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The process of building company website – part 1: Planning

10-05-2010, Category Web Design

Companies build their websites relatively rarely – usually at the very beginning of their business activity and then approximately every 3-4 years depending on environment changes. By environment I mean technology (e.g. display resolutions), current trends (e.g. fashion for videos) as well as competitiveness because it is important never to stay behind competitors.
Moreover, also significant changes within an organization such as rebranding or major labour turnovers (a new Board of Directors or a new Marketing Department) often require the creation of a new website.

Due to the fact that this website-building process does not occur often, not all marketers are familiar with it. This makes the creation of websites, which are the basic tools of e-marketing, a unique opportunity.

Planning

The aims of a company’s website should be determined while creating a brief, which is an extensive query directed at an interactive agency. Because all decisions made at this stage should be noted down it is worth including them in a document which would have to be prepared anyway.

Planning a company’s website requires knowing the answers to the following questions:

What are the aims of the website?

A company website normally has a few aims. Some of the most common are:

  • generating new sales leads (attracting prospective customers)
  • building brand awareness (of a company or product)
  • sales (handling orders, possibly online payments, etc.)
  • post-sales services (technical support, complaints)
  • providing information about certain customer-related issues (e.g. within FAQ)
  • handling communication with business partners
  • extending the distribution network (by acquiring new sales representatives)
  • PR activities (publishing press announcements and texts for journalists)
  • managing the recruitment process (publishing new job offers, colleting applications)
  • carrying out statutory duties (providing information on public companies, publishing tenders)
  • managing any other processes which are typical for the company.

Who are the addressees of the particular content?

The key issue is to specify the target group, at the same time also possibly dividing it into sub-groups. This will influence all aspects of solutions which are currently being worked on. Not only do target users need to be listed (named), but they also need to be defined as precisely as possible in terms of their demographic features (such as age, gender, origin, education, income) as well as psychographic features (e.g. their particular Internet usage, decision making processes, etc.).
Sub-groups should be further described in terms of differences between them. Moreover, it is worth determining who the different types of content will be directed at.

What types of content will be published on the pages?

Although all modern websites enable their authors to freely modify the structure of the subpages, it is a good idea to design the structure of information at an early stage. First of all, planning the structure and determining the number of levels of web pages might prove to be helpful in designing the website’s navigation.
Second of all, planning the overall structure could help to predict what additional functions might also be useful.

Such a tentative structure can be illustrated in the form of an ordinary numbered list, e.g.:

1. About company
1.1. Mission
1.2. History
1.3. Management Board
2. Offer
2.1. Product Group A
2.1.1. Product A1
2.1.2. Product A2
2.1.3. Product A3
2.2. Product Group B
2.2.1. Product B1
3. Testimonials
4. Partners
5. Customer Service
5.1. Technical Support
5.2. FAQ
5.3. Complaints
6. Career
6.1. Career in the company
6.2. Job offers
7. Press Service
7.1. Press releases
7.1.x. Chosen release
7.2. Files to download
8. Contact

The easiest way to imagine the structure of a website is in the form of a tree. That is the reason why I suggest designing such a structure using Microsoft Office PowerPoint, namely the function to create hierarchies (“Insert SmartArt graphic” => “Hierarchy” => “Organization schema”).

structure chart

When designing the structure it is a good idea to communicate with those employees at the company who will be responsible for delivering information to particular sections of the website. Urging co-workers to prepare materials for the new website is one of the most difficult tasks in the whole process!

What functions should the company website have?

The basic functionality which a company website must have is simply displaying the main page and all subpages according to a given structure by means of a given navigation (menu).
All other mechanisms are additional features which need to be described thoroughly in order achieve the desired effect.
Some examples of the most popular additional functions are as follows:

  • forms processing (contact or complaint forms)
  • news (displayed in chronological order)
  • product catalogue (product base according to a given hierarchy as well as the corresponding database)
  • self-promotional banners
  • sales network in terms of regions (e.g. navigated by a map)
  • internal search engine
  • user management (areas restricted only to logged users)
  • newsletter
  • price calculator
  • handling particular processes (orders, complaints, recruitment, etc.)

What are the guidelines for the website layout?

It is of utmost importance to remember that a marketer does not design a website for himself – the new website must be functional and attractive for the target users. On the other hand, however, the marketer’s superiors are most likely to judge the website subjectively and the author should also be satisfied with their own work. The conclusion is to have a number of people judge a project visually. At the end there always will be people unhappy with the website’s appearance but then at least the “fault” can be spread across all parties.

The designer’s scope of action and freedom is often determined by the corporate identity and can sometimes be clearly defined in form of a code book (or brand book). In other cases one will need to collect many materials, such as leaflets, folders, adverts and presentations, which can all be used as reference.

However, the website designer should not be given too much freedom. The less precise the requirements for the project’s style and character, the longer it will take to prepare the proposed versions of the layout.
In order to avoid this one should include in the brief some links to websites which could serve as positive examples. Here the aim is not to encourage graphic designers to plagiarize ideas but rather to demonstrate the possible features of a project similar to our expectations.

What should the website management be like?

Most companies, especially small and medium ones, have only one website administrator – usually a young employee in the marketing department who either agreed or even asked to become the admin, often unaware of what awaits him or her.
The admin receives orders from different departments and makes appropriate changes on the website. He’s the one that gets the blame for the lack of new information, whereas he usually has no real ability to obtain the necessary materials from other co-workers.
More extensive company websites usually have more administrations, e.g. the PR department is responsible for the press section, HR for publishing job offers and Sales for information directed at the company’s business partners.

It occurs quite often that in spite of applying CMS (Content Management System), which is very use to use, a company decides to have their website administered by a third party. Sending e-mails to the agency which designed the website with respect to the content and information needed to be published relieves the company’s human resources from these tasks. It also ensures that the content is published as soon as possible – suffice it to say, who could administer a website better than its authors?

Information architecture?

Designing the navigation, determining the order of contents on each page, minimizing the number of clicks, redirecting users to the most important information – these are also the elements which need to be well thought out at the design stage. But they are the website designer’s tasks – meaning they apply to his part of the designing process which can be commenced once the agreement is signed.

This article continues in the second part – “Technology and contractor choice“.

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