How to develop a great branded website

SUMMARY: The mistake that most marketing people make when developing a website is that they try too hard to sell at a time when consumers don’t want to be sold.

Before any brand begins the process of developing a website, they first need an in-depth understanding of their target audience. They also need to determine just how important a website will be in converting consumers into customers. One could argue, for example, that a website for frozen pizza is not as important as a website selling bicycles.

Your website IS your brand

If people are coming to your website they are raising their hand and saying “I want to know more about the products you sell”. A bad website experience can leave them frustrated and, more importantly, can lead to a lost customer.

If you can convince management that your website is really important to your brand you can’t afford to take shortcuts to develop your brand storefront. Developing an online brand experience takes careful planning and is best done using a process that leads to a great online experience.

The proces of developing a great branded website

Step 1: DiscoveryAn in-depth exploration of current-state activities, assets, process, metrics and future-state needs and wants. This phase typically involves business driver identifications to ensure success.

Step 2: Assessment – Review the business, financial and marketing issues that are driving the website.  Project objectives, deliverables, milestones, assumptions, risks. 

Step 3: Strategy Develop a strategic plan that addresses the business and brand needs to formally set direction.  Formally define and communicate the business and marketing objectives, strategic approach and measurement criteria. Reach consensus on “success” definition and measurement.

Step 4: Proposed Solutions Translate findings from the strategy and recommend into tangible solutions. The complete solutions are defined: 

What we are going to do ? 

How it will be measured ?

How are we going to directly meet consumer and brand needs ?

Step 5: Website Design Create the design. Identify specific pages or templates needed, the individual elements that make up the pages, and how those pages will fit together.  Define who will develop content. Define where assets used on website will come from (i.e. images, logo’s). A warning here..this is usually when other people want to get involved and their input can derail a great branded website.

Step 6: The Project Plan The project plan is the bridge between the strategic and executional components of the process.  It is the culmination of all the business and brand planning that captures our target markets needs and objectives of the website.

Step 7: Creative Development – Creative teams will start on creative deliverables and begin the development process. Included in this effort will be brand input sessions, creative concepts and designs, content deck, style guide, creative reviews, and initial discussions regarding usability and testing.

Step 8: Building the website – Development and testing of a solution is based on approved solutions, specifications and designs. Initial testing of the framework of the website, such as wireframes and navigational map.

Step 9: Testing the website Throughout the development process you should always engage our target audience in usability testing. This is a critical stage of the development, and informs the final build.  Upon completion of the initial build, you should immediately begin testing and a quality assurance process.  This will consist of multiple rounds of testing and review and include testing on multiple browsers (i.e. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari) and formats (mobile & smart phone platforms).

Important things to remember:

1ne: It’s essential that you get buy-in BEFORE you start and in ever phase of your website development.

2wo: Don’t let people who are not key stakeholders derail your progress. Ensure you have data to back-up everything you are doing.

3hree: Don’t assume that when your website launches you’re done. You need to optimize the site as you analyze website metrics.

4our: When communicating website metrics be sure to go beyond the numbers. For example, a website with a lot of visitors may seem great, but if your bounce rate is 89% you have a problem.

5ive: Don’t fall into the content trap. If you sell canned vegetables do you really need a lot of content?

6ix: Social marketing is dead but people still like to share things on social media. Give them the tools to share web pages and content.

7even: Don’t feel that you need to spend a lot of money on paid search Consumers are smart enough to type in brand.com to get to your website.

8ight: Make it easy for people to contact you and make sure you answer in Internet time.

This all sound easier than it really is. It took me weeks, sometimes, to generate buy-in and get the dollars I needed to develop a kick-ass website. Even usability testing can yield huge strategic mistakes but a lot of brands skip this for budget reasons.

How to develop a great branded website