Generation Next Treasurer Andrew Dawson
Assistant Manager, Marketing and
Advertising, Muncie Power
This article is featured in the November 2015 issue of
Generation Next Edition.
Your company website is the most powerful marketing tool
at your disposal, and this tool is often overlooked, taken for granted, and left
outdated and stale.
The purpose of this article is to help you focus on the
user experience while creating a process for the development of your website,
generating an implementation plan, and understanding the steps for continuous
improvement. Your website process should be broken down into four key steps:
discovery, planning, execution, and evaluation.
Phase 1: Discovery
It’s all about the user experience.
Developing a website can be a daunting task, but it can
become much easier when you understand and define the expectations of your
users. This is the first and most important part of developing a successful
The discovery stage will be a long process and must be
scheduled out. The goals of this stage are to identify your visitors, understand
their unique expectations, review available analytics, and recognize any flaws
of the current site.
Most likely you already have a pretty good grasp of what
all of these are, but it is crucial to discover these flaws rather than to rely
on your own assumptions. You need to understand very clearly why people visit
your site and what they hope to find. It could be very different depending on
the type of visitor. Way too often, companies develop a website based on what
“they think” visitors are looking for, and how “they think” it should flow.
Worry less about what you think and more about what your users are showing you
Going through the proper steps to understand your
customers such as direct conversations, conference calls and surveys will help
you identify what areas of your current site need improvement. Accept the
feedback and find ways to integrate what you learn.
Phase 2: Planning
Once you are confident you know your audience and have
learned the key areas of focus for your site, it’s time to plan. Working with
your designer, developer, and other team members, generate a site map and
blueprints of how your site will lay out. Lay out everything. It is important to
plan out all of the details during this phase to identify challenges upfront and
work through them. This also gives clear direction of what is required of
designers and developers.
The menu organization will be the foundation of your site
and must be very clear and easy to follow. Avoid using any industry jargon
within your menu and make sure you organize subpages in a way that makes sense
to the user. If a user cannot quickly identify where to go, they will get
frustrated and may leave – which may push them to your competitor.
Remember, the focus is on how the user interacts with your
site. Your job is to create easy paths to navigate through it.
Phase 3: Execution
Since you have been including your designer and developer
throughout the planning process, this step becomes significantly easier. You
have a site map and blueprints of how your site will lay out and a plan of
action to do so. The major goal here is to work with your designers and
developers to make sure the site stays true to the original plan.
Make sure you are working with a designer who knows your
brand and your audience. The goal of the site should not be to win a design
award, but it needs to look clean, modern and consistent with your branding. It
is also important to use a developer who is knowledgeable of your audience and
up-to-date with current programming and search engine optimization standards.
You do not want to invest all of this time and money, into a fantastic-looking
website that does not function well or has errors in certain browsers or
devices. If your designers and developers do not know your audience, make sure
they invest time in discovery.
As you near completion of the website, there is one very
important step that is often overlooked - testing and prepping. Make sure you
build in time to test your site. Errors will happen, and the testing time is
built in to identify and correct these before the site goes public.
You also need to prep your users on the new site. Your
website may be fantastic, but it is still a change, and change can be difficult
for users. Be proactive in letting your users know a change is coming and let
them have access to the new site before it replaces the current one. Holding
webinars or creating a video to highlight the significant changes to your site
is also helpful. The more you can do to prep and familiarize your users with the
site, the easier the transition will be.
Do not set a firm launch date – be flexible, and do not
launch until the site is ready.
Phase 4: Evaluation
The last step in developing your website is to evaluate
it. Remember all that discovery and planning you did? Time to revisit all of
Did you accomplish what you intended and stayed true to
the plan that was created? Where have you veered and why?
Sometimes changing midstream has to happen and that’s ok,
but make sure you and your team understand why. Take the time to browse the site
as if you were a customer and remember the goals and plan that were initially
created. Write down what you did well, and what can still be
Finally, meet back with your team and develop a continuous
improvement plan. Your website is never complete. You must continue to gain
feedback, make adjustments, add new content, and create new functions for your
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