Strategic Website Planning: Part 2

Last Month, in Strategic Website Planning: Part 1, we covered the first two steps in our Strategic Website Planning process for Marketing & E-commerce websites. This month, we will continue with two more steps, followed by some modifications for Web and Mobile Applications.

3. Competitor Analysis

There are two types of “competitors” we like to consider in our website planning process. First are what you probably think about when you identify who your competitors are. These are companies, products, services, churches, charities, etc. that your prospective customers choose instead of choosing to spend their time and money with you. Second are competitors in the sense that they compete with you for traffic, ­primarily search traffic.

When someone is looking for “restaurants in New Albany, Ohio,” all restaurants show up on the list, including Rosa & Rocco’s (a nice Italian restaurant) and McDonalds. Those two probably don’t usually consider each other competitors because of how different the dining experience is, but Rosa & Rocco’s needs to keep an eye on McDonalds because of where they show up in the search results, pushing them down lower on the page, or even to the second page. It’s always interesting to see when Wikipedia, Youtube, IMDb, or some other popular website ranks highly for one of our clients’ keywords-­-­those behemoth websites become competitors!

We look at competitor websites in numerous ways including:

  • ● Where they show up in the search results for various keyword phrases
  • ● How well-­branded their websites are
  • ● What features each offers to visitors
  • ● When was the last website re-­design
  • ● Does the site work well on mobile devices
  • ● What are the calls to action, and what goals does the site appear to have
  • ● Who is doing something successfully from which we can learn

We don’t look to imitate the competitors, but it is important to know how competitors are positioning themselves on the web. It’s entirely possible that one large competitor dominates the search results, so we may want to take another approach to driving traffic. Or maybe all of our competitors offer online donations, so we should really offer them as well.

Just as you would want to understand the competitive landscape offline, including who is locating a business near yours or in the same industry, you should know the same about the competitive landscape online.

4. Brand Messaging

We will get into Content Planning and Design in future posts, but before we do, it is important for you to know who you want to be as a company and how your products and services will be perceived by customers. Some questions you may ask yourself are:

  • ● Do you have a high-­end luxury brand, catering to wealthy individuals, or are you trying to be the Walmart of your industry, competing on price, inventory and selection?
  • ● Do you want your customers to feel relaxed and comforted by your products, or energized and active?
  • ● Should your company look like a Fortune 500 enterprise, or a small boutique store?
  • ● Do you offer anything and everything your customers may want, or are you specializing in just one or two products?

Branding is a unique discipline that requires thoughtful consideration and introspection. This piece needs to be completed before developing content (copy, photography, etc.) or designing a logo and website. All too often, clients rush through branding and end up with a logo and website that don’t reflect who the company is or wants to be. If you want to skip branding, you may consider GoDaddy’s website builder.

Planning Web and Mobile Applications

Web applications are websites that have richer functionality than a typical marketing/lead generation sites. Think of this as the difference between a law firm’s public-­facing website and a social network like Facebook. Clearly, Facebook has much more user interaction, business logic and complex functionality. The law firm’s site follows the typical structure of a marketing/lead generation site, whereas Facebook has built many unique tools and combined rich functionality in a way different from other websites and web applications.

Mobile applications are similar to web applications (at least from a planning standpoint), but they are downloaded from an app store such as the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and thus have unique marketing and distribution considerations. Most mobile apps also have a web application running behind the scenes, providing much of the data storage and processing done by the mobile app, so the web application planning process applies to mobile apps as well.

When planning a web or mobile application, we are frequently solving a problem in a unique way, not how it has been solved in the past. For this reason, our process is heavier in data architecture and user interaction design.

Data Architecture

We start our process by brainstorming and recording all of the data that will be used in the web app-­-­inputs and outputs. For instance, we define all of the information we will collect about a user profile (email address, username, password, first/middle/last name, user status, permissions group, etc.). For an app that includes mapping, we may also include a location, time zone, native language or other application-­specific data.

User Interaction Design

Next, we identify how users will interact with the data. We usually identify user types (i.e. customer, manager, administrator, reporting user, etc.), which helps us determine who will add, edit, modify and view each piece of data. These interactions take the form of “user stories,” or short narrative descriptions of how various users will interact with our app.

Test Plan Development

Test Driven Development (TDD) is a popular software development methodology that starts first with writing test cases (steps to be taken that should produce a specific result). We embrace this methodology, but not as it is typically used in software development. We develop a User Acceptance Test Plan rather than the automated test plans used by software developers. This gives our clients an opportunity to clearly communicate their expectations in terms like “If I do X, I expect to see Y.” This set of tests can be walked through at various stages during the project to determine how close we are to completion.

Next Steps
There are two more steps in our planning process before implementation (design mock-­ups and writing code). Our next articles will cover these steps, Content Planning and Design. Thanks for reading!