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Using a Discovery Process to Plan For a Successful Website

discovery process

A discovery process is not something unique to the web development industry.

Most businesses have some form of this when starting a new project.  The goal being to gather as much information as possible, then come up with a plan.

In our world, the discovery process can mean a couple different things.

Let’s start with the ‘from scratch’ website.

New Website Discovery

The first part of our discovery process when building a new website for someone is to send over our Website Questionnaire.

Send Questionnaire

This questionnaire gives us an opportunity to ask you about your business, your target market, understand your message, voice, and branding, as well as get an idea of other websites you like and why.

Some of these questions are not easy and require some reflection by our customer. This gives them an opportunity to really look at their business and figure out what their needs are.

Review Questionnaire

Once completed and returned, we schedule a call together so that we can review.

During the call, we try to go wide and go deep for each question. We want to make sure we learn as much as we can to really dig out the reason for the new website.

Not every website is built to sell a product or service to someone so it’s important that we have a clear understanding of the customers goals and target audience.

On-boarding and Account Information

During this process we also take time to work with the customer to get login information to any accounts they have that we’ll need.

Here are just a few of the things that are typically included:

  • Current Website
  • Hosting Company
  • FTP
  • Domain Registrar
  • Google Analytics
  • Mailchimp
  • Payment Merchant (Paypal, Stripe,
  • etc.

It’s important that we get this information up front so that we have it when we need it later.

Create a Sitemap

Starting with a sitemap helps us identify exactly what pages are needed on the website.  Without doing this step first we will be blindly building and adding things that may not be important.

In its most simple form, a sitemap typically lists pages like Home, About, Services, Blog, Contact, etc. Depending on your business and number of required pages, it can become quite extensive.

A the time of this writing, we are using a tool called Slickplan to build the sitemap, which also allows us to drag and drop the sitemap into a visual representation of the navigation menu, and to input the actual page content for each one of those pages.

Gathering Page Content

Easily, the most challenging part of building a website is the page content. This is where we actually put together the language, images, and videos that are going on every page of the website.

I can’t tell you how many projects have been delayed while we wait on the page content to be approved.

It’s been my experience that even though this is the single most important part of the website (the communication), people do not actually take this part as seriously as they should.

Since it is just text and images, most people think they can just write it themselves quickly…until they actually start trying to write. If you’ve ever tried to write your own biography for something, you’ve probably hit that point where you say to yourself “I have no idea what to write”.

Without having the content up front, it’s going to be much more challenging for our design team to create a visually compelling representation of the message, as well as our development team to correctly build that out.

Once we have all of these things in place, the next step is to move into the Design Phase, which we’ll talk about in a different article.

Existing Website Discovery


Different than starting a website from scratch, we also offer a Discovery Process for a site that already exists.

We often receive a message that goes something like this:

“Hey, we just spent a ton of money working with another team to build our website. That company doesn’t offer on-going support and we are looking for some help making updates and adding new functionality”

At this point, we have no idea what lives ‘under the hood’.

In the same way we need to gather up information before we start a new site build, we need a good bit of information before we can support a site we did not build.

Here’s what our Existing Website Discovery includes:

On-boarding and Account Information

This is exactly the same as the process listed above.

We are basically gathering up all of the account login information and on-boarding the customer into our project management system while getting them up to speed with our processes.

Code Check

Once we have access to your site and files, the first thing we are going to do is a sweep of the code.

This includes looking through the Theme files to see if there are any red flags, looking for things that would slow the site down, and generally getting a vision for the complexity of the website.

Plugin Check

While we are in the backend of the site we do a full Plugin Review.

We are looking to see how many plugins are being used, how they are being used, if they need any updates, etc.

It’s not uncommon for a website that we did not build to show up with 30+ plugins, many of them out dated or even disabled.

Again we are checking for red flags and to get a better understanding of how the pieces of the website interact with each other.

Software Updates

After we’ve reviewed the code, themes, and plugins, we create a backup of the website and then take action to make any necessary software updates.

WordPress core files, Theme Files, and Plugins all require software and security updates from time to time.

It’s best practice to keep these things as up to date as possible.  If a customer is on one of our Website Care Plans, we do this for them on a monthly basis.

Overview Document

During the process, we will put together a document to list out all of our findings.

If we saw any red flags, those will be noted.

If there is any custom functionality and process related to updating the website, that will be included.

The Client will also receive a list of all updates, removals, etc. that we’ve done to plugins, themes, and WordPress core.

Depending on the scope of the website and whether or not the customer already has this information, we will put together some information about ‘how’ to do certain tasks on the website that are specific to that website.

What’s Next?

We use the discovery process as a way to work with the customer to get a clear vision for what we are doing.

Whether we are building a website or supporting a website someone else built, it’s in everyone’s best interest to compile as much information as possible before getting started.

Doing so gets everyone on the same page and creating a greater likelihood of a successful project.

Once we’ve been through the Discovery step, we move into the Branding and Design phase.

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