Any agency or developer will tell you that the key to a successful website build is the very first step in the entire project: the discovery phase.
Websites are not cheap, quick, or easy to build. This first phase gives you the opportunity to do as much work as you can to ensure the website you’re about to build addresses all of your goals. One of the most painful mistakes you can make is rushing through the discovery process only to find, weeks later in the testing phase, that your website is incapable of performing as you need it to.
Here are the 3 pillars of a successful discovery phase in building a new website:
There are two sets of research that need to occur: your internal research and the design and development team’s research. Your research comes first because it will provide the guidelines and specific insight that lead your team down the right path.
But, where to start?
We recommend starting with this New Website Planner document. It outlines the most important questions you’ll need to ask yourself and your company in order to provide clarity and vision. Topics range from what your company does and who your audience is, to how many different types of pages you envision having on the site, to your ideal launch date.
After completing this worksheet, your design and development team will use it to conduct their own research. This may include a competitive analysis, custom feature exploration, and preliminary design ideation.
2. Specs and Requirements
In your research, you’ll probably uncover the need for special features on your new website. This could include anything from a blog or search functionality, to custom calls-to-action and photo galleries. Even if you aren’t sure what the solution to your need is, it’s important to list out the types of functionality you’re looking for so your developer can offer possible solutions.
Especially important is the need for any integrations with other software (ecommerce shopping carts, inbound marketing, or customer relationship management [CRM]) systems. These requirements must absolutely be noted in the planning stages as they will affect many other design and structural choices.
3. Information Architecture, Sitemap, and Wireframe
Once you and your team agree on the vision for the site and have compiled a list of requirements, preliminary building can begin.
Information architecture (IA) refers to the organizing and structuring of your website’s content. IA ensures that everything on your site has a place and nothing is forgotten. It also works to build a better user experience (UX) which is critical
This direction then spurs the wireframe, a black and white architectural blueprint that represents the skeletal framework of your site. This is the foundation on which your designers create the actual design of your site in the next phase of website build.
IA also informs your sitemap, an organized list of all of the pages included on your website. Sitemaps are like roadmaps for your copywriters and content integrators. They are also submitted to the major search engines, such as Google, informing them of all the pages on your site that may not be discoverable by their normal crawling process.
It’s tempting to rush through the discovery phase when excitement is high and the need to move quickly is pressing. However, we promise you that taking your time in this first phase will undoubtedly save you time (and money) somewhere down the line. The more work you can put into planning, the happier you’ll be with the end product.
Ready to start thinking about content? Watch this quick animated video for our tips on the 4 types of content to consider when building a new website.