The Hazy Path: Get Clear About Your Website

I grew up on the Eastern seaboard, which is a much damper climate than where I live now, and we used to get these tremendous ground fogs at certain times of the year when the temperatures were just right.  When you drove especially at night, it was sometimes really hard to get a clear vision of the road ahead of you, and see where you’re going.

When I work with clients on their web strategy, we don’t start with their website.  First we start with looking inward.  This first phase is all about you: who you are, what you want, what you do.  I wrote about it in The Foggy Mirror: Get Clear About Who You Are.

Once you know who YOU are, the next step is to figure out who your CLIENTS are.  This is the looking outward step, and it’s all about them: who they are, where they are, what they want, how you solve their problems or ease their pain.  That post is The Blurry Lens: Get Clear About Your Market and Your Message.

In this phase, we look outward.  You’ve defined who you are and what you offer and who you offer it to.  So now you need a plan for how you’ll get your message in front of them.

Think of this phase as the magic blower that will clear away the fog from your path so you can see your way forward!  But you also need to have something to see, and that’s what this phase does: it creates the plan, the roadmap.

My background is building websites, so for me this phase is all about defining your website.  But here’s a bonus for you: you can use this same process to create any of those marketing touch points: your business card, a brochure, a print ad in a magazine, even your outgoing voicemail message.

So this phase is all about your website.   We’re going to look at something I call the Website Rule of Three: You have 3 seconds to interest and intrigue them, 30 seconds to communicate your core message, and 3 minutes to make an emotional connection and trigger the desired action.

Website Rule of Three

In this phase, then, we look at your DESIGN, your CONTENT, and your STRATEGY.

And we do it by working through and writing down information about:


Is this a new website, a revamp?  What’s the website’s purpose: what do you want the website to do for your business?  What are the goals you want the website to achieve?  And these are both specific goals for the website, and the broader goals for your business.

Here’s where you might also take a first look at your budget and schedule expectations.  If you’re going to be getting outside help with your website (and I strongly recommend that you do), it’s a good idea to have the budget and schedule discussion early.  Pricing for web development can vary tremendously, and the extremes don’t always match the skill of the developer, unfortunately.  But there isn’t much point in talking to someone whose entry level price is $10,000 when your budget is $2000, or someone who can’t start working on your site for two months when you need it completed in six weeks.


It’s really important to have an idea of what you like, and what you don’t like, and why.  You also have to take your clients’ preferences into account, but start with your own!  You’ll want to think about both how a site WORKS as well as how it LOOKS.  A website can be graphically beautiful and yet not work well.  And working includes both the literal “does this link go to where it should” and the less tangible “does the website work to add new prospects to my list or to get people to call me for an appointment”.


You knew we’d get there eventually, right?  You’ll want to have a clear idea of what you want the site to do, or in other words what you want people to be able to do there.  Think about all the bits and pieces you might want to include: things like blogs, and an ezine subscription form, photos and video and audio, maybe an events calendar, maybe e-commerce  (which may or may not include doing the transaction, the actual transfer of money, online).

And think about what you need right now, what you might need in a few months, and what you might need going forward next year and even the year after.  There’s nothing more frustrating than building a website that meets your needs TODAY, only to find it can’t grow with your business and you have to rebuild it in six months.


The design of your website is the framework that holds all the content.  It’s what makes that important first impression that the first rule of the Rule of Three is all about.  So think about colours and styles and feelings here.  The design is going to trigger a gut response in your visitors; make sure it’s the right response!


Content is all the bits and pieces that are contained in the framework of the visual design, and that bring your site visitors back again and again.  Your content has to be derived from your purpose, and aimed at your audience.  It’s the second rule, remember?  But it  weaves in the third rule, because the content and the design combine to execute your strategy. Again, think both short term and long term.  Even though I’m a scratch coder from way back, these days I always recommend that people have their sites built in WordPress.  And one of the beautiful things about a WordPress site is that it can grow with your business (within reason).

So with your purpose and your audience firmly in mind, start outlining your content.  I like to use mindmapping to brainstorm through this step, because I can move things around easily.  There’s a great free mindmapping tool called FreeMind with versions for both PC and MAC.  Here’s a sample, from a site recently helped a client plan:

Orchestra Website

Then once I’ve got a good handle on what they want the website to include, I’ll lay it out kind of like an org chart:

Orchestra Site Structure

At this point we’ll also start looking at how the pages themselves might be shaped, and create what’s called a wireframe.  Seeing it like this takes all the pretty design out of the way and lets you concentrate on what’s actually there and where it might be placed.


Seeing it like this also helps to identify and situate all the little bits and pieces that aren’t part of the main content, such as the newsletter subscription form and other sidebar content, the “legalese” pages such as the Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions, event listings, random testimonials, stuff like that.

Wow.  That’s a lot of work, and you haven’t even started actually designing or building anything yet!

But here’s the thing.  The designer and developer (who may or may not be the same person, by the way) need to know all this stuff before they can start to create the best website for your business, one that will boost your credibility and build your list and turn prospects into paying customers.  And since you’re likely the one who will be writing all the content, you need to get it all out of your head and documented so you can create the right content with the right message.

Three Steps to a Solid Web Strategy

So here are the three steps in creating a really solid strategy for your website — or indeed, for all of your marketing:


Clear that foggy mirror, and get a clear view of YOU: your company, and your business goals; your compelling story, how you got to where you are doing what you do; and your mission statement, your big WHY.


Clear that blurry lens, and get a clear view of THEM, the folks the site is for: your brand, and those marketing “touch” points; your audience, who and where they are; and your offerings, which you create to match what they need and want.


Clear that hazy path, and get a clear view of your WEBSITE: go full circle, back to the Rule of Three, and figure out your DESIGN, your CONTENT, and your STRATEGY.

Just Do It!

So how do you Get It All Done?  If you follow the steps you saw in these three posts, you’ll end up with a really detailed specification for that website that serves your business, rather than one that just sits there and costs you time and money for no return.

Get help!  In my experience both as an entrepreneur and as a strategist who works with entrepreneurs, most of us go into business because we’re really good at doing something.  We’re not  always really good at marketing ourselves, nor do we like that piece.  It’s hard to write your own marketing content!

Talk to more than one web person, when it comes time to work on your website.  If you can hand them a really detailed specification because you know what you want and what your business needs,  they’ll be better able to make it happen.

And if you’re not working online – and doing it successfully – already, you may not even know what all you CAN do.  Websites have changed a LOT in the last five years, not only in how they’re built but also in the expectations our viewing audience has for what they can deliver.  Start adding in the other  online pieces like email newsletters and blogging and social media, and you’ve got a huge opportunity to succeed wildly – or fail miserably.

Make sure you review your website – and indeed all of your marketing, both online and offline, on a regular basis.  You change.  Your business changes.  Your target market changes.  Your ideal client changes.  Since your website may be the first place that someone encounters you, make sure it reflects who you really are and delivers the experience you want them to have.