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Web Strategy: Planning a Site pt.3


Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

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I guess by now, if you followed the entire series of post on planning a site, you have noticed I’m going backwards. That’s why today I’ll talk you about web strategy.
I mentioned it when I explained content strategy because this step is at the base of everything else, it’s necessary for a long-term success and to avoid pitfalls on your way. Stick with me on this and you’ll see how it is important.

A web strategy has two basic functions: to help you focus on what’s the real purpose of your site and set some guidelines for the overall development later on.
Its importance goes beyond the creation of the site, it involves also long-term decision for what concerns the business and maintanance of structure and content.br /> In case you work inside an organization the web strategy sets up an agenda that help various team know what are the leadership decisions and avoids discussions over in time.
You shouldn’t think of this as a tool only for big corporate site or ecommerce, it’s useful for any kind of site, even a blog that needs to chose an editorial line and some tactics to increase the readership. I did some web strategy when I started planning this blog and it’s paying off.
It’s not just marketing, at all, you’ll see in the next steps that you’re probably already doing some when you design or think about a new site, but you need some more organization to plan it right.

web strategy in a nutshell

Greg Storey few years ago in an article on A List Apart wrote that the objective of a site should be one sentence and one sentence only in good english that communicate the purpose. For my blog I would write: to establish Designer Break as a reference for readers looking for tips, news, reviews of what concern web design and its related disciplines.
After that you should add a strategy to achieve it and at its most abstract shape could be summarized like this (citing Storey in his original article)

Your strategy will define how you are going to achieve the objective you just developed. When it’s finished, the strategy will outline the who, what, and why of the website. A strategy for the above example might look something like this:
To convince… anyone who wants to create better websites
to read… A List Apart
instead of… Reader’s Digest
because… A List Apart actually has articles on the subject whereas Reader’s Digest contains none.
That’s it. Strategy is served. As with the objective, the verbs in the top two lines of the strategy can be changed out but the last two lines must stay the same, because they identify your competitors and the rationale for choosing your site over the competition’s.

This is really about the concept of the site and, although a web strategy doesn’t get much into details, you can establish some more concrete guidelines for the overall creation process, have a look at this exemple form a library site of Berkley. in the next chapter I’ll show you some specific question you should ask your self to write down a successful strategy.

how?

J.Owyang_3_spheres_of_web_strategy.gif So let’s get into details even if this is something theoretical that simply depends on you in the end.
I like the approach J.Owyang took to explain it. He says a good webstrategy is a balance of 3 spheres:

I. community

: you need to understand which is your audience, you’ll have to do some users research and review traffic reports. This is something that needs to be discussed in its own tutorial, but generally I can say you need to look at the demographics of your public and their habits. Don’t think you know your users, look at datas and learn about them. It’s easy to make general assamption on personal behaviour or of people we know, but it’s better to look at facts.
If you don’t have your own metrics because you are creating this sort of site for the first time do some research online, find papers on that. To know how your users behave is useful to give them content correctly.

On the other side, what you need to know about users is their goals. What they really want.
Why should they come on your site?
What are they looking for?
What needs of your users you can satisfy?
So, this first part help you decide what users wants and how to give it to them. This steps also extends to consider the community into which you’re placing your site.
Are there any competitors?
Who could be my partners on this?

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II.business

: now think from your point of view. What’s your site for? do you really need a site?
It seems like a stupid question, but you should really think about it. Sometimes there are other ways to share your infos or service depending on what it consist and who is your clientele.
Assuming you need the site now define its goals. they can be both, long-terms or short term goals. For instance the long term goal could be to become the main reference blog in your niche and a small term goal would be to write 10 articles a week.

It really depends on your brand strategy and on your audience. Ask your self:
what makes my site better then others?
what’s important for my business? what experience and mood I want to communicate?
This involves also a market research to know who are your competitors and how you can do better then them.

Another important step is marketing. I’m not talking just about ads, even your personal blog could use some marketing if you want to increase your readership.
I’m quite sure you’re already thinking about Twitter. Well yes, social networks, Twitter, facebook can be very powerful to get traffic, but as usual consider your audience.
Do they actually use facebook and twitter?
For instance, this is a bilingual blog, I run the main version in Italian, but in Italy Twitter doesn’t seem to be a trend yet, I only have 4 or 5 italian subscribers there. Intead on my Facebook page the majority of fans are Italian.
Check which social network is the most used by your audience, don’t assume is the most famous.

Moreover, today twitter and facebook are often chose by readers as an alternative to RSS feeds. Another increasingly popular function of twitter is as a tool for customer care.

Don’t forget your site is either about content or about a service. How can you expand those two things beyond your domain?
If you’re offering a service you can go mobile and create apps for smartphone, you can create apps for facebook, you can create a widget and release an API for your developer fellas.
If instead you provide info you should create content that can be syndicated, which is reusable, which can be shared.

Monetization is something the most part of sites count on. There are many ways to earn money online, you should pick the most appropriate to your site model.
Advertisement is not really the most successful nowadays, but you can get the best from it by displaying targeted ad or ad campaigns.
Something similar is sponsorship, another company that is financing your project.
Syndication it’s an option, in both ways. You can get paid to diplay content from other sites or vice versa.
Affiliation is a technique used very often, you could have seen it when somebody was advising a particular webhosting and gave you a code, or more common, links to amazon books in a sidebar. You get paid for purchases.
Many successful sites have earned money by the so-called exit strategy, when they have been bought by other major companies.

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III.technology

: you should have a general knowledge of all the tools needed to build your site at least to know which are the limits you’re gonna face (financiary and technicals).

What kind of site you need?
it’s enough a blog?
you need a static site to share basic infos and contacts of your company?
is it a site that’s going to be updated often and by many personel of the team, so probably requiring a CSM?
Are you planning to use a lot of multimedia content?
do you need collaborative tools on the site?
are you thinking to include third party tools (slideshare presentations, embed videos, widgets, and so on)?
Do you have particulare requirements for the design (i.e. keep the colors of our logo)?

To understand which tools and how they’ll be used it’s important to prepare your team, to decide deadlines, to estimate your costs.

Resonance from Continuum on Vimeo.

conclusion

You saw this is a technique that applies to any genre of site, but a company has different needs and goals then a blogger. Study in depth your case and do some research in advance.
You could have found a little bit daunting that to outline a good strategy requires a wide range of expertise, but as Owyang suggests, you can chose to learn what needed or you should delegate (which is not at all easy).
In my country we have a saying that goes:”when someone thinks he can do everything probably he’s good at nothing”, but my personal advice is to try to learn a bit of everything. You’ll be an expert of your own field but it’s useful to know the basics of all the other aspects involved in the creative project in order to have the big picture and take the right decisions.

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