Are you considering changing your company’s website? Maybe yours is in need of an upgrade or perhaps you’re starting from scratch.
Whatever your situation, I recommend inviting the seriously smart team at Alive With Ideas to work with you.
My new All Things IC website went live a couple of weeks ago thanks to their creativity, hard work and technical know-how.
I love behind the scenes content in internal comms and thought I’d share my own here. Through this article you’ll discover the process we used, see the visuals we didn’t go ahead with and much more.
It’s a long read, grab a cup of tea (or ice-cream in this beautiful weather we’re currently enjoying here in the UK!) and settle in.
When thinking about creating a site, you may have these thoughts whizzing around:
- What’s the process I need to go through?
- What decisions do I need to make?
- How long will it take?
- How will I know when I’m ready to launch the website?
I’m delighted to welcome Alive With Ideas’ Founder and Creative Director Alan Oram to my blog. He’s the most creative person I know, and I’m honoured to call him a friend.
We’ve answered all of these questions and many more through this blog post.
First, I’m going to take a look back at the history of my website
I first created my website back in 2009. I registered a WordPress username which I’m too embarrassed to write here, and launched my blog.
My original website is pictured below. I published this image in 2019 to mark a decade of blogging. I remember taking that sunset photograph near Canary Wharf one evening. I was working in-house in the railway and snapped it on my way home.
The site has had various names including Life through a 2.0 Lens (which was very trendy in 2009/10) and Diary of an internal communicator.
An evolving process
Over the past 11 years, my website has not only housed my blog, but seen me launch my business, All Things IC, in 2013 and be my shop window.
It’s worked super hard, hosting 1400 blog posts, which equates to a million words or 11 books’ worth of content, plus my Masterclasses, Consultation and Mentoring offerings.
But for 2020, it was time for a change.
Further reading: What writing a million words on my blog has taught me.
If you’re thinking of creating or revitalising your website, do you know where to start?
Calling in the experts
Like many business owners, our own Comms are often last on the list as we’re so focused on helping clients.
Alan came to see me at the All Things IC Hub back in February (pictured) and we started discussing the website, what I wanted to achieve and the intended outcome.
I invited brand storyteller Lucy Eckley to help me write the copy as I knew I’d be too close to it. I also knew I’d need that dedicated focus from an expert to get the ideas from my head and heart onto the screen, thank you Lucy.
Work continued in earnest during lockdown, with the Alive team including Ally and Ian working hard to translate ideas into reality, and Lucy and I revising the copy over a number of weeks.
I’m thankful to them all for helping me have a website that finally reflects how I can support internal communicators and where my business is at.
Here’s my conversation with Alan…
Q) Alan can you tell us the process you go through when creating a new website? Where do you start?
The starting point isn’t really about the website. It’s important to understand what’s driving the need for a new site.
This is about understanding the strategy and goals of the business or individual that the site is for. This needs to aligned with your site visitors need and expect.
Whilst doing this we can’t lose sight of the brand and image that is being projected.
For me, it’s a conversation about where you have been and where you are heading and how the website will support this transition and journey.
A clear strategy leads to clear positioning and messaging which if done correctly will resonate with your audience. This should feel familiar with any other comms projects, but it can be difficult to be objective about things when it’s your business.
I found myself digging deep at this stage and examining what was in my head in heart, my aspirations for All Things IC, the feelings I want to convey and the experience I want readers and clients to have. I kept coming back to my values to make sure I was keeping on the right track – Rachel.
Simplifying and refining
If this can be distilled into a brief, then it should be. This is useful for you and the designers.
Simplifying the customer journey through the site and reducing the click rate can make the difference between a good site and a great site.
We talk through the briefs and often we find the wish list is extensive. Looking at what is needed and what is nice to have is important.
In your case, knowing about the company and brand as we did with All Things IC meant we were able to help streamline your offerings to help clients make the right decision.
The design team sit down with the project team and really delve deep into the journey and how they get to the end point. This helps create a website that makes the best use of the existing brand elements, looks great and makes this journey seamless.
We need to consider the back-end functionality early in the process too, and how the team(s) will update and use the site. This also needs to be user friendly so whatever we hand over is fit for purpose. We build this functionality into our process right from the start.
Understanding the end point underpins the process.
Q) It is a help or hinderance if people have an existing site?
There are pros and cons to having a site and not having one.
Having something in place gives everyone involved something to critique and develop an understanding of what is and isn’t working from various perspectives…
- Brand, position and messaging
- Usability, structure and navigation
- Functionality and technical capabilities.
By already having a site the client may also have developed an understanding of likes and dislikes on all of these. It does depend on the extent of the redesign and the current state of the site.
If the website is simple and the navigation is generally staying the same, then it’s not a hinderance. But often that’s not why people come to us. They come because the website isn’t working for them and it needs an overhaul. So, it’s often a complete rebuild.
In the case of the All Things IC website where you have 1400+ blogs, shop and lots of precious historical data, we needed to work on the build in a different way to ensure the integrity of the existing elements.
We always make decisions based on the context that we are working in. One size doesn’t fit all.
I found this useful as I had my existing site critiqued to allow us to collectively understand the starting point. This included what was working/not working for my clients and I. You can see some of that work below – Rachel.
Applying the thinking
We apply this thinking to other creative comms projects we get involved with. On occasion we will be sent or shown a mock-up of something that the client has put together in PowerPoint or Word. This is normally preceded by all sorts of disclaimers for us not to judge them too harshly (we never do) or think that it’s what they actually want.
My view is that this gives some insight into what they are thinking. Regardless of if it works or not, it’s a stake in the ground.
The most important thing to do with any project is to make a start. Does anyone really think the first iteration will be 100% right? I hope not. I certainly don’t.
Even if the first iteration is completely wrong, together we will build an understanding of why and what is actually needed.
Q) What information do you need from clients to start the creative process?
We like to have or help define clear objectives for the site as a whole, for specific sections or even individual pages.
- What are your needs, likes and dislikes from a brand and design perspective
- How does that play out with your target audience?
If you’ve got copy / content and images / photography, then great but if not, we can help.
We also need to know what the current challenges are and what the main calls to action need to be. Then functional questions like what needs to be editable, what images and photography could we make use of and what branding guidelines exist (if you have any) to build a full picture.
Often, as when you’re choosing a home, you have all these ‘must haves’ but it’s about that feeling you get when you find the right fit, when all the elements work together. It’s not always what you imagined either.
Sometimes when we have worked on the visuals and taken the time to build up the journey, things that are whizzy or flash don’t seem the best fit.
They might slow down the loading times on devices or potentially distract from the content. Equally though, some sites might actually need something more like animations or dynamic graphics to explain complex messaging and we would offer up these suggestions as part of the process.
We keep checking in the with client helping to clarify the approach and decisions made.
I loved this part of the process, below you can find some examples of the visuals Alan, Ally and Ian at Alive With Ideas created and shared with me. These are the ones I didn’t go with, it was hard to choose as I loved the creativity in all of them – Rachel.
Q) What decisions did you need me to make?
Structure is the first and most important aspect. What’s important to you about the site? How will we categorise your content? This is really all about user experience. What makes sense for them but also what will support the needs of you and your business.
Feedback on design and layout – how will we represent you and your brand in relation to you target market / audience?
Decisions on functionality and what integration(s) are needed. We’ll help explore what’s possible within the operation of the site and in context of the project. In the case of the All Things IC website that would be things like the integration with the payment system and new separate Online Masterclasses website and the software costs needed to talk to different systems.
Ah yes, I know my website isn’t straight forward! I have shop functionality at allthingsic.com and I was also developing the website for my new Online Masterclasses via Thinkific at the same time. We’re still working on integrating both sites together – Rachel.
Q) I found it helpful to create a site map to determine where everything goes. Why is that important?
Visualising the journey in a sitemap starts conversations and brings clarity for everyone. Putting a site map and user journey together forces us (collectively) to think about what’s important for the site and the business.
A site map helps you understand how it will be navigated, so information can be found easily and determines how pages link together.
The image below is the end result. It followed various iterations and saw me mapping out all my products and services using Post-it notes and PowerPoint to help me understand how they all fit together and flow.
The trainer, consultant, mentor structure has made everything a lot clearer and feedback from clients shows you can find what you need, which is a great outcome – Rachel.
Q) What’s the biggest mistake you see people making with their websites?
That’s a good question. There are many reasons why sites don’t work as needed. For some it’ll be because there’s not a clear proposition and offering in place and there’s clarity needed from a strategy perspective.
I think the one biggest mistake is to over complicate what you’re trying to do. This can happen on a number of fronts – structure, messaging, design and technical functionality.
Simplicity is important wherever possible.
Q) What’s your favourite part of the process?
There’s nothing like the feeling of a site going live. Naturally there’s anxiety that surrounds this moment and that’s part of why it feels good after. The post go-live beer is always the sweetest!
Other aspects of the process bring highs too. Like putting the visuals together and getting them just right. Or cracking those big technical challenges and seeing the functionality come to life.
It was so exciting to see the site go live and not just live on the development site, the picture below was sent to me by Ally from the Alive With Ideas team. I’d sent them some chocolate to fuel those final stages – Rachel.
Q) How do you know when the site is ready to launch?
Getting the elements into place on the development site allows the client to tweak text and get their offering just right before go-live. But it’s more than just getting the aesthetics right and content clear.
From a technical perspective we need to be happy the site is responsive and functioning efficiently, ensuring it’s robust on all platforms. We balance this with whether the site needs to be co-ordinated with any other launches or campaigns and/or is part of a bigger picture.
Q) Is there anything else you think it would be useful to share?
As a general point beyond websites it’s often easy to underestimate the power of design. If done well it should enhance an experience, message and understanding. If done badly it can hinder all of these things.
There’s a couple of moments that really stand out in my mind. An MD recently referred to our work as ‘a wow moment in my business’ and another client said, ‘the slides created gave me the confidence on stage to believe in myself and what I had to present’.
Design has the ability to bring to life your vision and give you the confidence to share it with the world.
I think that’s a powerful and special thing and I’m proud that we can make this happen for people from organisations of all sizes.
Knowing where to start
If you are worried about creating a website, don’t be. If I look through my first blog posts, I’m tempted to rewrite them, but I will leave them alone.
Why? You need to start somewhere. If I hadn’t hit publish on the first one, it’s doubtful I’d be writing for you now.
If you’re a Comms Consultant or thinking of becoming one, my new Online Masterclass, How to be a Comms Consultant – Exploration, will help you think about your personal brand and creating a website.
Further reading: How to be a Comms Consultant.
I hope you found this article useful. As ever, I welcome your comments, feel free to comment below or Tweet me @AllThingsIC.
Thank you for stopping by,
Post author: Rachel Miller.
First published on the All Things IC blog 11 August 2020.