Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Website

Behind the Scenes - The Making of a WebsiteIn my article Navigating Through Analysis Paralysis, I discussed how we use navigation to engage and persuade our visitors to steer their way to a mutually beneficial goal — the sale. The questions that remain are these: How do we determine exactly where we want them to head, and how do we map out the road in such a way they’re sure to follow it and not get lost along the way?

Ever watch one of those “Making of…” shows where you get to see behind the scenes of your favorite movie? Do you remember the bit about how people cover the wall with pictures of what they want the viewer to know, feel, and see, and in what order? They call it storyboarding. Before a single scene gets filmed, the production crew has a complete map of the end product. They leave nothing to chance. Neither should you!

The Premiere of the WWW Blockbuster

The same sort of process goes into designing your Web site — or it ought to! Because if your site can’t lead your customers successfully through the five-step process of shopping and buying, your business is going to wind up as the Internet equivalent of excess film on the cutting-room floor.

Before you program a single page, do the following:

• Spend the time necessary to understand the elements involved in creating an interactive sales machine.
• Thoroughly consider your website from your visitor’s point of view.
• “Wireframe” the user experience. (I will be writing more about that in a future article.)
• Create your storyboard.

The storyboard looks a lot like a flowchart, with paper pages representing each individual Web page (and, yes, you have my permission to do this on your computer instead of on paper, if you prefer). Each sheet describes the web page and contains a summary of its content, layout, elements, and objectives.

Objectives? Yes. And the main objectives of every page are to motivate your customers to keep at it (that is, engage them), to make it simple for them to take the desired action and, ultimately, to satisfy — or better yet, delight — them after they take the action. (See “Hey, It’s Music to My Ears” at

Lights, Camera, Action — Sales!

The sheets representing web pages then can be arranged in the logical order of the buying process, with arrows between the pages. These arrows will become the links you provide to help your customers navigate through your site, find what they want quickly, and buy it easily.

There should be various arrow paths representing differing outcomes, based on how your customers might move through the site (primary trajectories, secondary ones, and so on). Some of the arrow paths may even be circular, since (as you probably realize) the buying process is a system of feedback loops.

This is critical planning! Do it for every page!

It ensures that your customers see, understand, and do exactly what you intend, but in a way that feels totally natural to them.

Graphic-design gurus and latest-tech-gadget fans, take note of this pearl of wisdom from Nordstrom’s CEO, Dan Nordstrom. “You don’t get paid for innovation,” Mr. Nordstrom says. “You get paid for execution.”

Studies consistently prove shoppers find ease of process far more delightful than glitz and gloss. Never forget: The ultimate purpose of your site is not to dazzle, but to sell.
Every layer in the storyboard either precedes or supports specific choices your customer makes. It has to make sense — to them.

The essential question to keep in mind is, What’s the plot? With that firmly in your mind, make sure that each and every element in your storyboard addresses these critical questions:

• What do I want my visitors to know here?
• What do I want my visitors to do at this point?
• What do I want my visitors to feel right now?
• Where do I want my visitors to go next?
• How do I make it easy for them to do that?
• How do I “reinforce” them after they’ve done it?

Consider every conceivable option. Sometimes customers miss the first scenes and arrive mid-movie (landing on one of your interior pages). Will they know where they are, where they can go, what they are supposed to do? That’s what your final storyboard is for: designing the site to allow customers to enter your site anywhere, know where they are, and quickly understand how they can get to where they want to be.

And the Nominees Are . . .

Storyboarding not only helps to improve site navigability but also helps to develop content and web copy. Best of all, studies have shown that for every day you spend planning and getting all the details right, you save yourself the cost and time of three days of remedial tinkering and development. Three to one! Higher sales with less overall development time — now there’s a formula for a hit.

Making a blockbuster movie, designing a successful (not just dazzling) website — both require detailed planning. Will you win the Oscar of Website Success, or will you fail to plan and be stuck with a box office (dot-) bomb?

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One Response to “Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Website”

  1. Antwan Hays July 30, 2008 at 7:38 am #

    I sent my colleagues a link to this thread and they truly dug it – thanks for sharing…

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