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by Eric Sharp on April 3, 2013

Topics: Planning & Strategy


The word “strategy” has always irked me.

“Strategy this, strategy that”. “Organization strategy”. “Product strategy”. “Market strategy”. “Buy this strategy and get your ROI tomorrow!”

Yes, it’s ubiquitous to business, but I’m sure you’ve observed overuse and misuse at one point and can empathize with me.

Website companies can be notorious for using this word to describe the first phase of a project with hazy deliverables, undocumented milestones and no formidable explanation to why one is even needed. I know this because I once offered “Website Strategy Services” with those shortcomings — naively, of course. After a few blank stares from prospects and some valuable lessons along the way, I finally understand what it should be all about.

And you should too.

The short and long-term success of your website is dependent on how you execute your Website Strategy, who contributes to it, what specifically comes out of it and most importantly — when it happens.

The conversation with your website strategist should be like a tennis volley. Back and forth. Back and forth.
The conversation with your website strategist should be like a tennis volley. Back and forth, back and forth.

A Website Strategy phase should give you a platform to pass valuable information back and forth between your internal team, and the company building your website. In order to build the best possible user experience, there needs to be knowledge transfer from the get-go.

It’s a bit silly to assume that their team could already have a base understanding of your business’ operations, products/services, customers, market, competitors, brand personality, and chronic needs of the sales and marketing departments.

The first few weeks should be treated like a tennis match.

You talk about your business, and they listen. They regurgitate and respond, you listen. There should be plenty of “whys” and a healthy dose of “why nots”. There are no pixels being moved to create beautiful user interfaces, code being written, or keywords being researched — yet.

This is about conversation. Lets also not overlook the opportunity for both teams to build rapport; a primer for trust.

5 questions to ask during your Website Strategy

1. What are our business/website objectives?

Major stakeholders within your company typically (and should) chime in during this exercise. How will you know how to measure success after going live without first defining, agreeing and documenting? “Instill more confidence with the consumer when researching and buying our product” and “Drive more qualified non-paid and non-branded search engine traffic” are both great examples of objectives. Think “what” rather than “how”.

2. What’s our current website doing wrong AND (possibly) right?

A thorough analysis is helpful to define pain points within the UX (User Experience), start tracking current search engine positioning and peer into user actions (aka conversions). You have Website Analytics running, right? Study those existing traffic patterns and run heatmaps (we love CrazyEgg) on your top landing pages.

3. Who’s our audience and what do they need?

At ProtoFuse, we’ve discovered invaluable user behavior and motivations for our clients by conducting both qualitative and quantitative research. We rely on services like Survey Monkey, conduct user interviews and finish it off with website user personas. These personas are arguably the most important deliverable to all of your Strategy.

4. What are our competitors doing?

Take notice of their website’s user experience, content, search engine rankings and overall domain authority (what is domain authority?) But, don’t just discuss these aspects, document your findings. Your web company should help you navigate this activity, and capture this makeshift SWOT analysis with the help of a nerdy screenshot tool. Neeeerds.

5. What kinds of valuable content will we create?

“We want a blog”. Great, now lets explore the rationale behind this tactic. Focus on coming up with a calculated plan for generating, publishing, overseeing and measuring that blog content. Document and have your writers agree on those expectations for the next year. Yes, that’s one whole year.

What happens if a Website Strategy phase isn’t completed first?

Bad things man. Seriously though, it could get messy. Here are a handful:

Taking time to implement these exercises during Strategy could prevent trouble during design, development and marketing.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the phrase “Paralysis through Analysis”. Rex Grossman, the once starting QB of the Chicago Bears, was addressing the media post-game and attempting to explain his inability to execute on the field.

I don’t know who was more frustrated, me (the fan) or Rex (the leader of the offense, turned self-evaluator).

The whole point is to prepare you for action, confidently, so those far-reaching design, development, content and marketing decisions can be made.

Your Website Strategy should certainly be thorough, but don’t let it bring paralysis to the project or your team. Ensure you do it before other phases, have planned exercises, expect deliverables, and have an ending point. Don’t spend 6+ months in Strategy, but don’t rush through it in 6 hours. At ProtoFuse, our web strategy consulting takes 4-6 weeks.

Here’s another tip. Reference your Website Strategy throughout subsequent phases. We make that recall effortless for our clients by bundling our documentation into a concise PDF — coined the “User Experience Roadmap”.

Contact us today and let our Strategy increase your ROI tomorrow!

Kidding, of course. No more blank stares, Eric. No more.

Author Info

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Hey there, thanks for reading! My name is Eric Sharp and I’m the Founder of ProtoFuse. Learn more about me, follow me on Twitter or find me on Google+. Oh, and I’ll call you family if you’re a Chicago Bears fan. Daaa Bearsss.