From a websites consultant’s perspective, by far the most important part of the website design process is the discovery phase. This is the first step in the process and includes research and analysis to investigate how the website can best serve the needs of the business and its customers. Our discovery phase is fast becoming one of the cornerstones of our service and crucial for clients, since it puts the achievement of business goals at the heart of the digital strategy.
The discovery phase encompasses ten key steps and starts with a combination of desk research and background reading, followed by a workshop. This process enables us to work closely with each client, sense check any assumptions and create a tight specification for the website build and future development. It allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the business, which in turn means we can make better design decisions. The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) can be decided on in the discovery phase. And we might even decide that the company needs an app, intranet or extranet and not necessarily a website.
Essentially, the key output from this process is a clickable wireframe of the website and a clear strategy for the way forward. Here we describe the ten steps in this phase:
1. Needs assessment session
As a first step, we take a strategic approach to assess the needs of the organisation, including identifying long-term objectives and internal and external influences. This face-to-face session normally takes one to three hours and will generally involve key stakeholders, such as the business owner, board members, key marketing and sales people. To maintain a strong focus, we normally run these sessions off-site.
The kind of information we hope to glean includes: business drivers and objectives, the purpose of the website, required website outcomes, problems with the existing site, routes to market, marketing strategy, and what the website should do – is it a brochure or portfolio tool, the front to a store, or a full-eCommerce site? Our clients are the experts in their business, so we’ll also delve into what websites they like and don’t like and identify how key competitor’s websites, messaging and offerings compare.
We also need to get a feel for available budget; it’s much easier if we have a rough idea from the outset as we can then recommend a solution and specification based on budget available. Finally, we look at setting deadlines: it’s good to set realistic expectations from the outset as a website build can take anything from six weeks to six months, depending on the complexity of the site.
This includes desk research, such as competitor and industry research. We also conduct user interviews to discover responses and opinions about the current website (if one exists) or to test out potential end-customer thoughts on what they’d require from the website.
3. Site goals review
Here we investigate what customer and business needs the website must address, and what functionality is required to achieve this. At the top level the website goals could be to sell products or services, educate, share content or take bookings. We’ll then dive deeper and identify metrics required to support achievement of business objectives. These goals could be: increasing the number of monthly unique visitors, page views, reducing bounce rate, meeting sales targets, boosting engagement in content and followers, building email subscribers, search ranking, improving content quality, encouraging downloads, conversions, promoting thought leadership, reducing admin around enquiries or media attention.
4. Analytics review
Starting with the viewpoint of any issues that the business is facing, or opportunities the client wants to maximise, we use Google Analytics to study the current site performance. Here we look at most visited pages, user flow, pages that users ‘drop off’, average view time, bounce rate, top 20 organic keywords, desktop vs mobile traffic, site search, marketing tools or focus areas. We typically look over the last year’s data to get a realistic picture over time.
If we’re working on a website for a new business launch, we’ll use analytics carefully in the early weeks and months and adjust accordingly.
5. Conversion review
Conversions can be call-back requests, contact form completion, offers redeemed, online sales, phone calls recorded from site or download content requests. We’ll assess what elements are converting well, and not so well. Conversion rates will be different for each company. If there is an existing website, we’ll try using the site as a customer would and use our findings to inform our suggested solution.
6. User persona creation
Crucial to the process, this involves developing typical user profiles and informs the design process. User personas are fictional characters that describe each type of potential user. Having detailed personas means we can design the best user experience. There may be different types of users within each segment, for example: prospective, existing or returning customers, press, potential employees, investors.
By learning about each type of user’s needs, and creating a user flow chart, we can enhance the experience of each user and make sure they achieve their goals within the site much quicker.
7. Sitemap creation
A sitemap is similar to a content table. We identify pages and the hierarchy of the pages as well as the links between pages. If we’re redesigning an old website, we decide the pages to keep or remove and may restructure the top-level navigation to improve the user experience.
8. Sketched low fidelity wireframes
This is like the blueprint for the website and helps us to prioritise content. We create this simple, black and white, site outline with the client face-to-face as a starting point for the visual design and structure of the website. It helps to illustrate how the content and functionality will be laid out on a page, as well as considering user needs and journey.
9. Flow or process diagrams
We map out the users flow through the site from first hit to the end goal. From a client’s point of view, this is essential as we want to make sure each persona and segments of the target audience can access the information they need and then act via the most expeditious route.
10. Identify functionality requirements
This is a technical specification document that outlines how we will build the website. Where the website is at the core of the business, and it’s a large IT project, the technical specification will need to be very detailed. We’ll also look at other elements like, security, loading times or any legal implications.
All of our findings and recommendations are then pulled together in a comprehensive report.
We offer our discovery phase and website specification as a stand-alone service, or as part of a full website project. Our team of experts are here to help local businesses in Surrey with web design to drive sales, brand awareness and campaign awareness. If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch with Arps