There are four stages to building a website: Discovery, Design, Develop, and Launch. The first stage, Discovery, is the most important. It’s the foundation upon which the entire website is built. If your vendor doesn’t have a good Discovery process and ask the right questions, you can guarantee that your website will be a failure.
Questions to ask in the Discovery phase
In the discovery phase, your agency should ask a lot of questions to understand your website requirements. In discovery, we ask questions about your:
- Business and environment—What is your business? Who are your customers? Who are your competitors? What differentiates you? What does your sales funnel look like?
- Business goals— What issues do you face? Why are you creating the website? What is your business strategy?
- Website goals—How does the website fit into your overall digital strategy (social media, advertising, etc.)? How do you hope it will help your bottom line?
- User goals—What do users want from your website? Why and when do they come to it? Where does it fail them?
- User traits—Who are your users? What are their demographics? How technical are they? What do they know about your business? Do they access via mobile devices?
- Business processes, etc.—How does your business work? Who does IT, and what internal tools do you use? Who will update and maintain the website? What approvals or workflows are required?
How the Discovery Phase Works
Discovery is conducted as a series of meetings, usually from one to four meetings. Attendees on the vendor side include the information architect/designer, branding person, and the project manager. Attendees on the client side typically include the website owner(s), stakeholders whose website goals must be met, sales or service personnel who understand the users and the business, and IT personnel familiar with the technical environment and requirements.
Although there is a formal discovery phase once the project begins, a good vendor starts asking discovery questions in your earliest conversations and meetings. If your agency isn’t asking these kinds of questions, they aren’t doing their job and can’t give you a reasonable estimate of your website development costs.
Outcomes of the Discovery Process
The result of Discovery is a clear and detailed understanding of the website requirements. Deliverables can include:
- Personas—Biographies of fictional website users, with detailed information. Personas are used to ensure the website is designed with real people in mind and built to meet their needs. (Learn more about personas for website design and personas for social media marketing.)
- Requirements and scope document—The specific requirements for the website. It documents any assumptions being made and any constraints on the project, technical or otherwise.
Once the Discovery process is done, you’re ready to move on to the Design phase, or create an RFP to get bids for the rest of your website development.
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