I remember meeting with the president of a locally-owned company discussing the business goals and objectives for his firm’s new website. In a moment of sheer clarity, he blurted out, “I just want the site to sell stuff!”
I wish every executive was that clear when articulating the business goals of their company website. Some leaders can quickly tick off the marketing and communications goals for their sites in impressive detail. But others fail to see the site as a critical tactic in the company’s overarching marketing strategy. There’s even another group that skips the important discussions around the website’s goals and moves directly into dialogue around what fonts should we use? Can we pick home page images? And what colors can we have?”
What questions must you ask before starting the work of redesigning a company website? Not surprisingly, many of the questions that will help shape and mold a website are nearly identical to the questions used to define the firm’s marketing strategy. Questions around audiences and identifying customer pain points, for example.
After a brief, unsuccessful search for the essential questions you should ask before undergoing a major website project, I decided to create my list. To be fair, I found a great list by Internet and marketing genius Seth Godin, but it had too many items on it to discuss with a senior management team. I recommend you address the items on Seth’s list at later, more detail-oriented meetings.
Ask these 7 questions before you build a website. These are the questions I always ask clients as part of the all-important discovery phase of a website project.
Business and goal related questions
1. What are your company’s overarching business and marketing goals?
Know and understand the company’s business goals because you want to make sure they align with more specific website goals. In other words, if the company is launching a new product you will want to make sure you create content to promote and position the product.
2. What are your goals for the website?
Generate leads? Sell products or services? Dispense information? Qualify prospects? All of these? Chances are the site will have multiple goals, most do. Goals for the site will ultimately drive everything from graphic design, user experience design and content.
For a complex website, I often write a short list of questions a web visitor may have in mind when visiting each section of the site. For instance, as the managing editor for Cargill’s flagship site, I created sample user questions for each major section. A college student visiting the Careers section may have questions like:
- When will you be visiting my campus?
- I recently applied for the ___________ position; when will I hear something?
- How much vacation will I get?
- Do you have any openings in (location)?
- I would like to know more about what it’s like to work at Cargill.
3. How will you know if the site is successful?
In other words, what will define success? Leads that go to the sales force? Site traffic such as unique visitors? How many times visitors download white papers or other content you offer readers as part of an inbound marketing program. If it’s an e-commerce site, revenue generated? Number of applicants, orders, or questions asked? Define your metrics in advance so you can track progress and growth.
Audience related questions
4. Who are your company’s target audiences?
Most B-to-B websites are targeting more than one audience group. Think about the audience in terms of industry, job title or role. For example, specifying engineers, architects and operations managers in the commercial building industry.
5. Why would your audiences visit the website?
List all the reasons because there will be many. Are they searching for answers to questions? If, yes, what are the questions? What are their information needs? What problems are they trying to solve? What’s keeping them awake at night?
The more intelligence you can gather, the better prepared you’ll be to deliver compelling content your audience seeks. And hopefully, you’re doing it better than the competition.
6. What motivates your readers?
Is it cost, convenience, the need to be the best? The answers to this question could reveal previously unknown motivators and help you tailor your rhetorical appeal — ethos, pathos or logos.
7. What actions do you want your audiences to take?
Fill out a contact form, download a white paper, enroll in a webinar — these are just a few examples of many audience goals you may have for your site.
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