Laying the ground work

Paul Boag

[S02E01]: Before you can create an effective website you need to know what you are trying to achieve, how you are going to measure success and what you want from users.

In my last two books ‘Building Website for Return on Investment’ and ‘The Website Owners Manual’ I have laid out a clear plan for building a successful website. In this season of the Boagworld podcast I plan to take the principles I have explained and apply them to a real website – the site you are currently looking at.

Alt Photo of the Website Owners Manual

Over the coming weeks I am going to rebuild and explain step by step my process and motivation. This week we begin by looking at the fundamentals of a successful site…

  • Clear business objectives.
  • Specific success criteria.
  • Targeted calls to action.

Let’s begin by looking at business objectives.

Why does your website exist?

Every website owner should be asking why they have a website. Whether it is a company website or a personal blog, it is important to ask this most basic of questions.

It is not enough to answer ‘because everybody else has one’. Instead you need to be able to clearly articulate what benefits you want the site to provide you or your business.

Alt Image of boss explaining that they have a website because the competition does

As I explain in ‘Building website for return on investment’ having these objectives provides three benefits:

  • Helps make decisions about everything from copy to functionality.
  • Justifies future investment in your site.
  • Aids communication between team members about what the sites aims are.

The objectives for

It would be easy for me to claim that Boagworld is my personal blog and so my objectives for the site are altruistic. However, in all honesty is a marketing tool for my web design agency Headscape.

Deceiving yourself about the true objectives of your site is more common than one would think. However, I have long since sold my soul to commercialism and so am happy to admit that is why my site exists ;-)

For my objectives to be truly effective I need to be a bit more specific than describing as a marketing tool. I have therefore broken this general aim into more specific objectives:

  • To generate direct enquiries for work.
  • To encourage more people to visit the Headscape website.
  • To reflect positively on Headscape and increase its reputation.
  • To raise the profile of Headscape and its staff.

The last one on the above list is particularly interesting. One of the problems we face at Headscape is that I have become the public face of the company. People hire Headscape in many cases because they want to work with me. However, in reality this is not only impractical it is also silly. The truth is that Headscape is packed with talented people and in many cases a client is better off not having me on their project!

Alt The Headscape Team

Although marketing Headscape is the primary business objective it is not the only one. There are two others:

  • Selling supplementary material such as videos, workshops, and books.
  • Generating revenue through advertising.

Listing your business objectives is just the first step. We also need to prioritise those objectives.

Prioritise your business objectives

As soon as you have multiple business objectives it becomes important to prioritise them. This is because it is all too easy for one objective to clash with another.

Take for example the goals I have set for It would be easy for my business objective of generating revenue through advertising to completely undermine the more important objective of promoting Headscape. A website covered with obtrusive advertising would not only undermine the credibility of Headscape it could also bury calls to action that may generate leads for web design business.

With that in mind I have prioritised my business objectives as follows:

  1. To generate direct enquiries for work.
  2. To encourage more people to visit the Headscape website.
  3. To reflect positively on Headscape and increase its reputation.
  4. To raise the profile of Headscape and its staff.
  5. Selling supplementary material such as videos, workshops, and books.
  6. Generate revenue through advertising.

Now that I have my prioritised list of business objectives I need to turn these into tangible criteria that I can measure.

Defining my success criteria

Its easy for business objectives to be wooly and poorly defined. Turning them into measurable success criteria helps them to become considerably more effective. Take for example my objective to “generate direct enquiries for work”. On the surface this seems like a reasonable goal. However, it has two problems.

First, if our objective is just to generate more enquiries then we could easily fall into the trap of thinking quantity is the key. However, in reality Headscape wastes a lot of time responding to enquiries from individuals who do not have the five figure budget that is our minimum requirement.

Second, we are not addressing how we are going to measure this objective. If somebody emails or phones it is hard for me to know whether they have come from the site or not without asking them. We need something tangible we can track. If we have that then we can see if changes to the site increase or decrease that criteria.

Bearing in mind these two issues, an objective such as “generate direct enquiries for work” needs to turn into a specific success criteria such as “an increase in the number of users completing a work request form”.

Ideally we would go a step further and aim for a specific percentage increase in the number of people completing that form. However, as no such form currently exists on (because I haven’t gone through this exercise with the site before) then this is impossible.

Using this principle my six business objectives turn into seven success criteria:

  1. To create an increase in the number of people completing a work request form.
  2. To create an increase in the number of people visiting the Headscape website.
  3. To create an increase in the number of tweets & links back to Boagworld content.
  4. To create an increase in the number of people following other Headscape employees via twitter or their personal blogs.
  5. To create an increase in the number of people talking about Headscape via social media & direct links.
  6. To create an increase in sales of supplementary material.
  7. To create a 30% increase in the amount I can charge for advertising over a 6 month period.

There are two things to note here. First, sometimes a business objective can result in more than one success criteria. Second, my final success criteria is able to be more specific citing a certain percentage increase because I have historical data against which to track. Unfortunately, this is the only one of my success criteria that allows me to be so specific as my tracking has been poor.

Alt google analytics

Now that we have our success criteria we can complete the final part of the process which is to turn these into calls to action.

Establishing your calls to action

For a success criteria to be measurable some event has to occur. In almost all cases this involves the user doing something. This might be purchasing a product, downloading a PDF or visiting a page. Whatever it is, we need to encourage our users to take that step.

These calls to action are the foundation on which the rest of your site should be built. could have an amazing design and great content but if users aren’t completing its calls to action it will fail to fulfil its business objectives and I might as well take it offline.

Turning success criteria into calls to action is normally fairly straightforward. You look at the success criteria and ask what measurable action a user could take for us to know that criteria has been fulfilled. For example, it is fairly obvious how my success criteria “an increase in the number of people completing a work request form” turns into a call to action users must complete.

Some success criteria need a little more thought. For example my success criteria of “an increase in the number of people talking about Headscape via social media & direct links” is more tricky to turn into an action. This is where you need to start tailoring the content on your site to encourage tweeting of articles that mention Headscape. I have seen a number of great approaches to encourage that kind of interaction but that is another post entirely.

After a little thought, I have settled on the following calls to action for

  1. Subscribe to receive updates on Boagworld content via email or RSS.
  2. Complete a work request form.
  3. Visit the Headscape website.
  4. Tweet/Facebook/Link to this article.
  5. Follow this author on twitter (highlighting other Headscape employees).
  6. Visit this authors website (highlighting other Headscape employees).
  7. Tweet/Facebook this quote referencing Headscape.
  8. Buy a video or book.
  9. Book a consultancy clinic.
  10. Click an ad.

As with business objectives these have been prioritised. However, their order does not completely reflect the business objectives because it needs to take into account an additional factor – the user.

Considering the user

If we were to order the above calls to action simply to reflect the business objectives then “complete a work request form” would become number one. However, its important to understand that many people come to interested in learning not buying web design services. Although they might be in a place to buy later that is not their immediate need. If you push too hard for that ‘sale’ at the wrong time you will drive them away. Better to establish a relationship with them and keep your brand in their mind until such a time as they have a project and are ready to buy. That is why I have chosen to put subscribe as my number one call to action.

Alt Calls to action on the existing boagworld website

There is always a tension between business objectives and users needs which has to be carefully considered when designing your calls to action. That is why next week we are going to look at the users (you!) and ask what they want from the website.

So what do you think of my business objectives, success criteria and calls to action? Do you have any recommendations or improvements I should make. This is a community project so let me know in the comments below.