When I was building my first website, I made the same mistake almost every new website creator makes: I skipped the planning stage and went straight into the build. I didn’t take the time to consider who I wanted to visit my site. I didn’t consider what the website was meant to accomplish. I just knew that it was the twenty-first century and if I wanted to run a successful business, I’d need a website. Fortunately for me, during the longer-than-necessary process of building a poorly planned website, I discovered that I absolutely loved web design and WordPress development — even more than I loved copy editing (the side hustle that the website was meant to support).
I became so wrapped up in building that first site that I spent every second I could on it. I stayed up far too late on weeknights. On some weekends, I even worked through the night until noon the next day (or whenever I decided to “rest my eyes” for a bit). But when I was done, the website still managed to fall utterly flat. It didn’t speak to any particular audience, it didn’t bring in new projects, and eventually, I abandoned it (and that business) entirely. Fortunately for me, all those hours I spent weren’t wasted — they were merely part of my learning process. But for those of you who aren’t interested in becoming web designers or developers, let’s talk about how you can avoid making the same mistakes I did.
The 3 Steps to Defining Your Website’s Purpose
Are you gearing up for your first website build or redesign? Feeling paralyzed by the countless options and website tools out there? Concerned you’ll make the wrong choices and end up with a website that doesn’t do much? Before you do anything else, let’s take a look at the most important aspect of your website — its purpose.
Step 1: Define Your Audience
It’s crucial to remember that you’re not building a website for your business; you’re building it for your audience. So stop focusing on what you want out of your site and try to understand what your visitors need. Why are they there? How can you help them? Why should they purchase from you rather than your competitor? I’ll give you a hint on that last one: it’s not because you’re the best; it’s because you make them better in a way that matters to them.
Your job is to help move your audience from Point A (suffering from the problem that your product or service solves) to Point B (overcoming that issue). How will someone know when they’re at Point A? When you’ve described exactly how being there looks and feels. The more specific you are, the easier it’ll be for your ideal customers to self-identify. Narrowing your focus to a particular niche also allows you to create solutions that better fit their specific needs. You’ll learn to talk to them directly, rather than making generic statements into the abyss (the mistake made by all businesses that try to appeal to everyone). Want help identifying your particular audience? Click here to gain access to a 3-part worksheet that will bring your website audience, mission, and #1 priority into clear focus.
Step 2: Define Your Mission
Once you’ve defined who your business helps — this also happens to be the target market for your website — it’s time to figure out how and why. What are you offering your niche? Why does that matter? What brought you to do what you do rather than doing something else? How does purchasing from you help support your typical customer’s sense of self (for instance, as someone who supports local and/or green businesses)?
To better understand the value of a clear mission statement and business purpose, watch How Great Leaders Inspire Change, a viral TED talk given by Start With Why author Simon Sinek. It looks at the emotional impact a sense of meaning and purpose has on both workers and conscious consumers. Once you’ve had a chance to watch and you’re ready to start sculpting or improving your business’s own mission statement, complete part two included in the worksheet above.
Step 3: Define Your #1 Website Priority
After you’ve gotten clear about your website’s audience and your business mission, it’s time to figure out how your site can best serve your niche. How are you providing value to your visitors? What aspects of your website would keep them coming back? Are you offering free content or information on topics that interest them? Do you have new flash sales happening often? Does your e-commerce store help simplify their lives? How does your website — not just your business, but its online presence — help people? If you can’t think of how your website is providing value to visitors, it’s time to get creative. Finish part three of the worksheet to brainstorm ideas.
Once you’ve identified what value your website provides, you’ll want to prioritize that aspect of the site. Make it impossible for users to miss. For instance, if your offering is an informative and helpful newsletter, then you’ll want to include signup forms and incentives throughout your website — ideally with multiple variations on each page (as long as this offering truly benefits and appeals to your audience, don’t worry about it being a nuisance). Alternatively, if your website exists to raise awareness of an issue and collect donations, then focus on educating people as clearly and concisely as possible about the issue as well as how they can help. As a final example, an e-commerce website prioritizing online sales would center around product promotion, perhaps highlighting reviews or quantitive results.
No matter what your website is meant to accomplish — and even if it’s striving to achieve multiple goals — make sure you pick one top priority and center your site around that. You’ll want to double-check that this purpose is in line with your mission and provides real value to your audience. Have you gotten all these pieces in place? If so, congrats, you’re way ahead of the curve (and light years beyond where I first started)!
Write to me below to share what you’ve discovered. How might you approach your website design or redesign differently than you were initially planning? Do you know anyone else working on a website? Feel free to share this post with them or on social media.