintaining an engaging website is a commitment if you expect it to inspire visitors to act, and search engines to respond favorably.
Information design is the blueprint for your website–it’s the “floor plan” that includes your site’s navigation and how content is organized on site pages, and it’s the first step to executing a successful new website design. If you think about it, website design a lot like building a house. Would you worry about the color/style of the carpet, walls and counters before anything else? Or, would you review the floor plan with the builder to make sure that the home will include all of the spaces you need? With website design, this infrastructure is reviewed using a grayscreen website prototype, allowing us (the designer) and you (the client) to focus on the most important aspect of your new website: information design.
This post was originally published in May 2014. In August 2017 we updated it to reflect the latest thinking on how to set successful goals for your site. We’ve also added an explanatory video with a transcript.
When planning a new website, it’s understandable that you might want to jump ahead to the “fun stuff” and brainstorm ideas for advanced features. You might find yourself looking at other websites for ideas about digital bells and whistles you want to add. But features and graphics should not be your starting point—you should first list your goals and objectives for the site.
While increased website sales or traffic may seem to be obvious marketing goals, you’ll quickly find they’re meaningless if you don’t assess the objectives necessary to achieve the results you want.
A website is not a Field of Dreams like in the famous movie: you can’t just “build it and they’ll come.”
A successful site requires an effective, sustained marketing strategy beyond presenting a collection of products, services, images, videos or other files. That means your website design should be focused on specific goals, along with measurable objectives to attain them.
Your marketing goals will differ depending on the nature of the work you do. For example, a primary goal for a business offering professional services to other companies might be to generate more leads. Conversely, an art or photography site might focus on attractively showcasing new work or selling it online.
Where to Start
Regardless of your business, start by listing specific website goals and corresponding objectives that fit your overall marketing strategy and capabilities. Examples might include:
Goal: Becoming an authoritative resource.
Objectives: Providing quality content on your website, regularly adding new information, establishing trust, marketing your site on other websites and social media.
Goal: Improve interaction with existing and potential customers.
Objectives: E-mail marketing lists, online support (live chat), webinars, and content designed to give your visitor a reason to come back.
Goal: Build your brand.
Objectives: Active social media program, promotions, reputation management.
The objectives shown above are examples; you could write completely different objectives to achieve the same goals.
Nor are they exclusive. For instance, while we mentioned “establishing trust” under “Becoming an authoritative source,” establishing trust is also a key issue to increasing sales.
The Overlooked Goal
In developing your website goals, it’s vital to consider your ideal visitor. Clients often fall back on “our buyers are diverse,” but a website aimed at everyone may attract no one.
Your content needs to instantly appeal to your ideal visitors, convince them you are worthy of their time, and make it easy for them to take the next step.
For example, if you sell highly technical products to engineers, artsy slide shows or animations are not likely to succeed. The engineer will be more interested a bullet list of key features, educational content to help solve a problem, downloadable specifications or dimensional drawings, or an easy way to request a quote.
Your list of goals and objectives also need to match your organization’s capabilities. It’s easy to say “we need to be on Instagram,” but do you have the resources and staff to spend several hours a week on a creative, sustained social media campaign that engages followers?
If the answer is no, consider other options such as a press release program, an opt-in email news list, a series white papers, a regular newsletter, or similar that better suit your ability to produce compelling content.
Part of your planning should consider how to measure the success of your new website. Converting a first-time visitor into a customer is rare. You’ll need to establish a few objectives to measure whether or not your new strategies are successful, and start adjusting if they fall short.
You should benchmark where you’re starting from. Then, once you implement your new site, measure the changes. (We provide specifics on measurable objectives and benchmarks in this post.)
An attractive website is not enough to achieve your marketing goals. While your web designer can help you create a website that works, you need to start by listing the strategic goals and objectives for your site.
By establishing a realistic list of goals and measurable objectives, as well as always keeping your ideal visitor in mind, you’ll greatly increase your chances of online success.
Setting Successful Website Goals: Video Transcript
Hi. I’m Scott de Fasselle of Blitz Media Design in Dayton, Ohio, sharing our guide to setting successful website goals. In this presentation, I’ll cover the common approach to setting website goals and why it doesn’t work, how to set the right goals for your company, common challenges, and a few benefits you might not expect.
Are you planning to redo your company website?
Do you want to set goals to make your new website more successful?
You’re probably unsure of how to best do that. Right?
Don’t worry. You’re not alone. We’ll show you how that uncertainty leads many companies down the wrong path, a path that leads you to wasting thousands of dollars. Let’s start there.
The Path of Wasted Money.
Over the years, I’ve seen so many companies make the following mistakes. I don’t want to see you make them. Here’s how to avoid that.
When you’re planning a new website, what wastes money?
First, setting generic goals. Secondly, looking at other websites in your market. Third, listing features and pages. Finally, focusing on the tools.
Why do those waste money?
Here’s an example of setting a generic goal.
If you’re a nonprofit, that generic goal is often more donations. Now, if you’re a business, that’s likely more sales or more clients.
The problem here is that these goals are far too broad. That leaves too much room for interpretation, which often leads your team to work in different directions.
It’s natural to be curious about what other companies and organizations in your market are doing online. But it’s important to remember that different companies have different goals for their online marketing.
Regardless of the goals, approximately 90% of websites fail to provide a return on investment. Think of it this way. Would you go to the boss and say, “I’ve got an idea that’s going to cost thousands of dollars, and it probably has a 10% chance of working?” I don’t think so. But that’s what many people do when they use other companies’ websites as guidance for what they should do.
Next, listing features and pages. What I mean by this is you might begin planning a website by making a list of pages you need such as What We Do, Who We Serve, About Us. That will lead you to thinking about all the features you want on those pages, like a photo slideshow, links to all of your social media accounts, and so on. It’s really easy to go far down this path without realizing it. But your goal isn’t to have a website full of text, photos, and features all about you. The goal is to motivate your audience to take the next step, call, submit a web inquiry, buy online, make a donation, etc. The features and pages need to serve the goal. It seems like a subtle difference, but it can have a significant impact in the end.
When you’re thinking and planning the pages and features of your website, it’s natural to discuss the tools to make everything.
You might innocently suggest that you really should use something you’ve heard everyone is using. That often comes out as, “We have to use,” fill in the blank. “We have to use Facebook. We have to use WordPress. We have to use,” etc.
Every tool works. Not every tool is right for you and what you are working to accomplish.
Now that we’ve covered the traps to avoid, you’re probably wondering, “How should I start? How do I set the right goals?”
Let’s start by making your goals specific.
“More donations” is okay as a starting point. Push beyond that by asking questions like, who’s giving the donations? How many more donations? Are the donations money, time, or products?
So who is the focus of your goal?
If you could only focus on one person, who would that be? Why? Why are they motivated to donate? Are they donating money, time, or products? Why? What are they worried about? How can you help them?
Next, ask, are your goals measurable?
When you say “more donations,” how much is “more?” How will you measure? Google Analytics, call tracking, landing pages? Who is responsible for tracking and measuring the data? What past data do you have?
Discussions around these questions will help you create a clear and specific goal to guide other decisions you’ll make for your online marketing.
Answering the previous questions seems pretty straightforward, but there are some unseen challenges you’re likely to encounter
What could get in your way?
First, your resources.
There are two fundamental assets that everyone has, time and money, and obviously no one has an unlimited supply of either. Here’s how you could approach the following situations.
If you have more time than money, ask yourself, “Who in our organization has the time and skills to help us toward our goal?”
On the other hand, if you have more money than time, consider, how much would you invest to achieve your goal? Is the money we have to invest in this project enough to achieve our goal? Who’s the right partner to hire internally, or as an outside company?
Let’s imagine that you’ve decided to hire an outside company.
Your agency or freelancer could get in the way of your goal.
Here are a few things you can look for. Are they only interested in seeing websites you like, how many pages the website will be, tools like WordPress? Remember these traps from Slides 10, 11, and 12? Agencies are often guilty of these mistakes too. Or do they ask questions to understand you and why you’re pursuing this goal? This is desirable because they should have as clear an understanding of your goal as anyone employed in your company. Have they helped others with similar goals?
Finally, one of the biggest traps is waiting for you at what seems like the end of the project, thinking the website is done.
It’s exciting when the new website is launched. That excitement goes away after a little while. If you don’t update text, images, or pages, you’ll soon be embarrassed about what’s missing and how out-of-date certain things are.
If this goes on for long enough, you’ll end up needing to throw the whole website out and start over from scratch. That’s definitely not efficient with your time and money.
Instead, with a little shift in mindset, you can avoid that by seeing this as a starting point. With your new website online, you can measure your progress toward your goal. This mindset can create tremendous benefits for your company.
In addition to that benefit, there are a couple more. Let’s look at the benefits of pushing through.
First, fewer arguments.
When you have a clear and common goal, it takes future decisions out of the subjective, because decisions can be discussed objectively.
Imagine Bob in HR wants, fill in the blank, on the homepage. Requests like these are frequently subjective. When you approach this subjectively, it can lead to power struggles, debates, and then someone saying, “Hey, Bob got his thing on the homepage. I want my thing on there too.” The end result is everyone ends up frustrated because of something that almost certainly doesn’t serve the common goal. Now, if you approach this request objectively with the goal in mind, you can have an intelligent discussion. Ask, “How does Bob’s idea help us toward our goal? How could we add to his idea? What if…”
By asking similar and open-ended questions, you’ll enjoy collaborative conversations, rather than arguments.
In addition to objective discussions, you’ll have less uncertainty.
Because if you’re measuring what’s working, not working, and what could be better, your team can make educated decisions and adjustments to your site.
I know this is a lot to take in, so here are two simple next steps for you.
First, select three to five people to discuss the goal for your new website. Then, review Slides 14, 15, and 16, and ask additional open-ended questions.
As you get a clear idea of your goal, start pursuing it with free insight specific to you.
Schedule your free 30-minute conversation with my business partner and father, Craig, and me. You can reach us by calling 937-985-1510, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.