Web design projects are notorious for going way over budget, and months (if not years) past the launch date.
There's a lot of reasons for this, many of them unnecessary delays. This is why we (and a lot of other agencies) have adopted a Growth-Driven Design approach to website launches.
The key to building and launching an effective website on-budget, and on time, is the website project plan. With the right processes and plan in place, you can bypass a lot of those common pitfalls that overcomplicate and derail web design projects.
We've helped a ton of brands launch new website designs over the years, and we've come up with our own system of website project plans.
How to Build a Website Project Plan
The most common misconception that leads to a messed up website project, is thinking website design is only graphical.
It's way more than that - or at least it should be.
If you want pretty graphics, just download a template and try to replicate the graphics. What you'll discover is that it doesn't perform - as in, your customers don't engage with it, they don't become leads, and it doesn't drive an increase in paying customers.
If you don't believe me, you are free to try it out. We've seen it over and over again. People invest thousands of dollars on "pretty" and then come to us needing help sometimes the same year they launched their new website.
Because a website that drives customers requires a whole lot more than pretty graphics.
You have to start with the customer story and move on from there. And it gets complicated. It gets confusing. And, without a map, you could get frustrated and lost.
Thankfully, there is a map. Some people call it the website project plan.
Without it, you'll be in for a long, hard journey. But, with it, you can build and launch a high-performance website without unnecessary struggles.
The website project plan is your North Star.
It's your blueprint.
With the following steps, you can build a website project plan that keeps you on track and aligned with your overall business objectives.
Step #1: Start With What Your Customers Want
To build a website that will drive conversions and attract new visitors, you've got to understand your ideal customers. That sounds like a tall order since there are so many attributes that make up your customers. It's difficult to focus on all of them, which is why we use concise strategy templates.
These templates will help you refine buyer personas, and include:
- Buyer Personas - A lot of teams go too far with buyer personas, with a lot of information that isn't particularly useful or relevant. No one on your marketing team is going to leaf through 6-7 pages of insights whenever they need some guidance. You should only focus on the most critical aspects of your customers. This buyer persona template from HubSpot helps you accomplish that.
- Business Model Canvas - The Business Model Canvas is a one-page document that walks through the core problems, experiences, and trigger events that lead to your solution. Using all of this information, you can get a clearer idea of the fears, hesitations, frustrations, and assumptions that your customers make about your company and industry.
- Customer Journey Map - The Customer Journey Map exercise puts you right in your customer's shoes. You can see the brand experience from their point of view. Sometimes, it's not pretty, but through this exercise, you can identify tactics to improve or enhance the customer experience.
- The Buyer Journey - For each persona, you will walk through the awareness, interest, desire, consideration, and decision stages. As we like to put it, it's the content that will bait and hook leads, reel them in, and eventually transform them into a customer. Using this information, you can create messaging that is irresistible to your target customers.
By the end of this exercise, you will have everything you need to craft a brand narrative. The brand narrative will inform a website strategy and website content, which is the first step to a GDD website build.
Step #2: Plan The Strongest Message
Strong messaging goes beyond great copy.
It requires a plan of every website page we'll create, and the goal for each page. We begin with initial pages we plan on building, that provide information about our company, discuss our core offers, and educate the customer about our solution.
These pages include:
The entry pages will be the first impression you'll make on potential customers. These include your home page and various lead generation landing pages. You should go above and beyond on these pages when it comes to developing messaging. HubSpot has collected a ton of exceptional examples of landing pages you can use for inspiration.
Content Pillar Pages
Pillar pages are viral in marketing right now. Every brand is jumping on board, with companies like Buffer to HubSpot executing flawless, incredibly valuable pillar pages. Essentially, pillar pages each cover one of 3-4 broad topics that cover your areas of expertise.
These pages take a lot of work, but with a lot of positive effort, they pay off tremendously. With a great concept and excellent content, you can demonstrate your value and expertise in your industry, all while improving your SEO rankings.
(The HubSpot pillar page talks about robots. It's cool.)
You can find exceptional, engaged customers with belief pages. These pages demonstrate your core values. Here at Lean Labs, we're excited and enthusiastic about building great websites. It's why we do any of this in the first place. So on our service pages, such as this one about Growth Driven Design, we put all of that out there.
We're don't skirt over our values to get more customers. We focus on building long-lasting relationships with leads with a similar perspective about websites, and these belief pages help us find them.
Buyer Journey Pages
Buyer journey pages will help get out customers from point A to point B. Over time, we'll rely on buyer journey pages to help increase organic traffic, nurture leads, and bring in more sales opportunities. With highly effective buyer journey pages, motivated customers will move through our funnel faster.
These are the pages that sell. These pages provide clarity to your more qualified leads, helping them understand what all of your products and services are, why customers need it, what they'll get from those services, and how to buy it.
When planning which conversion pages you need, think through the products and services you offer. Can they pay for those services online? Can they buy those products online? Do they need to do a demo first?
These questions will help inform where those pages need to link to, and other pages you might need to build.
After deciding the pages we need, we document them and draft a sitemap. A sitemap looks like a grid and determines the hierarchy of your pages. Which pages will link to the navigation, for example? What pages do we need to support content offers or free trials? We use Slickplan to build site maps, and Mockflow is another excellent tool.
With the sitemap planned out, you're ready to plan the content of your website pages. You can use a tool like SprocketRocket to create a framework for each page. SprocketRocket features an array of modules, such as calls-to-action, headers, and testimonials that you can select and arrange to style your page. The tool automatically populates those modules in a HubSpot website page draft, making it easy to add in the copy.
Step #3: Save Time On The Style
Once you write, edit, and put website copy into your page drafts, pass them to a designer to style headlines, add images and video, and insert calls-to-actions. You can also use one of many free HubSpot templates to accelerate the design process.
Step #4: Launch Fast, Measure & Learn
If you follow our approach to putting together a website project plan, you'll end up with a site that's pretty close to being perfect. However, we never recommend just launching sites and being satisfied with "close to perfect." You should always be optimizing the performance of your website.
Over time, things will break, and customer preferences will change. If you don't pay attention to how the site is performing, eventually, you'll need to do another redesign or refresh. So when we put together our website project plan, we plan to optimize over time. We set goals and objectives for ongoing updates and testing.
After launch, let traffic run through it for a while, then use a series of tools to measure performance. These tools include all of the performance tools HubSpot offers, and heat mapping and screen recording tools such as Optimizely and CrazyEgg. With those tools, we see how our customers are interacting with pages, and judge where we can make optimizations.
Implementing The Website Project Plan
A website is a considerable investment, and that's why it's so important to get it right. By taking a more data-driven, customer-centric approach, you'll build a website that can grow with your company and help hit your goals. So while our website project plan has a lot of moving parts, we're confident that it's the best possible approach to web design.
We've spent years refining our website design project plan. And you can download it for free here: SprocketRocket Launch Kit.
With this kit, you'll get our step-by-step website launch process, with the tools and templates you'll need to put together a robust website project plan.