Design & development: the least important parts of your website project

Author - Alex Price

Posted By Alex Price Founder

Date posted 14th Sep 2020

Category Marketing


‘Design’ and ‘development’ are too obviously key parts of a website. But the real magic happens long before a designer starts designing…

First, as a marketer you need to decide what type of website project you’re about to run. My view is that they can more or less quite cleanly be separated into two categories: ‘non-strategic’ projects and ‘strategic’ projects.

What’s a non-strategic website project?

A non-strategic website project is one that doesn’t have any marketing results or objectives associated with it.

Although less common, we do occasionally receive briefs like this. The client might explain the project as ‘we just want to update the design’. When we ask them why, they will say something like ‘it just feels out of date’.

The reality is that they have an opportunity to deliver big marketing results through their website redesign project, but they simply don’t see their website this way.

That’s fine, but as an agency we don’t tend to take on projects of this kind. We’re driven by delivering results and so we want to see the needle move in some form.

So what’s a strategic website project?

A strategic website project is one that is clearly aligned to measurable results.

For example, through the delivery of your website project you might want to:

  • Increase organic search (SEO) visibility
  • Increase conversion rates
  • Increase inbound lead generation

If you’re expecting your website project to deliver these results, you’ll either have to do a lot of work prior to engaging with a digital agency, or you will need to budget for this work to be done with the agency.

The work that really transforms a website project into a strategic marketing machine happens long before a designer starts designing…

So what is the most important part of a website project?

So if it’s not design, and not development, then what is the most important part of a website project? The most important part of a website redesign and development project comes right at the start.

Foundations have to be laid through research, strategy, discovery and definition work before you get to the ‘design‘ or ‘development‘ stages of the project.

Mapping out the buyer journey, user personas, auditing and aligning content, defining user flows, UX wireframing, reviewing analytics, using SEO research to shape sitemap, IA and content. These are just some of the things that might be needed to deliver a strategically successful website – one that actually delivers marketing results.

Without these foundations, a designer is simply swinging in the dark. Sure, they might design a website that ‘looks nice’. But that’s probably all it will do.

Of course you don’t have to do this strategy or discovery work with the agency delivering your website – you could do it in house, with consultants or with a strategy agency.

Either way, if you want marketing results through a website project, some of this work is unavoidable.

What does this look like in practice?

Below is a recent example of a strategy, discovery and definition phase of work for a client website redesign project:

Strategy budget

This phase of work took place as an initial standalone piece of strategy work across approximately 6 weeks before we began any design or development.

The outputs from this work were the foundations for our design team to deliver a website design that doesn’t just look good, but is user centric, aligned with the buyer journey, SEO optimised from the beginning and optimised to convert leads.

The result?

Within days of launch (nearly overnight after launch on August 3rd), the strategy, discovery and definition work we undertook resulted in:

  • 2209% increase in Google ranking positions
  • 197% increase in new target keywords being ranked for
  • 775% increase in lead generation conversion

The ROI from this project will mean it could have paid for itself within months of launch.

And yet, if the client hadn’t invested in this strategy, discovery and definition work, these results simply would not have been delivered.

There can be a lot more that goes in to a successful project that delivers marketing results than you might think…

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