Using Smarter Methods and a Joomla Foundation for Success on the Web
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Designing on the web is an art; there is no doubt about that. So much creativity is needed, from color selection and logo design to laying out the user interface; the process demands an artist’s mind. We are occasionally fooled into thinking that since we act as artists, we should be spontaneous and free in our process. While this is true to an extent, failing to plan well from the beginning can kill any project.
Planning a web project successfully means taking into consideration everything that can and will come up. For some, the only planning is selecting a good template. If you don’t prepare a proper blueprint from the outset, your project will at best take longer, or at worst completely fail to reach your objectives.
In this article, I share some effective methods of planning a small business website so your project is within budget and exceeds expectations.
At the beginning of your planning strategy, examine what you're trying to accomplish with this website, and set some goals. You can think of these goals as conversions if you like, but the important thing is to begin thinking about funneling your visitors to the section of your site that suits them the most. By starting with these goals, you’ll have a better understanding of where you need to send visitors and what pages and sections you’ll need to create.
The goal of the home page is usually to push people to the most relevant page. For example, if your audience includes both developers and consumers, include an obvious link to both of those pages. If your site will have specific sections for men and women, plan how you will catch the attention of each group and encourage them to click the appropriate link.
Also think about where you want your visitors to end up. This is the end of the conversion process. Is it at a "Thank You" page after a purchase, or is it on a contact us form that emails you some specific information? Not all transactions end with an exchange of money. Figure out at the very start what makes a successful visit.
Other examples include having your visitor complete a feedback form, receiving a phone call or directing the user to a self-help section.
RESEARCH YOUR MARKET
Finding out what your competitors are doing is key, both for good and for bad. Knowing what is working for others in your market can help you make decisions on what content to include and what design works best. Copying is not a great idea, but borrowing successful elements means that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Just make a better performing wheel than your competitors.
You should also know what your competitors are doing poorly. This will help you to avoid the same mistakes. Visit their sites as a customer. Think about the experience as though you were “shopping their store.” This applies whether they’re running an ecommerce site or not.
You also need to know your customers as intimately as possible. You should research their backgrounds and habits, and you should know what appeals to them and makes them hang around a website instead of bouncing elsewhere after two seconds. If you’re entering a specific market, it’s a good idea to thoroughly experience that market and to be a part of it in some way.
Any good content developer, whether they are a website creator or a novelist, will no doubt explain the importance of brainstorming. This step can make or break a project. Good brainstorming overcomes most of the problems with writer's block, or developer's block in our case, and it can also uncover ideas that you weren't aware you had.
When you let down your filter of self-consciousness or embarrassment, worrying that one idea or another is just ridiculous, and you allow everything to come out onto paper, your computer screen or whatever medium you use, the amount of material you will have to draw from is incredible. The important part is to NOT over-think this step. Sit down and start letting it flow. Filter the good ideas from the bad ones in the next step.
FILTER IDEAS / CREATE A SITEMAP
The process of filtering all of that material produced from your brainstorm may be a little overwhelming. But by following a couple of simple guidelines, you can rule out some unnecessary items early on and make those tough decisions about what to cut a little bit easier.
The first rule I suggest for a small business website is to have no more than 8 top level menu items or links. More than that and you stand a pretty good chance of losing your visitor in a mass of decisions. Let them make some quick decisions right away, and then keep them on the site with great content. It’s thought that the attention span of the average internet user is somewhere near 4 seconds. The more decisions they have to make, the better their chances of leaving.
The next rule of thumb is to go no more than 3 levels deep from the top menu. Now, this rule isn't set in stone, but it's good to keep in mind when planning how to lay out your navigation.
This part of the process dovetails perfectly with how Joomla works as a CMS. When you have your sitemap built, you can start to create your Categories and be ready to go when your content is developed. You can also use it to check whether or not your navigation makes sense, and refer back to it when adding new content in the future.
CREATE A WIREFRAME
When you're wireframing your small business website, or creating the visual outline of what the finished product will resemble, I recommend that you break your content into primary and secondary content. Primary content is the most important information on the page. It's what you want your visitor to spend most of their time focusing on. This content must be excellent. It is usually the main Article on a Single Article Joomla page.
Secondary content makes up the remainder of the content on the page. For example, in a fully fleshed out website there are normally headers, menus, sidebars and footers in addition to the primary content. Within those sections you might find Modules featuring a staff member of the month or testimonials from happy customers.
Starting with a very basic pre-made Joomla template is a great way to wireframe a website. You can quickly place Modules and articles where you think they should go, and move them until you’re happy. You can also work in Photoshop or some other tool and bring that design into Joomla relatively easily.
The point is that this information must be planned well. Is the primary content in a location where the user's eye will naturally be drawn? Are the sizes of the modules on your site in proportion to their importance?
Every detail is important when planning your web elements. One way to illustrate this is with an ecommerce site. Clearly the descriptions are important, but if you want your visitors to become customers as well, then you must make sure your ordering system is simple and clear. To get people to buy your products, the Add to Cart button must be obvious on the page. The more you make potential customers guess and hunt, the less likely you are to make a sale. Planning this out and wireframing it at the beginning makes you much more likely to succeed.
DEVELOP YOUR CONTENT
After all of the previous steps have been taken and your plan is ready to go, the implementation of your site has a much better chance for success.
Once you decide what content really needs to be included, and just as importantly what doesn't, you can start bringing things together. If you're working with a team, now is the time to delegate. Decide who on your team is responsible for each specific piece, and give them clear deadlines.
Using Smarter Methods and a Joomla Foundation for Success on the Web
While developing content online, focus on getting the biggest bang for your buck. For example, some small business sites don't include enough images. And almost everyone seems to forget how important images are to a website. Images are so important online that you should consider using a professional photographer whenever possible. The quality you will get from a professional photo shoot makes a big difference and can make a dramatic difference on whether or not you achieve your website goals. Which of these salads would you rather eat?
Professionally shot photo:
There are many other things to consider when you get into the details of building a website. When you plan well from the beginning, the rest of the process goes much more smoothly and becomes a lot more enjoyable.
There will always be something new to work in to your project. Some new technology or method is always around the corner. Don't get bogged down in all of the "latest and greatest" out there. Find what really does make a difference and implement it carefully. Mobile considerations are definitely in this category. Don't underestimate the value of mobile compatibility. These days websites must be mobile ready. Being able to separate the fads from the best new advances is an important skill when it comes to web development.
Joomla is embracing this wholeheartedly. Version 3.0 is based on the Twitter Bootstrap framework and is mobile ready out of the box. These types of advancements are exactly what you need to be paying attention to for your small business website.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, get it done and “ship” it. There is a direct correlation between how long it takes to complete a project and the likelihood that it will get done at all. The longer it takes, the less likely it is to get done. If something isn't ready, don't publish it, but don't fail to finish a project by being a perfectionist.
It's important to keep moving. Getting work done is what this article is trying to help you do. Jump into your project with enthusiasm, but don’t let a lack of planning derail you from the outset. Keep in mind the old saying, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."