Website Strategy & Build Process
Your website is one of your most important marketing tools. Done right, it can make tasks easier and enhance the user experience for your audiences, reduce phone calls and questions to your office, increase traffic to your site, and help you reach strategic goals.
Building a website takes time, critical thinking and creativity. But don't worry, whether you're building a new website or redesigning an existing one, our team is here to help walk you through certain steps you need to take to build a cohesive, user-friendly website.
We’ll work with you on a strategy that will help you:
- Ensure that everything on your website has a purpose and supports your messages and goals
- Streamline content and delete unnecessary pages or elements
- Effectively communicate information through site structure, text, photos and graphics
- Format your pages and the content that lives on them in a way that easy to consume
If you are starting from scratch to build a new website, first create a content outline to determine what information needs to be included. Look at similar sites and other GW pages to see examples of content to include.
If you have an existing site, complete a content audit by reviewing every page and creating an inventory using a tool such as Canva Whiteboard, Google Docs/Sheets, Trello, Notion, etc. Take notes to determine what needs to be updated, deleted or added. Check out your Google Analytics to see what pages are most/least visited and how users are interacting with your site.
Schedule an intake meeting with our team so we can learn as much as possible about your organization. We can work together to define your goals and audiences, which will inform the strategy and architecture of your site.
A website strategy is essential for success. Review our tips below to get started. If you work on a web project with our team, we will help you through this process. Once these details are determined, we can help you create and implement a strategy on your site by making recommendations about structure, tactics and visuals to meet the needs of your audiences.
There is no right way to document your strategy. Use a format that works best for your office and can easily be updated and shared.
- Determine Your Goals
Your website is part of your conversation with audiences, so you need to set the tone for that conversation and decide what you want to accomplish before moving to next steps. You may want to:
- Persuade prospective students to apply or contact you
- Encourage audiences to register for events or complete a task by a deadline
Show audiences how and why to utilize the services you offer
Promote an initiative or research efforts
Build trust or establish a relationship
You may have various goals that are not all related, but clearly defining them will help you determine priorities, develop your site structure and create useful content.
- Know Your Audience
Various audiences will visit your website for specific reasons. You need to know who they are and what they need so you can provide a good user experience by helping them accomplish tasks and answer questions. Be specific when defining your audiences. This will help you better understand them and what they’re looking for. For example, current students may be your primary audience, but what else do you know about them? Some additional details may include:
- Type of student (undergraduate, graduate, international)
- Particular issues of interest (financial, academic, emotional, etc.)
- Field of study
- Do Your Research
Your strategy should be supported by data and research as much as possible. You can use Google Analytics or Siteimprove to see what your users are doing on your site and what led them to you. If you can talk to your primary audiences directly, ask them about their experiences with your website to better understand what they need. You can also look at other university websites in GW’s market basket or sites that share similar goals to gather ideas about how to present or organize content.
- Maintain Your Site
Your strategy should define your plan for maintaining and updating your website so it is always accurate and timely. Outline the maintenance tasks and who is responsible for completing them. Some examples include:
- Consistently reviewing pages for accuracy
- Presenting relevant information before, during and after an event
Keeping dates and deadlines current
Adding new content or features
Removing staff members who no longer work at GW or services that are no longer offered
Thinking about the timely tasks that audiences need to complete and updating your promotion strategy
You can also create an editorial calendar to manage your update tasks. Our team can help you come up with this strategy and format a template.
- Grow Your Strategy
Your strategy is constantly evolving and never set in stone. It should be updated to represent changes, such as:
- New goals
- New audiences
A shift in your audience’s needs
New or revised services or focus areas
Ensure that your strategy always helps you make thoughtful decisions about your content so you can meet the needs of your audiences.
Continue to review your analytics to determine if visitors are finding the information they need and taking the desired actions, or to decide if you should make adjustments to the site or page structures.
A sitemap is a blueprint for your website and defines the:
- Navigation and structure for your site
- Pages on your site, including the titles and content represented on each (i.e., About Us or Programs)
It is key to plan out each page of your site and what content will live there before you start writing text and planning for visuals. Start by identifying key words your content should cover, and use a technique called card sorting to begin grouping the key words together, forming the basis for your navigation. You can use online tools to complete this activity or post-it notes arranged on the wall. For example, key words for an institute or center might include: research, board members, funding, make a donation, faculty bios, news, contact us, history, etc. From there, you can start grouping similar content. Perhaps faculty bios and board members live under a navigation title of "contact us."
Use a spreadsheet, document or online tool to create your sitemap and list all pages and their hierarchy (Canva Whiteboard is a free tool that allows you to easily build and edit your sitemap visual). If you're redesigning an existing site, be sure to conduct an inventory and account for all existing pages. You can then rearrange these items or decide where to condense, add or delete.
A wireframe is a visual guide that represents the skeletal framework of a webpage or template, or the basic plans for the layout of each page. It's typically made up of blocks to represent where content will reside, but does not include any actual words or images. Wireframes provide and define the content needed to develop and publish the page. You can use an online tool or sketch your ideas on paper to determine how you want the site to look.
For GW Drupal projects, we’ll work with you to create a sitemap and wireframes for select pages.
Writing for the web is unique, with its own style and best practices. Users consume content differently online and skim instead of reading every word. Text should be short, easy to read, and include bullet points or other visual elements, such as headers and images, to guide the readers' eye. Use our web writing checklist (PDF) to guide your writing.
You must also consider other factors such as accessibility guidelines, which ensure all users have access to the content on your website. We utilize a tool called Siteimprove to guide our efforts in insuring our sites are compliant.
You can schedule time to meet with your content strategist or attend a training session to learn more about web best practices.
Once your sitemap is finalized and your wireframes are done, use each as a guide to develop your content. When writing for each page, follow our web writing checklist (PDF), proofread and make edits before you consider it final. Choose photos and have graphics created to accompany your text.
If you are working with us on your GW Drupal website, we’ll review your content and ideas for visuals, providing recommendations for areas to edit or improve. We will facilitate the production of all graphics and photos with our design and photography teams.
For blogs, you can submit a request for graphics. You can also create graphics on your own as long as you follow GW’s visual identity guidelines. If you need photos for your pages, request support from our photography team to get the visuals you need.
Once your content has been written and graphics have been developed, you are ready to start adding it to your site or blog.
If you’re working with us, we’ll use your content to conduct an in-person one-on-one GW Drupal training. If you are already familiar with GW Drupal, but need specific support or to refresh your memory, come to our weekly Office Hours or use our Drupal Demo & Training website.
If you’re working on your own and using GW Drupal, attend an upcoming training and use our content entry checklist (PDF). Support for blogs can be found through WordPress.
Before your site goes live, proofread and double-check everything. Look for typos, test links and review text to ensure it makes sense. Use Siteimprove's quality assurance features to assist with these efforts. Define a process within your team to review each page and make edits as necessary.
When working with us, we expect you to proof your site. We will also conduct a thorough review and provide you with detailed edits to make before launch.
Once you’ve made final edits and you are proud of your site, it is time to make it live. We will facilitate the launch of your new site with the Division of Information Technology and it will replace your old one, if applicable. You should continue to monitor and maintain your site and use your strategy to make timely updates post-launch.