When trying to design a great website it is very easy to focus on making something aesthetically pleasing while forgetting to make sure that the website also achieves your business’ online goals. This is why a well thought-out strategy is crucial to the success of any digital design project. Regardless of brand or industry, having a strategy in place so that you’re able to identify business objectives and determine what tactics you will need to accomplish them is necessary. The process of building out an efficient strategy can be complex, so it makes sense to break it down into three phases:
Phase 1: Discovery
The initial stage of developing a strategy is heavily focused on research, so that we have an informed understanding of client needs. By doing a deep dive to learn about the industry, the competitive landscape, and the business, we gather details necessary for a successful kickoff and have a targeted set of questions for the client’s edification. A mix of both qualitative and quantitative research such as examining current website metrics, engaging in competitive analysis, and having conversations with stakeholders will provide us with findings that will be relevant throughout the entire strategy process.
When it comes to qualitative research, we speak with key stake holders that the client has identified to grasp how the web design or web redesign will play a role in their job. Whether it’s the CEO, CMO, or various members of the marketing or sales teams, having a clear understanding of needs from the website is imperative, so we host stakeholder interviews. We’ll ask questions such as, “How does your offline sales process fit in with online efforts?” or “What are the key customer pain points your website should address?” Having an understanding of what employees think about the website and where it can be improved can also provide vital design insights that will help the website generate more sales for your business. Often, this will guide us to opportunities that enhance the site. For example, some businesses may have employees that are on the road and need to access a database that is hosted through the website—in that instance, a sales extranet may be a good fit and increase productivity for the business’ employees.
This portion of research also uncovers how the website can become an effective tool for everyone at the company to help address the current specific needs of their job. Similarly, we examine more closely the future intentions for the website, and try to understand why the client feels the need to change it. By making sure that we are appropriately aligned with the needs this project needs to fulfill, we can determine the best ways to create a site that addresses every pain point that the client currently has with the site and what might pose a headache in the future.
Every website wants to achieve the conversion goals that have been outlined—even if they aren’t an ecommerce website; conversion could mean simply directing them to a physical location. During this phase of the process, we’ll work with our clients to figure out exactly what the conversion is. This enables us to identify the best way to put our clients’ customers through the buyer journey with as little room for error as possible. We’ll also examine writing and marketing needs to identify what is currently occurring online and offline, and where this aspect of their marketing strategy needs to go. Looking at exactly how items are currently sold provides us with insights that help us shape the way the website should be organized, and how the users will access it.
On the other end of the discovery phase is quantitative research. At this point, our goal is to gather high-level findings that are backed up by statistics. Often, we’ll be interested in research related to the target audience, so we want concrete data that is going to provide forward-looking insights on how to best reach them. To gather numbers related to the needs of our target audience, we’ll develop surveys through a platform such as Survey Monkey, and disseminate it across email or social platforms to get as much data as possible. By connecting our questions with the users we’re targeting, we get valuable data that a client may not have been aware of before. Conducting our own research with each new initiative gives us supporting quantitative data that leaves us with unbiased findings that can eventually be used as a basis for decision-making related to design elements, calls-to-action, navigation, and other items that users may want to see or avoid on the website.
Being thorough with our research is incredibly important—especially during this phase, so that we can identify exactly what it is that needs to be examined in the strategy.
Phase 2: Audit
The culmination of the discovery phase brings us to the first audit—the first real deliverable that we present to the client. It’s at this point that we take all of our insights from the "Discovery" phase and use them to put together a coherent and actionable audit plan based on a plethora of different analyses so we know which areas to pinpoint more analyses on. For example, if the client is a start-up, we will look closely at other similar business models and do a more thorough branding audit to make sure their pending presence in the digital space stands out and can compete with both the Davids and Goliaths of their marketplace.
Several online tools can be a huge help when it comes to finding relevant information and determining areas of improvement. With Google Analytics, you can hone in on existing site performance (if applicable) and see firsthand what’s working and what’s not. During this part of the audience analysis, where the core goal is to really study the behavior of the users, we’ll sometimes look for reoccurring areas of the website where users are dropping off, or certain keywords that aren’t performing. We look to find out the driving need for why users visit their website, identify any issues the client has with the current one, and come up with ways we can solve them. From there, we can generate ideas on how to best increase results and foster business growth from the project at hand. When conducting a competitive analysis, we do a thorough examination of what we can learn from client competition — both failures and successes - to get a stronger indication of what actions we should be taking. We compare our findings to industry averages to gauge what is appropriate or what is not. For example, if the bounce rate is high on the current website, or there are low conversions when visitors access the site through a certain channel. Taking these metrics and then looking at eMarketer, a digital marketing data aggregation service, helps us find industry benchmarks to see if what we’ve found on the client website is occurring for other companies within the industry as well.
To highlight all of our findings from the audit, we’ll include key takeaways from each aspect discussed, so that we can present the client with various areas for conversion improvement, and how we can achieve “stickiness,” so users continue to visit a website over and over again, ideally leading to the outlined goal that clients want users to fulfill.
Phase 3: Strategy
Once the audit has been presented, it’s time to move on to the web strategy phase. At this point, we focus on taking the insights found in the audit and fleshing them into actionable recommendations that integrate into various creative and design elements.
During the strategy phase, we create a conversion funnel that will reflect the buyer journey and how the consumer will likely go through the decision-making process. At the top is the awareness phase, where a user is not sure of their problem or if they need a solution. In the middle of the funnel are users who know what they need and are actively researching who has the right solution for them. Finally, at the bottom of the funnel are users that know what they want and which company they want, and simply need to be presented with a clearly defined direct path to conversion. If content aimed towards one area of the funnel is placed incorrectly it may prove to be useless. For example, placing a “buy now” button in a location where the customer has likely spent only a few seconds on your site and is definitely not ready to make a purchase is not going to convert to a sale. Consumers should be guided into the buying process and offered content depending on what stage they are at, and then guided down the funnel to get them closer to converting.
Also during this phase, we work with other departments at our agency to enhance the recommendations we are making. Typically, strategists will collaborate with members of the information architecture team to collaborate on user flows and pathways, or calls-to-action that will support both usability and web conversions. At other times, bringing in a graphic designer to offer creative recommendations and show inspiration behind the branding concepts will help the visualization of the web design project, and bring it to life.
Effective Processes Drive Achievements
When developing a strategy, every action is always supported and backed up by specific business objectives that clients are looking to achieve. By conducting thorough research, analyzing the insights found, and applying them to recommended action items, we can align our clients for success.