Web Development Strategy: The Best Websites Are Made Before They Are Built
Steps taken before a website is developed directly impact its effectiveness. These steps have nothing to do with code, nor the website itself. That’s because these steps concentrate on your existing and potential customers. More specifically, developing an understanding of their world: the root cause(s) to their problems, what they are trying to solve, what they expect to gain from visiting sites in your category, and what they do next with what they find online. Your goal is to go beyond information gathering in terms of research but to gain empathy by looking at situations through their eyes so you could see their perspective within the context of their point of view – and outside your own. Doing so takes an appreciation of what a person goes through from end-to-end, and what they encounter before, during, and after they visit your website. These steps are needed to make a visceral connection with your target audience so they believe “you get them” because your website addresses what they feel should be obvious, and the subtleties and nuances that come from paying close attention to details.
The tools and techniques required to achieve empathy are not complex, expensive, or particularly time-consuming. The heaviest lifting in the journey of website redesign is done on the front end. And the heavier your load is upfront, the lighter the rest of the phases are, and the less time it will take to create a stellar site for your organization and potential customers. These tools include:
1. Ethnographic Analysis. Observing a target segment in their natural settings to learn what you don’t know and help define their problem space.
2. Journey Map. A sequence of behaviors target segments takes to solve a problem or do a job. This provides the big picture and context from one end of the experience to the other, including what motivated them to take action, their online and offline efforts to solve their problem.
3. Task Analysis. What types of tasks are trying to be accomplished specifically online? This is a deeper dive into the digital section of the Journey Map.
4. Card Sorting. Using paper index cards to co-create a mental model of the target segments use of information and the way they classify it from a bottom-up or top-down view.
5. Strawman Architecture. Identifying the essential elements on a page including headings, subheadings, bullet points, and calls to action.
6. Sketches and Wireframes. These tools hats illustrate how elements might be laid out on the page to determine features, functionality, and flow.
7. Pre-totyping. Pre-totypes crystallize concepts for feedback from stakeholders, existing and potential customers.
8. Requirements Document. This document will define the project scope, priorities, timelines, and checklist to verify all commitments have been met and nothing was missed. It includes the project’s objectives, strategy, message, target audience, features, functionality, impression, and experience. Sections of the Requirements Document are also used as criteria in the QA process to ensure the project meets the requirement spec.
While numbers were used for each point above, it should not be considered a linear progression that only goes in one direction. These preliminary steps are meant to proactively learn about the target market before you design or develop anything for them. It is a cumulative approach with steps that are temporarily completed so that they could be revisited when new findings are made later in the process. So an epiphany about step one could be made by what was discovered in step three. To progress forward, you sometimes need to step back to revise and improve what was previously done. While this seems like a lot of work to do before building your website, it will save time overall, help improve the quality of the decisions made along the way and increase the effectiveness of the final deliverable.
As the saying goes, pay me now or pay me later. The difference is, payment made upfront yields positive returns on investment. Payment made later comes at a higher price with a lower return when you have to correct what was missed, broken, or never worked, to begin with. Skipping critical steps will only cause a different workload to be created at later points in the project due to errors, rework, or in the form of doing something completely different to make up for the opportunity lost by launching a sub-optimal website.