How to plan a new website
To celebrate the launch of the new Phlashweb site, we share our insights on the processes we went through to help get you started on your own project. We’ve also included a free downloadable checklist that will help you plan, test and launch your own site.
Getting started on developing a new site can be overwhelming. Particularly when your existing site doesn’t seem that bad. How do you know where to start? The truth is, we liked our last website. It was well branded, attractive and a lot of work went into it. We also turned it around quite quickly, so it was intense work and a testament to our abilities in web development. Having only launched in 2017, it wasn’t very old.
So why did we redevelop it?
Phill Ash, Phlashweb founder and CEO said: “The first site was really just to create a presence in the digital world. I actually had quite a few clients in the property space asking me about websites due to my technology background. Before that I hadn’t given it much thought. Given our limited resources at the time the old site more than served its purpose and got us off the ground.”
“As our client base started to grow and the services we offered expanded some of our client sites were looking much better than our own. I thought it was about time we upgraded ourselves to reflect our capabilities and new services more accurately.”
Added to this, last year we added copywriting services to our offering and as part of our marketing strategy, we started to utilise our blog. It didn’t take long to realise that it wasn’t quite up to par.
Launching a new service always requires an audit of all your channels, particularly your website. And for us, even though we knew the existing site was mostly fine, we also knew that we needed a product that said a bit more about us as a brand and met the full requirements we needed to promote our new product.
Not only did our website need to better celebrate our skills, it needed to be fit to evolve as we developed as a business and honed our services.
Darina Kostadinova, Phlashweb Project Director, summed it up well: “We required a more modern feel. There is some crazy stuff out there on the market right now. We needed to take that into account, and balance it with who we’re positioned towards in the Fintech and Property markets. It was about elevating our brand, looking more competitive and showing we had an edge. But it had to stay true to our identity.”
Never lose sight of your original aims, they will keep you focussed as the website develops at each stage. This is particularly vital when new ideas pop up through the project which could detract from the original intent behind your objectives.
Audit, audit, audit
When embarking a new website project, you need to ask yourself some questions.
- Is your website the best representation of your brand that it can be?
- Does it do what your clients or potential clients need?
- Is it easy to use and find things?
- Is it pleasurable to use?
- What does and doesn’t get looked at?
- Most importantly – are you getting a high conversion from it?
That is just the start of your audit, in which you should involve all types of stakeholder, staff and customer alike. You need to ask opinions. You’ll probably be surprised at what you come to realise about how you are representing your brand online.
Remember it’s best to be honest with yourself. This isn’t a beating up exercise, it’s a ‘do better’ one. It’s a chance to review everything you’re doing, realign workflows, and tighten up processes. It’s a positive step to make the company better than it already is. Reviewing the pitfalls of your current site is essential, and you will only benefit if you are able to have a frank and open conversation about how the current site could be better.
Our aims from our audit were:
- To better showcase our technical abilities
- Show our creativity and imagination
- Brand better: be more consistent in both style and function
- Help our users to around the site easily – is our website accessible enough?
Why? Overall, we realised that our last site needed a consistent navigation throughout the site for a better user experience. As it was, the navigation changed depending where you were in the site. Also, the online forms needed to feel more integrated into the website. And we needed to develop a platform for our blog to exhibit our writing services, overall aiming for a more pleasurable reading/user experience.
These goals were built into our brief, and were referred to throughout the process.
Refer to your original objectives at each stage
Never lose sight of your original aims, they will keep you focussed as the website develops at each stage. It’s normal for new suggestions to come up that you didn’t plan for once development is underway. When done right, your brief is your roadmap to meeting your targets on the project, and will keep you focussed during development.
This is particularly vital when the new ideas and features suggested could detract from the original intent behind your aims. New features should always be measured against your original needs and objectives, and of course, budget. Introducing new things at a late stage could mean backtracking on work already undertaken, which can be costly. Your team members who aren’t techical may need reminding of that.
Add life to your site
You’d be surprised how a small amount of movement on a website can make it feel alive and modern.
The animations on the desktop version of the Phlashweb site were meant to convey a sense of fun, add movement, and show how graphics can be functional. For instance, the services wheel which stops when you hover both shows what we do, and is clickable to take the user to read more about that service.
We recreated the Phlashweb infinity loop into an AVG graphic that was on brand, but elevated. This took some work, and has since had a second phase of work done on it to perfect the flow of the blue spark going around it. We thought this added a sense of fun, creating an element of surprise when the user hovers over the graphic. Below is a snapshot, but you can view the graphic live on the homepage.
Consistency in brand and style
This includes everything from fonts, and forms and even writing style.
Our corporate colours were previously aqua, black and grey which were smart and serious. However, we felt this didn’t really communicate us as people to work with.
We’re professional, but also fun. We’re friendly and creative. We felt we needed a splash of colour to add energy to the site.
Forms should always feel like they are part of a website, and not a separate entity. If a user feels they’ve been ‘taken away’ from a website to enter their details it almost immediately puts them off.
Our last font, whilst nice, was too light grey and difficult to read, particularly in the blog – it was worse on our mobile version. This is because the site wasn’t developed with the use of the blog in mind, so as our services evolved, we were facilitating an ‘out of the box’ API, which was not custom built to our needs.
Whilst fonts may seem superfluous, they actually play an integral part of the user experience of your site. They convey meaning about your brand, whether it’s old, new, modern, traditional, serious, light hearted – and far beyond. In general, Sans serif fonts are modern with no lines or strokes on the end of characters such as Calibri or Ariel – but not limited to those fonts. Serif fonts are more traditional, like Times New Roman or Georgia – but again, not limited to those fonts.
However, fonts should always facilitate easy reading and never jar the reader – for example, fonts that are styled to look like caligraphy can be hard to read. They may, however, be permissable for headings or logos when used/styled sensibly.
Headings are meant to break down a page and help people understand the information easily. They can make a page more interesting, and they can be used to decorate a page somewhat by adding a splash of colour – but that should be secondary.
In my opinion, if a reader doesn’t notice your font, you’ve done a good job because it should aid reading, not distract their attention away.
Not a design feature, but an internal decision to improve our brand messaging. Specifically, we needed to better convey our clients problems in our portfolio and how we solved them. But this extended to the rest of the site and social media too. It’s something that we’ll always need to be consistent on post development.
Our blog was developed so as we could advertise our writing services, demonstrate our knowledge and authority in the industry, and comment on trends and changes in the business. We also wanted to feature blogs and interviews from expert guest writers as part of our marketing plan.
Our previous blog was not easy to move around in – the user was unable to browse through old posts, and there was no index page. This was easy to resolve in the new site by giving the blog its own ‘home’.
If you are thinking about developing a blog, think about what it’s for first. Your strategy will need to involve a strong integrated approach between posts, products and services and your other channels. What do you have now? What else needs to be incorporated and why? Anything visual needs to be suitably justifiable and aid the reader. But it is also surprising how much content is produced without an easily accessible catalogue of posts. Unless your content is for paying customers only, make it easy for your reader to find your material.
There’s now a consistent navigation throughout the Plashweb site, with a ‘sticky’ navigation panel and access to pages being given in multiple ways. We’re proud to say that 100% of our testers reported ease of use.
Testing: Listen to your customers
Our colour scheme was a great example of why you should test your site with a select group of users before going live.
We have mentioned brand colours above – however, we did originally start with a very bright blue. Sadly, this this wasn’t popular with our testers. We took the feedback, discussed it and went away and reviewed the overall pallet of the new sent.
We decided to compromise on the colour slightly and go with the two tone blue/purple now on the home page which has been much more popular with users. We now also see how much kinder and less corporate it looks – fun and attractive.
We’re really happy we decided to listen to our users. It’s a very simple thing to change before go-live, not so much after, and people can have very strong reactions to colours.
It’s worth bearing in mind that you can never please everybody though.
It’s not a finished product
During the development we looked at creating an accessible site, so that it meets the Level 2 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards, and is easy to navigate for users with accessibility issues. This is a process that is still in development and we will have a second phase early next year.
Accessible sites are difficult to build because the guidelines aren’t easy to interpret for developers, but we are looking for volunteer testers to help us improve the site in the next phase.
We will revisit the accessible side of things next year, and hope to develop something that is easy to use for all users with print impairments and user disabilities.
In fact, as Darina Kostadinova points out: “Websites are never finished products. You can build sites to be robust, and age well as technology changes, but they will always require good maintenance. You should never think of them as ‘finished’. Good business practice is to review your site every year and ask yourself if it’s still meeting your requirements as a business, as well as your customers, existing and potential. If there’s something more you can reasonably do, then you should.”
“I’m in love with the new site. Jade and Darina did an outstanding job. I think it represents us far better than the old one and I’m very excited to see the reflection live after all the hard work.” Phill Ash, Founder and CEO of Phlashweb.
Need more guidance? Download our checklist to help you plan, test and launch your site.