You’ve got the perfect idea. I mean a good one. One you’ve been waiting your whole life to come up with. It’s good and you are going to be a superstar. You know this ever so perfect idea needs a killer website to make it come to life. Not just any website, but a good one that will quickly and beautifully illustrate your concept and why the world must embrace it.
You pop on over to ThemeForest.net or Template Monster or any other website that offers thousands of WordPress themes. Somehow you’ve lost hours of your day combing through the themes and noting your favorite options. But it’s all worth it.
You’ve found the most amazing multipurpose WordPress theme to bring your new idea to life. You are off to a great start. You are your new theme are going to do fabulous things together. How could you not? After all it comes with a bazillion options and the demo looks just perfect.
Sadly, it’s not going to be at all successful like you think. Why? Because you’re going backwards. You’re jumping way ahead in the process.
Jumping ahead, what? I know you think I’m wrong. You have to have a theme to start working with right? NO!
A WordPress theme is not the starting point. A theme is simply a means by which you can reach your final destination.
First Impressions are Critical
In many website visits, your home page creates the first impression. It immediately begins to tell your story and allows you to connect with visitors. You need to make sure your home page is welcoming, professional looking, builds trust, answers questions, and provides clear direction.
Ok so what’s the problem? You haven’t defined anything yet. You can’t just jump to design without first thinking through your story, the answers you need to provide, your ability to build trust, and the manner in which you need to provide direction.
Defining and designing your home page is the most important thing you can do in website development.
Don’t jump in and rush ahead in a hurry to execute. Executing without properly planning will produce negative results. It will fail to produce what you want and it will create a negative first impression that you cannot eliminate.
Start With a Plan and Answer Some Key Questions
Start with a clean slate, a formal process, and a solid plan. Don’t just jump into picking a pretty theme with 100+ options. Proper marketing needs strategy and execution.
Let’s first start with defining what success looks like for you and your future website. What are your goals and objectives? What do you need your website to produce? Common examples of a successful visit include:
- Brand exposure
- Warm prospects
- Actual sales
To help formulate your plan, you have to know the answers to some critical questions that help define your target market, how you can help, and how they can convert. Ask yourself these questions and document your answers. I mean write them down so you can revisit them and validate your actions to them.
- Who is your target market?
- What problems or issues do they need to solve?
- How can you help them solve these issues?
- What service, product, or content can provide a solution?
- Why should they reach out to you versus someone else?
- Can you provide social proof?
- What content can you offer as additional information?
- How can visitors convert into a subscriber, lead or sale?
Once you answer the above questions, you’ll be able to provide some strategy to your process. You’ll be able to plan ahead and make sure your process is inline with your objectives and goals.
We have some more direction, but we’re not done.
Define Your Website Personas and Create a Roadmap for Each
We now need to work further and dig deeper. Our next step is to clearly identify and document who comes to your website. If we can group these visitors into segments, we’ll be able to better market to them. We call these groupings website personas.
Here are two examples of personas:
- University – Future students, parents of students, existing students, or future faculty members
- Shoe Store – Men, women, boys, girls
Dig out a piece of paper and create website personas by segmenting your target market into individual groups. For each group, identify the following key elements:
- Persona name
- Pain points and/or needs
- The offering that meets their unique needs
- Path to persona-based content
- Call to action for converting into lead, sale, etc.
Defining personas helps you stay focused on the visitor. The process helps make sure that you are working for your visitor, which will help lead them to convert into your desired action.
Now that we have our visitors defined into segments, we need to create a roadmap for each. You might be thinking this is common sense, but it isn’t. I talk to a lot of people who have groups defined, but forget to actually create content for each group.
You can use whatever method works best for you. Paper and pen with arrows, Excel, Word, or an online software package. I don’t care what method you use as long as you take a moment to document the route you would like each visitor persona to take within the website.
This step helps define what you need to provide within your website to properly service the various visitors and their unique needs. When website visitors are serviced properly, they are happy. Happy visitors convert and return.
Make Navigation Easy
Have you ever walked into a new grocery store or a department store and felt completely lost? That is what website visitors feel like when they visit a website with poor navigation.
My local store is huge and the store sells everything from milk and paper products to bathing suits and auto supplies. I am positive I felt utterly overwhelmed by the variety of products and the size of the store on my first trip. The store has obviously considered this because their ceiling provides an easy to use map of the store layout and it quickly navigates you to core locations (or departments) within the store. Need baby products or kitchen supplies? There is a sign for both and they even offer an image for those of us frantically looking for diapers in a late night store run. Think about how convenient and customer friendly this is for visitors.
Now transfer that same ease of use to your website. Your website visitors need the same guidance and direction. If you’re content is persona-based, they want navigation options by persona as well.
Before digging into home page design, you should have a navigation menu defined for at least the top-level items. Make sure this navigation clearly points visitors to core pages such as About, Products, Services, and Contact. Use common language and avoid cute (aka confusing) verbiage.
If you have an excessive amount of navigation items, then consider a secondary menu. We have one at the top right of our header and it provides key hyperlinks for our store theme buyers. Adding those few links has saved me hours in email answering questions about account access and sign in.
Define Focused Call to Actions
Call to actions is one of the first things I like to discuss with any new prospect or customer. In doing so I simply ask the person what constitutes a success website visit. I ask what actions do they want visitors to take before they leave the website.
These call to actions could include:
- Signing up for a newsletter
- Calling into the brick and mortar store or company
- Posting a comment on a blog post
- Liking a Facebook page
- Downloading a white paper
- Viewing a product demo
- Requesting more information via a contact form
- Making a purchase
They can be anything really. The important point to remember is to define these early on in your planning process and then having these front and center when you enter into design. You want your design to include these items and be cohesive with the rest of the elements so they feel natural and look professional.
As you document your desired call to actions, you should revisit your original goals and objectives and validate that they are in sync. I know I keep coming back to this, but you would be surprised at how many people get caught up in design and completely forget about their original goals and objectives.
Write a Brief Overview of Who You Are and What You Do
A home page should have text. Not a ton of text, but enough text to give visitors a quick overview of who you are and what you do. Make this information brief and succinct, while still being informative.
The goal in this step is to write text that is easily digestible by visitors and help them confirm that they are in the right place. This will allow them to pause, look around the home page, and navigate to other areas of the website.
Fight the urge to write a book here. I talk to a lot of people who want to fill this area with keywords in hopes of attracting Google. That doesn’t work for SEO and it should be avoided because it hurts the overall user experience.
Users don’t want to read paragraphs and paragraphs of text on the home page. They want confirmation that they have located a possible match to their needs and they want direction on how to learn more about things that matter to them.
Create a Wireframe
We’ve reviewed a lot of information so far and I’m betting you’re wondering if we are ever going to get to design. Well we are almost there. Our next step is to create a wireframe, which is a simple outline of your home page.
It could be a hand drawn on paper or you could use PowerPoint or a online software package designed specifically for wireframes. It doesn’t matter as long as you take the time to drawn out what you need to have on your home page and where you’d like to position it.
Why is this so important? It keeps you on task and focused on your content and your visitor. Instead of hitting ThemeForest and getting sidetracked by glitz and glamour, you are focused on finding a theme that matches your needs and the needs of your visitor.
Focusing on your visitor and their needs is how you find true success within website design and development.
Match Your Wireframe to a WordPress Theme
We finally get to look at themes and make a purchase. Woo hoo! We’re shopping and we get to finally buy something.
It is important to purchase a stock theme that matches your wireframe and your project objectives. Remember to look past design and check key features like HTML5, schema support, browser compliance, and ongoing support options. You’d be surprised how many stock WordPress themes fail a coding audit or lack a developer who can provide ongoing support.
If funds allow, consider hiring a professional designer to create a custom theme that is unique to you, your website, and your brand. This won’t be cheap, but if you have the budget, it will produce great results. If you go this route remember to allocate time for graphic design and coding creation. Our custom WordPress themes take about six weeks.
Before you hit the buy button or sign off on your custom design, remember to select a theme that matches you, your content, and your objectives. Don’t pick a blogging theme if you’re an online store. This happens a lot and the purchase always results in buyer remorse.
A good WordPress theme will be designed specifically for a type of website or blog. What type are you?
- Company with basic brochure information and images
- Blog with only posts
- Complex online store with multiple products
- Simple single product store
- Service-focused website
- News site
- Review site
- Community site
Remember that all themes are not created equal. The best themes will be designed with a specific target market in mind. Make sure the theme you purchase has a target market that matches you and your project.
Populate Your Content
This is the magical part I love so much. It’s when real content goes into the website and the idea becomes reality.
As you populate your content, remember to keep the KISS theory of simplicity in place. People scan a home page, so make the content easy to read and easy to scan.
When you are done populating your content, take a step back and ask yourself how you did. Here are a few questions you can use to validate your work:
- Does the home page adequately address your target market and personas?
- Does it answer the key questions you previously answered?
- Does it provide clear direction and navigation?
- Does it help achieve the goals and objectives originally defined?
If you answered yes to the above questions, then kudos to you. Well done! Celebrate and launch this masterpiece. If you’re answers are no, then go back through and focus on the items you missed. The extra time you put in now, will be paid back ten fold by happy website visitors.