Building a Better Website: Which Comes First — Content or Coding?

Thoughtfully and skillfully planning your website is as critical to its success as high quality coding and creative visual design. Here’s how to plan your website like a pro.

Trick question. Neither comes first. What comes first in creating a truly great website is a great planning process.

marketing strategy
“Digital Agency Sketching Planning Business,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by perzonseo.com

The key elements of the planning process are

  • Strategy Brief
  • Site Map
  • Wireframes
  • Functional Specification
  • Design Brief

Here’s a brief look at each of them.

Strategy Brief

The strategy brief is typically a one-page document that guides the rest of your planning process. It lays out your goals for the website – what it needs to do to be considered a success – and the tactics you’ll use to achieve those goals.

As with every stage of planning, it’s critical here to get the input from your key stakeholders. This is for two reasons:

  1. Your stakeholders are most likely to have the insights you need to build a successful marketing tool
  2. Getting their buy-in early is critical to getting them to believe in and use that tool when it has launched.

Site Map

For all but the most complex of sites, “site map” sounds to most people like something that can quickly be scrawled on the back of a napkin. It can, but that’s rarely going to work out very well. Taking the time to map out how to organize and present the content needed to make your marketing case will yield much better results – a smoother development process with fewer costly “do-overs” and a finished product that addresses all major audience segments and their interests.

Wireframes

The wireframes are the bridge between the site map and the functional spec. It creates a page-by-page guide to the site, what elements need to be present on each page, and how your audience can interact with those elements. Wireframes frequently even dip their toes into features and functionality.

One thing wireframes shouldn’t be is a design document. To be effective, the wireframes should be as neutral and non-visual as possible. The focus has to be on what will be on the page, not where on the page it will be.

Functional Specifications

The functional spec takes your wireframes one step further, fleshing out not only how your audience can interact with the website, but how your administrative team can edit and update the site, and what  the site coding will do for you automatically.

These can be quite simple, expanding only slightly on the contents of the wireframes, to incredibly complex in cases like ecommerce sites with heavy transactional loads.

Design Brief

The more you can define in detail here, the fewer questions and corrections you’ll face during production. And those corrections are always faster and less expensive to fix during planning than production.

One last thought on the planning process: content. Not included above is a Content Map, though perhaps it should be. We talk a lot about content in the discovery process. Leaving it for the end, as a lot of clients want to do, is a mistake as a well-crafted site map and wireframe can fall apart quickly if there is not enough content to populate some areas of the site and too much to fit in others. This is again an area that is cheaper to address in advance.

(If you’d like to learn more about the planning process we use at Andigo and how to adapt it to your own needs, join me later this month at Wordcamp in NYC where I’ll be presenting on this topic. And if you won’t be in NYC on September 15th, contact me and I’ll send you a link to a recording of the presentation.)

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part One

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

[Editor’s note: This is Part One of a two-part series.]

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

Boosting your business doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or money. Certain marketing tactics are tried and true because they work year after year, decade after decade. They’re proven. And they get results. Best of all, I’m going to reveal them to you … all for free.

Today, I going to go over some proven winners to help create visibility, drive website traffic, increase sales, generate leads and produce buzz. These are low-to-no cost tactics that fit most any budget and most any business niche. All you really need is the manpower to implement them. And the few that do involve a budget are extremely cost effective. So, without further ado, here’s numbers one through six:

1. Affiliate Partnerships/Affiliate Marketing Plan. (Includes joint ventures, also known as ‘JVs). This tactic is having other people market (promote) for you in exchange for a commission. It’s extremely effective and cost efficient. On the JV site, the key is having some kind of leverage when approaching publishers with a similar list size and interest as your own list. In exchange for content or revenue share efforts, you and the other publisher agree to reciprocate either e-news ads or solo emails to each other’s lists for cross-marketing purposes. You have an agreed upon, competitive affiliate split (net commission on each sale) and forward payment either monthly or quarterly. Or, you can agree to reciprocate efforts and both agree to promote to each others’ lists and keep whatever sales (or leads) you each get from the efforts. It’s also a best practice to advise deliverability and performance stats. On the affiliate marketing side, many online affiliate programs are robust and offer real-time access to a control panel where affiliates can download creatives, check status of payments, and view campaign stats. Creating an affiliate program and marketing plan for that program can be turn-key. There are several off-the-shelf programs and softwares, such as DirectTrack and WordPress; as well as online networks such as CJ.com (Commission Junction), Clickbank.com, Linkshare.com. What’s most important as with any affiliate marketing plan is the PR. That is, getting the news out and marketing the program itself to as many targeted locations as possible. If you have a product to sell, not having an affiliate program is simply leaving money on the table.

2. Content Syndication Plus. A recent article by Forbes, which was actually featured here on TargetMarketingMag.com, mentioned 2012 was going to be the year of content and social marketing. Content is king and you can leverage it via the SONAR Content Distribution Model:

  • (S) Syndicate partners, content syndication networks, and user generate content sites;
  • (O) Online press releases;
  • (N) Network (social) communities;
  • (A) Article directories;
  • (R) Relevant posts to blogs, forums, and bulletin boards.

SONAR works hand-in-hand with your existing search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM), and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. If you have original content … you can do SONAR marketing!

3. Search Engine Optimization. In order to drive as much organic traffic as possible to your website, you need to make sure your site is optimized for the correct keywords and your target audience. Once you optimize your site with title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords, and alt attributes/alt tags, you need to make sure you enhanced your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to the home page; relevant cross-marketing banners; obvious links to get to product pages; keyword-dense, search-friendly and consumer-friendly content pages; a site map; and more. You don’t want to downplay the importance of SEO. Site already optimized? Great. But remember that you need to review your analytics and visitor usage patterns and keywords on a timely basis, as algorithms and search behavior are always changing.

4. Online Lead Generation Polls. Incorporating a lead gen poll on your website, or having a poll on another site or e-newsletter (via a media buy or ad swap) is a great way to build your list. It’s important to spend time thinking about your poll question—something that is a hot topic, controversial, and relevant to the locations where you’re placing your poll. You want to pull people in with your headline and make the poll entertaining. Your answers should be multiple choice and have an “other” field which encourages participants to engage with your question. I’ve found this “other” field as a fantastic way to make the poll interactive. Many people are passionate about certain subject matters and won’t mind giving you their two cents. Then, to show appreciation for talking the poll, tell participants they are getting a bonus report and free e-newsletter subscription (which they can opt out of at any time). And of course, make sure to mention—and link to—your privacy/anti-spam policy. After you kick off your list-building efforts, make sure you start tracking them so you can quantify the time and resources spent. This involves working with your webmaster on setting up tracking URLs specific to each website you’re advertising on. It also means looking at Google Analytics for your website and corresponding landing pages to see traffic and referring page sources.

5. Viral Marketing. Make sure you have a “forward to friend” feature in your e-newsletter to encourage viral marketing. It’s also important to have what I call a “content syndication blurb”—both on your website and in your e-newsletter. This blurb simply states that anyone can republish your free content, as long as they give attribution to the author and publication, as well as provide a back-link to the original article. This encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish—creating buzz and back-links, both of which help SEO. You can set Google Alerts for your articles (buy using keywords of article title, author, topic) and then see when the article has been picked up by another site. You can also look at your site’s back-links, as well as referring traffic sources, to see which sites you didn’t push the article out to, but republished it from a viral standpoint.

6. Cost-Effective Media Buying. To complement your “free” online efforts, you may want to consider targeted, low-cost media buys (paid online advertising) in the form of text ads, banner ads, blog networks/ads, or list rentals (i.e. e-news sponsorships or solo emails). You’re paying for the placement in these locations, so you must make sure you have strong promotional copy and offers for the best results possible. Blog ad networks and online ad networks are a great, cheap alternative and they have a wider reach. Networks to consider: BlogAds.com, Advertising.com, ValueClick.com, BurstMedia.com, and FastClick.com. You can also find a full list of sites. Make sure you’re savvy as to what comparable rates are (CPMs, CPCs) and try never to pay rate card. It’s all about the power of negotiation.

Stay tuned for the next article which will feature more tips (#7—#13!)