How To Plan a Functional Website in 8 Steps

Building a website can be a complex process full of various intersecting tasks, like content creation, web design, user interface design, and more. When launching a website, formulating a strategy and creating a website plan can help you organize your efforts, adhere to a budget and design a functional site. Whether you work independently or for an organization, thoroughly planning your website can make a significant difference in its success. In this article, we outline what website planning is, why it’s important, the elements of an effective website plan, and eight steps you can take to plan your website.

What is website planning?

Website planning refers to the action of mapping the intentions, goals, and purposes of a webpage. Website planning may include a wide range of tasks like brainstorming website purposes, designing aesthetic concepts, tangibly implementing features, and more. The length of the website planning process typically depends on various situational factors. Despite this, though, professionals within various industries may undertake the process of website planning. Planning can be useful when professionals need to create a functional and navigable site that represents a brand, publishes specific content, and allows for a certain level of user interaction.

For instance, an independent bookseller may need to build a functional e-commerce website for their store that allows customers to purchase books online and processes orders. Alternatively, an academic tutoring business may need to create a website that allows users to view important information, register profiles and schedule sessions with instructors. Website planning can help these two professionals create effective sites. Even with this, though, they may take divergent approaches in their planning process to meet their expressed goals. Therefore, professionals may tailor the website planning process toward the site’s particular industry, purpose, function, and brand.

Why is website planning important?

Website planning can help professionals organize their site development and launching processes effectively. With continual advancements in technology, content management systems and the different features websites can host, it can be challenging to build a cohesive site that meets goals and functions seamlessly. This is especially true for professionals who may identify as technological novices when it comes to skills in web development, software programming, and coding. Therefore, website planning can help businesses, organizations, and individuals alike to ensure the site they build accomplishes an expressed purpose and allows for a simplified user experience.

In essence, website planning can allow professionals to produce a high-quality product and avoid challenges with their site in the long term. For example, planning can help you provide specific directions, source the right professionals to develop the site, create a roadmap for development, manage budgetary matters and execute your site with purpose. With this, having the foresight to plan your website can present significant benefits and save time overall as you prepare to launch a fully functional site with little need for future maintenance.

Elements of effective website planning

There are various elements that you must consider as you create an effective website plan. While your planning structure may differ depending on the specific purpose of your website, nearly all websites include a combination of content, assets, and features to foster a streamlined user experience. When planning your website, regardless of your industry, try to integrate these three components carefully to ensure visitors can navigate your site intuitively, locate information quickly and interact with content successfully. Here is a brief breakdown of these three major components and the elements they include:

Content

Content refers to the information made available through your website. Content can appear in various forms, but nearly all forms of content are consumable by users. For instance, your website may include a mix of content such as podcasts, news stories, and book reviews, all of which users can consume through listening and reading activities. Most website owners conceptualize the content as the primary reason for creating a website to begin with. From here, owners can choose a website design that can handle their particular content production efficiently.

Here are a few examples of types of content you may publish on your website:

  • Blog posts, articles and guides
  • Reviews and interviews
  • Infographics and charts
  • Videos, graphics interchange formats (GIFs) and animation
  • Updates and news stories
  • Case studies and peer-reviewed articles
  • Question and answer (Q&A)
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
  • Podcasts, music and other audio recordings
  • E-commerce pages and product listings
  • Utility content such as privacy policies, copyright and more
  • About content such as mission, history and contact information

Assets

Assets refer to the design elements that are unique to your brand. In most cases, designers integrate assets into a website’s code. While assets appear in various forms, they typically work together to create a cohesive aesthetic appearance intelligible to users. For instance, your brand may use a specific set of colors, fonts, logos and image types consistently throughout its website. To users, these assets signify that the website belongs to a particular brand. Assets help website hosts organize their content successfully and uniformly.

Here are a few examples of assets you may include in your website’s plan:

  • Logo
  • Brand style guide
  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Summary
  • Tagline
  • Photos
  • Illustrations
  • Customer testimonials
  • White papers
  • Social media handles
  • Subscription feed
  • Podcast feed

Features

Features refer to the tools that allow users to navigate your website intuitively and safely. Your website’s features may vary depending on the content you host and the overall purpose of your site. Despite this, though, most websites integrate multiple features to craft a streamlined user experience. Therefore, most website owners conceptualize features as the infrastructure that guides users in accessing content, finding information, and interacting with content or other users. In the planning stages, most website owners must negotiate a balance between theme features and plug-ins, or external software components integrated into a website’s existing theme.

Here are a few examples of features you may choose to host on your website:

  • Domain
  • Navigation tools, top and breadcrumb
  • Menu
  • Widgets such as featured content or popular content
  • Email sign up form
  • Surveys
  • Internal links
  • Social media links
  • Online chat
  • Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA)
  • Browser compatibility
  • Comment features, share buttons and other interaction systems
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) infrastructure
  • Internal site search bar
  • Contact forms
  • Automatic backup
  • Sitemap
  • Analytics

Here are eight steps to follow in the website planning stages:

1. Establish your website’s expressed purpose and goals

Before you decide about what essential components you will include while building your website, consider the purpose of creating your website and the goals it will accomplish. When establishing your website’s purpose and goals, it may be helpful to think about the target audience of your website and how they will use it. Identifying your website’s purpose and goals can help you make informed decisions throughout your planning process. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to pinpoint your website’s purpose and goals effectively:

  • What is the primary function of your website?
  • Who is the target audience of your website?
  • Will your website regularly publish new content or be static?
  • Can users purchase items on your website?
  • What type of information can users find on your website?
  • How do you expect users will interact with your website?
  • How many visitors do you expect each month?
  • Do you have a measurable goal, such as sales projections, for your website?

2. Consult with professionals and create a budget

Once you have a better comprehension of the purpose and goals of your website, you can consult with web design and development professionals to identify your needs and create a budget. Creating a budget can help you maintain cost-effectiveness. You can research market rates for services like web design, programming, web hosting, and other important planning processes. When you find a competent set of professionals who can execute these processes for you, try to earmark funds to pay for each team member’s service and manage your budget accordingly.

3. Assign development roles

As mentioned previously, planning a website entails various interwoven processes you can approach through various methods. Therefore, once you form your website planning team, you can designate specific development roles to each team member. Beyond stakeholders like the website owner or marketing manager, you may choose to appoint a web developer, content writer, HTML/CSS coding specialist, graphic designer, web designer, user experience (UX) architect, and other skilled professionals to build your site. When team members understand their roles and know what you expect them to accomplish, they can be more productive and adhere to deadlines more easily.

4. Map a content strategy

Once you’ve established the goals, budget, and team for your website’s development, you can begin to craft your content strategy. Choose two to three types of content you’d like to publish on your website to start—while you may expand your content strategy later, beginning with a workable amount of content can help you strengthen your approach over time. From here, identify the frequency of content publication and the processes by which your team will create the content.

5. Decide what features you’ll include

With an idea of what type of content you will include on your website, consider the type of features you’ll need to host such content and allow users to navigate to it. From the list above, identify what features will make your content easily accessible to visitors and allow them to interact with content in the way you’d prefer.

For instance, if your website will host news articles, you might include a widget for popular or new content, a search bar, and a comment tool so that users can engage in discussion. In addition, consider what type of safety features, like CAPTCHAs or comment filters, that you’ll install on your site.

6. Build a style guide for assets

Once you’ve decided what content and features will appear on your website, you can build a style guide to decide what your site’s assets will look like. If your website represents a particular brand, you may choose to design your assets using the brand’s preferences for colors, fonts, photos, and more. Regardless of what your assets will look like, remember to consider your user’s experience as you build your site’s style guide. The appearance of your site should appeal to your users’ senses, be easy to read, and make intuitive sense in terms of navigation.

7. Create a mock-up and start designing

With your three essential components planned out, you can create a mock-up of your website and begin the design process. You may ask one of your team members with drafting a general mock-up of the site using illustration software. Having a mock-up will allow you to better visualize the website’s appearance and how users will interact with it. From here, you can evaluate whether the design is a good fit and make adjustments to the website’s design to maximize your goals.

8. Test and maintain the site

Using your mock-up and subsequent design, you can launch your website and test its features for functionality and precision. Make sure your website operates properly using different web browsers and has a consistent appearance. From here, you can go live with your website and make it available to users. Make sure to maintain the site throughout its lifespan to ensure high-quality content production and the type of user interaction you need to reach your goals.

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