14 Key Stages of a Product Manufacturer Website Build

The Pauley Creative philosophy on digital marketing strategy is, put simply, that your website should be at the heart of every tactical marketing channel you employ.

We’ve recently been privileged enough to build a number of complex websites for building product manufacturers that have handed control back to the client’s in-house marketing teams.

Not only do they now have confidence in the experience their audience receives they also get a much clearer picture of how their marketing tactics [online and offline] are performing.

Each stage of the process fits into one of these 5 simple categories:

  1. Exploration & Diagnostics
  2. Solution Design
  3. Content
  4. Implementation
  5. Launch

Address each category in turn and we will guarantee you are in a far better position to resolve the challenges that lurk in most large web build projects.

If you think we’ve missed anything or you would like to add a tip or piece of advice from your own experience we’d love hear about it the comments section below.

1. Auditing a building manufacturer website (Exploration & Diagnostics)

Too many web projects start without fully understanding what is required of a new site. An audit stage is essential in order to discover the information that will shape a successful site build that is fit for purpose.

For building materials manufacturers, this is about serving the needs of the architect, specifiers and other audiences whilst maximising the opportunities to capture qualified leads. Audits will differ in format but typically will start with analysis of your current site activity using analytics tools such as GA.

2. Research (Exploration & Diagnostics)

As well understanding how your current website is working (or not), its also necessary to understand other factors that would effect how you go about building your new site.

Other influences include but are certainly not limited to, business goals and objectives, customer perception, competitor analysis, influential inbound websites, other marketing activity that the company may be involved with. Other marketing activity might be events, pr, social for example. All these channels must be considered as part of the overall plan.

The more information that can be gathered up front, the better. It leads to making better decisions about the implementation, which will result in better results from the web build. To find out more about how to benchmark your existing site, have a read of our 33 great questions to ask when benchmarking your building products website.

3. Sitemap (Solution Design)

During the Solution Design stage, the first step is to define a sitemap. The aim of a sitemap is to detail all the pages that are required. The research element should steer how the site is structured. Understanding and defining the user journeys for the completion of goals is an important step that ideally would be completed during the audit and research stage. Our Digital Profit Hunter program does exactly that.

For product manufacturers it’s essential to make your product offering clear and easy to digest. Unsure about your company or product positioning?…read how correct positioning can make you more profitable. The structure of the new site should make your products and services easy to find and also in some cases easy to compare to one another.

It’s important to clarify and rationalise the product offering. A good site structure will not make it any easier for a user, if your product structure itself is unclear. Think about the depth of the site; any more than 2 levels or hierarchies becomes hard to navigate. Every page must have a purpose and a clear next step.

Its also essential to be thinking about SEO when creating your sitemap. URL structure plays a big part in search ranking. Be sure yours is right.

Of course it is also important to map out all your marketing activity when considering your website structure. This topic is too involved to be covering in the context of this post, but I’ll use a channel such as social as a simple example to explain the point.

Social can play a very active role in the success of  your website. Social channels are heavily reliant on good blog content. Therefore a blog platform may be critical to include. This process is necessary to do for each channel – events, print ads, campaigns, landing pages, PPC, on and offline PR to ensure your website becomes the heart of your activity.

4. Content review (Solution Design)

Do not under estimate the scale of the task; creating content for a new site launch is a big job. Which is why a content review is essential at an early stage. There must be a clear idea of what information is going on what pages. This would ideally be completed in conjunction with sitemap production.

Reviewing content will involve identifying from the current content, what is still valid, what is out of date and is no longer required, what is out of date and needs updating and what holes exist where new content is required.

By dumping your pages/content into these four buckets, it will allow you to get an overview of how much work is required.

No doubt your existing site had grown over time, and its important to also identify if the current tone of voice is consistent and fits with the brand.

One area to particularly concentrate on is downloadable information. Too often this gets overlooked as “oh yes we have all our datasheets”. Downloadable material needs to be structured, organised, up to date, easy to understand, and work alongside the new sitemaps product structure.

 

datasheets

The Celotex datasheets section has clearly labelled files, good filtering options and the ability to download singularly or in bulk.

There is no point creating a great site structure that funnels people through to the right product for their solution…. and then making them hunt around for the right datasheet and BIM drawing.

When they do finally find it, (if they haven’t already gone elsewhere) they download it to find it is poorly presented, has old branding, is not up to date and also has information for 5 other products within it that makes it too confusing to specify. Rationalising downloads will not just help to make products easier to specify but also identify any gaps there might be, and also shape how the downloadable areas on your new site will function.

5. Wireframes (Solution Design)

Wireframes are black and white, “sketched” versions of your new site pages. Their purpose, is to define what elements need to go on which pages. They bypass brand, colour, look and feel, and all the other fluffy stuff that get in the way of reason – and help you and your agency focus on the function or purpose of the pages.

A homepage wireframe for the new Glazing Vision website.

A homepage wireframe of the new Glazing Vision website.

 

It’s important to focus on the key pages first and work backwards to less important pages. The key pages for product manufacturer websites are typically the home page, the product pages and any obvious high capturing search landing pages such application type pages and blog posts.

You should look to create a wireframe for each and every unique layout required. This also helps to produce your technical specification and aids the design process.  It will raise questions that you would not ordinarily think of, and help to define and shape your website to the finest detail.

Finally, it’s important to remember to consider mobile at this stage. Elements that work on desktops, such as tables or rollovers, simply don’t work on a mobile.

The wireframing process can be as simple or as complex as you need it. Some tools for example, allow you to fully prototype with dynamic linking and interactive user elements etc to illustrate actual user behaviour.

6. Look and feel (Solution Design)

Once wireframes are finalised you can start to apply colour and branding to the pages.

Design work is time-consuming work and even small changes can take lots of time and slow things down. Laying out wireframes before applying design saves bags of time at the start of the project when there is a lot going on.

A look and feel should be created for two pages maximum, usually a homepage and a product page. This will allow you to understand how most of the website elements will look e.g. menus, buttons, images, header and footer, calls to action.

This stage is simply about being happy with the feel. Does it represent your brand, does it look modern, does it look clean and tidy. If the answer is yes, it should be a pretty simple decision to move on to the next stage.

Any additional elements that would appear on further pages will follow the same style of the two designed pages so there should be no shocks further down the line.

7. Technical Specification (Solution Design)

Producing a technical specification is often a stage that people skip or see as an unnecessary chore. However by ensuring this is completed, you are defining all the tiny details that can cause delays later down the line.

For example, adding fields into a contact form doesn’t seem like a big job on the face of it. But when you are two days from the launch and have given a snag list as long as your arm to your agency, the more little things that need doing last minute, the less tested your site will be.

Small changes can impact lots of other factors and these can then impact more important things that cannot be done any earlier in the project. Simply adding a field into a form will probably impact and requires changes to the balance of the design, the front end implementation, the database fields, the thank you forms and the crm integration and testing.

Think through and define as much as is humanly possible and stick to it.

Just as important, it means both you and your agency have a full list of requirements, so this helps to avoid any confusion about what is being built within the project scope and also gives you a checklist of things that need to get done!

8. Static Content Creation (Content)

Creating the content is a huge job, which is often earmarked as an afternoons work for a marketing assistant. Why?

Why spend so much time, effort and expense on a new website and then ignore the very thing that people are digesting. Your content is probably the most important part of the build.

What’s more, rebuilding a website is the perfect opportunity to review your positioning, company values, product positioning, key messages and processes. It needs to be done right, with all the key stakeholders being involved. Take the information gained from the exploration stages and use it to shape your ideas.

It’s also important to understand how to write for the web. Ideally, copy would be written by an experienced web copywriter, who can work with you to define a tone, identify key messages, and weave keyword phrases into the copy whilst maintaining legibility and digestibility.

Start by defining these company and product messages first rather than trying to fill pages with stuff just to fill gaps.

Its important that each page has its own function and that copy has substance. If you cant say anything about it, why do you need a page?

9. Design (Implementation)

When it comes to design,  things are pretty subjective. The design stage aims to progress the basics of the wireframes and convert these ideas into tangible and workable web pages. If the wireframes have been thought through properly, the designs should follow pretty naturally.

When designs are created, basic elements will need to be defined in more detail. Things like calls to action, interactive elements, downloadable items. At this stage it’s worth working up a few key pages will ‘real’ dummy content. This means content that may not necessarily be finalised but is a true representation of what will be there.

By doing this there wont be any need to redesign pages later once real content has been produced that’s twice the size.

You should see a design for each unique page layout

10. Development (Implementation)

The development stage is the part of the project where the coding and physical building of the site takes place. It’s a stage that needs very little involvement from your side and is often the case that it will seem that the project has gone quiet.

This is simply because the agency will be beavering away implementing what has been agreed. Just keep prompting your agency, probably weekly or so, to understand how the build is going and get them to explain what progress has been made.

For product manufacturer websites, it is quite typical for this stage to take between 4-8 weeks dependent on the complexity of the build.

The only time you would be expected to get involved is if there was a requirement for integration with other systems such as ERP or CRM. In this scenario, expect to allocate a significant proportion of your weekly workload to managing this process in face to face meetings and conference calls of which you’ll primarily be an onlooker.

But, be sure not to let the jargon confuse you. Ask for layman’s terminology the whole way through and documentation to show processes and data flows. Its important that you understand what is being agreed.

You should also keep a very close eye on who is responsible for what, keeping track as things change and develop. When working with many parties on one project, its all too easy for folk to pass the buck on tasks. Keep a log of who is doing what and when!

11. Population (Implementation)

Population sounds pretty straight forward. And it is… when you know what you are doing. But it is time consuming and needs to be done right first time, otherwise you’ll spend months after launch rectifying things and making changes. If its not right upon launch, it will effect seo. There is no two ways about it. Where possible ask your agency to include this in the cost of the build.

There are a couple of things to think about if you are doing the population side of things. Firstly there needs to be consistency across the whole site. So if you have a bunch of case studies for example, make sure they all read and are laid out in a consistent manner. Inconsistency usually stems from having missing information, and usually results in the formatting looking messy – and more simply it just says, we couldn’t be bothered to find out that information. Spend the time getting all the information.

The way the pages are marked up makes a difference to search, so you need to ensure that page titles, headers and sub headers are marked up correctly. The page should ideally have a great first paragraph which explains whatever content is on the page in a succinct format. Often this forms part of the page description that is displayed in page listing snippets.

Make sure text is laid out in a readable, digestible format, broken down into logical sections. Consider using bullets to break text up for things like product benefits.

When it comes to images, these should be uploaded in the right format and size, but most importantly named in the correct manner and with seo in mind, so that search engines can index them accordingly. Keeping filenames consistent and matching the alt tags to keyword phrases, will ensure you keep your media library on the site tidy, and of course friendly to search engines.

For downloadable content, the rules are much the same. File naming and size are the most important things to get right.

12. Testing (Launch)

The testing phase is largely done by the agency, but you’ll want to play your part too. Most agencies, if they are sensible, will hold off giving on out a demo url to a client until perhaps a few weeks before launch. The reason, being, sites can look a mess even when 90% of the development has been completed.

As a project manager, I want it to be a close to a launch ready site as possible before letting clients loose on it.

During testing phase, the agency will mainly be testing the simple stuff like buttons and menus, making sure page layouts are right, calls to action are correct, pages are populated etc.

Once these things are ticked off, they will move onto more technical things like form testing, sign up processes, email set ups, on site search results pages, crm integration etc etc.

Of course, there are bound to tweaks and changes required now that you can see the site in a ‘finished’ state. It’s at this stage the panic of being so close to launch can kick in, as you may still not have control over the content via cms access yet.  Many of your change requests will have to be done by the agency who are already busy polishing things off and testing.

So instead of firing off email after email with instructions  – the most efficient way to brief in changes is to make snag list. Browse the site over the course of a few days, as the site will be continuously changing at this time, and much of what you see may change within minutes as developers tinker to get things just right.

Prioritise your snag list with business critical items, such as legal requirements, must haves, e.g. sign up issues, and nice to haves, e.g. an image change. In an ideal world everything will get done prior to launch, but at least if these are prioritised, it will be the critical and must haves that get done.

We use a shared access file for snag lists, so you can see updates and comments in almost real time – which helps to bring the stress levels down!

Browser testing is something that’s done by the agency but if you do spot something odd, simply screen shot it, and let them know your browser and version number.

13. SEO (Launch)

The SEO stage occurs partly prior to launch and partly post launch, although the majority happens prior to launch.

This should all be done by the agency based on the findings from the exploration stage. Most of the time will be spent configuring things like the page urls, titles, meta data and headers, just to double check these are set up correctly.

But there will also be things like setting up redirects from old indexed pages, configuring analytics and other tracking accounts, and pointing domains to right place. Much of this is not even that noticeable from your perspective.

Once the site has been launched, further seo work can be done, such as internal linking, but again the agency will be doing the majority of this work.

Why is SEO important? Read our SEO for construction companies post.

14. Technical tidy (Launch)

After launch there is then a further set of checks and processes to need be done.

Moving from a staging or test site to a live site can often throw up issues especially if it’s a complex build with integrations.

Even though everything has been tested on a demo site, it will still need testing on the live site.

Its always advisable to launch a site when traffic is at is typically at its lowest. But it reality this is not always possible. The best alternative is on the morning of day early in the working week, so that any issues can be resolved before the end of play that day and there are a few days of bedding in for the technical tidy to take place.

During this phase, the agency will be making sure that the set up is correct from an indexing and reporting point of view.  These will be processes such as uploading an xml sitemap, setting up Web master tools accounts, verifying the site, keeping an eye 404 pages and checking that goals and event tracking are firing.

You can play your part by getting as hands on on the site as possible in the days after launch. Again create a post launch snag list as a work in progress document and keep adding to it as you find anything that needs changing.

Lastly, pat yourself on the back! It’s a big resource commitment to deliver a website on time – enjoy the moment. But not for too long. Now that you have a lead generation platform that’s fit for purpose, marketing can begin!

If this article strikes a cord with the way you like to do things by all means get in touch to discuss your next project. You can download our Digital Profit Hunter Process, which outlines our initial diagnostics process, you can read about the way we like to do things or you can call Nick Pauley on 01908 671707.

 

About Stuart Dinnie

Stuart Dinnie is the Managing Director at Pauley Creative; he is ultimately responsible for leading the charge & driving the business forward.

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