7 Things You Can't Skip When Building a Website

March 16, 2022

The process of building a new website might sound relatively simple - give a designer some text and images, position a few key calls-to-action, hand it off to a web developer and release it to the world. But, if you want a website that works for you (instead of only being more work), and brings value to your organization, consider these 7 things that can’t be skipped during your website project.

Prioritizing Goals and KPIs

If you don’t set goals for your website, you won’t know if it is serving your needs and the needs of its visitors. And, without KPIs, you won’t have an easy way to measure your progress towards those goals. Also, simply having goals isn’t enough - they need to be prioritized. Cost and time will always limit what can be achieved, so knowing the most important goals for your website will help you stay laser focused when deciding what needs to be done and what can wait.

One question we often ask our clients is “Why do you need a new website?”, and someone who has defined goals and KPIs will have no problem quickly giving an answer.

To help define and prioritize your website’s goals and KPIs, try answering the following questions:

  • What isn’t working with your current website?
  • What are your current metrics?
  • What are the highest priority goals?
  • How do you know if they’ve been achieved (what are the quantifiable goal values)?

Describing Personas

It’s easy to forget who exactly a new website is being built for - the visitors! But, who are your visitors? Describing visitors as personas, (hypothetical visitors), helps identify the traits, demographics, and goals of those visitors. Most websites will have a handful of key personas to support and each should be distinct enough that you will need different approaches to align their goals for visiting the site with your own for building it.

To better understand what your site’s visitor personas look like, try answering the following questions:

  • Who is your current target audience(s)?
  • Is anyone missing from that?
  • What are they looking for and how can your site help them?

Designing a Visual Sitemap

A visual sitemap is an important prerequisite for creating a website. Without it, identifying all the pages (and URLs) of a site can be very difficult. A visual sitemap also gives a good indication of where the priorities (and complexity) of a site’s content is. It can also be a good way to show how an organization thinks about their business and how that aligns with how visitors want to engage with the content of the website.

Creating a sitemap is often an iterative process involving many stakeholders. After creating the first draft, ask these questions to help refine it:

  • How is information or navigation structured in your site (deep vs wide)?
  • Does the site structure reflect your priorities?
  • Does the sitemap support your user journeys?

Curating Content

Having a sitemap isn’t enough to create a website. You’ll need content to fill the site’s pages and give visitors a reason to come to your site. Typically, content managers will work with stakeholders to collect content, edit it and identify the structure of the content that needs to be presented on the site’s pages. It can be tempting to just start creating pages in a site and pasting content in from various sources in an organization, but content curation will give everyone an opportunity to validate that the information is correct and expresses the right message to visitors. Through the curation process, content managers will be able to identify what content is unique across a site and what should be centrally managed and reused. Using a robust Digital Experience Platform makes this content governance possible.

Approving Wireframes and Designs

With the content defined, wireframes can be created. Wireframes are the blueprints of the structure of a page, combining content with presentational layout. While they should include real content, they should limit the inclusion of design. A website’s wireframes should account for the unique variations of content types (ex: a product page vs a promotional marketing page) and the various devices a website could be viewed on, as well as any possible accessibility issues.

Once wireframes are approved, designers can begin the design process for a website (creating high fidelity mockups). They combine brand guidelines, wireframes, and content, ensuring a consistent look and user experience. People often want to start building a website with the design because it’s an easy way to get creative inspiration. But this can have negative effects because it encourages trying to fit the sitemap, content, and wireframes to the design.

Aiming for Accessibility

Web accessibility is, unfortunately, an afterthought for many projects. There are legal requirements for websites to serve those with disabilities, but these requirements are not the only reason accessibility should be prioritized for your website.

The way that a search engine crawler navigates and consumes content on a website isn’t that different from the way someone with a visual impairment would, because a search engine crawler has no visual capabilities. If you want to improve SEO, consider optimizing your site for accessibility.

Accessibility doesn’t only cover physical impairments, it also addresses situational impairments. If a visitor to your site has a weak or intermittent network connection when browsing your site on their phone, the website should still offer them a usable experience. The experience of the site visitor, as indicated by page loading performance, influences search rankings, so accommodating situational impairments will help a site rank higher in search results.

Accessible websites are, by definition, websites that enable visitors to use different methods of navigation and interaction. They support more devices and content consumption use-cases than non-accessible websites. This means they will be more likely to support new devices and technologies in the future. If a screen reader can effectively interact with your site, then it’s likely that an AI assistant could as well. New device form factors, like low-powered electronics, phones with foldable screens, and smart home devices with touch screen displays will be more likely to provide great experiences on an accessible website than one built without prioritizing accessibility.

Defining A Project Scope and Plan

Everything mentioned so far sets the foundation for building a website and is often part of a project discovery process. Once that discovery is complete, work can begin on building the website and loading in content. However, a successful project discovery should also generate a project scope and a project plan.

The project scope is the “definition of done”, or what needs to be accomplished to reach the finish line. Without it, it can be very difficult (or impossible) to know if everything has been accounted for when building a website. Without a scope, it also becomes easier for scope creep to impact a project without adjusting timelines or cost.

The project plan details the ideal timeline for accomplishing the items outlined in the project scope. A project plan should be flexible enough to adjust to the complexities of business (ex: change in scope) and life (ex: paternity leave for a lead stakeholder) and the delays they incur. These changes will be reflected in the timeline of the plan, helping stakeholders concretely understand their impact. A project plan also helps identify areas of the scope that are complex or uncertain by including additional research or discovery time. Stakeholders and those building a website can then keep an eye on these parts of the website build and ensure progress stays on track.

We hope that this list gets you excited about your upcoming website project! But if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or intimidated, get in touch with the team at WiredViews and we can assist you, making sure nothing important gets skipped!

Sean G. Wright is a Chief Solutions Architect at WiredViews. He is also a 2020, 2021, and 2022 Kentico Xperience MVP, and a founding partner of Craft Brewing Business, a B2B publication for the craft brewing industry.

He loves to learn and teach web dev & software engineering, collecting vinyl records, mowing his lawn, and drinking craft beer 🍺.

You can follow him on Twitter, GitHub, and his active blogging about Kentico Xperience on Dev.to.