Forms Plus had a brand new e-commerce website last year – here are some things we learnt along the way
This time last year, we had just started the process of commissioning the new Forms Plus website (the lovely one you are looking at now). It was a long and complicated process and we learnt a lot along the way.
Thankfully we don’t plan on building another site any time soon but we thought that seeing as so many of our customers run e-commerce businesses like ours, it might be helpful to share our top tips for website projects.
So, if you are thinking of updating your online store, building a brand new e-commerce website or even just having a bit of a refresh, do read through our tips below. We hope you will find them helpful.
1.Write a detailed brief
We sat down with our own team, marketing agency Sam Amps Marketing and web developers Elephant to ensure we wrote a really thorough brief. This helped develop a very clear idea of everything we needed and communicated that clearly to our web builders. As the site approached completion, we went back to the brief to check all our requirements had been met.
The brief really helped us stay on track, but we also needed to be flexible as some areas changed along the way. For example, we made our decision to stock packaging materials alongside forms and labels not long after the site build got underway.
2. Plan for plenty of time
Plan plenty of time to build your website, especially if you are trying to launch it to a deadline. If you want to rebuild your site before Christmas, start now.
Be realistic with your timelines. Some things, especially writing, proof reading and the final testing, took a lot longer than we thought.
3. Involve your team
Everyone at Forms Plus was involved in the web project to some extent. Listening to the views from people in different parts of the organisation really helped us ensure we had covered all areas and considered everyone’s views.
Our team were able to provide really helpful feedback from the briefing stage up until final testing. This helped everyone appreciate the amount of work involved for those closest to it, reinforcing team spirit and making the best use of our team’s wide knowledge and experience.
Forms Plus’s new website was a great team building exercise for us too!
4. Make a plan for photography and video
A new website won’t really look like a new website unless it has new imagery. Our products are not the most visually exciting, so we did our research and found a great photographer, Pip Hayler, who was able to help us make the most of what we have.
Each shoot was carefully planned, with a clear list of what needed to be photographed and how, meaning we got exactly the right selection of images in the sizes and shapes we needed. It did take a few goes to make mailing bags look interesting though!
Our site doesn’t make heavy use of video content, but if yours does the same obviously applies for that. Know what you want and where you want to use it, then shoot accordingly. For example, our new video was perfect for showing off our new offices and warehouse.
5. Keep clear communication lines open
Throughout the process make sure you have clear, open and honest communications with your agency. Both sides need to be realistic about what is possible within time and budget limitations. We had regular catch ups, internally and with our agency using screenshare tools, and used Trello to share information.
6. Review your branding
A new website is a good time to review your overall brand. We realigned some of our products and launched our packaging products, which meant reconsidering our strapline (“print that delivers”) in some contexts. We also subtly changed our colourways to make the site less pink and green.
Whilst you want to still look and feel like “you”, this is a good opportunity for an update.
7. Use the opportunity to declutter
Setting up a new website is a bit like moving to a new house – a good excuse for a clear out. As well as thinking about what you do want on your new site, think about what you can cut out. A clean, tidy site without excess content will be easier for your customers to use, and simpler for you to manage.
8. Don’t forget about SEO
We were concerned from the start about making sure we didn’t lose any of our search ranking in rebuilding the site. Throughout the project, we worked with our SEO consultant Sam Amps, as well as our web developers, Elephant, to make sure this was covered. For example, any pages that we culled as part of our clear out were redirected to the right place on the new site to avoid broken links.
9. Test, test and test again before going live
None of us really anticipated how much testing we would need to do, so we were lucky we had the time. We all tested the site in-house, on different devices and browsers, and for the different tasks we all use it for. We also asked some of our customers to help with testing.
Even once it went live, we still found the odd glitch so plan for that too – you don’t really know it works until your real users are logging in and ordering!
10. Understand it will never be “done”
Finally, there will never be a perfect moment when the site is totally and utterly finished. Websites and companies evolve so the launch day will not be the last day you change anything. Your site will need adjustments for issues you don’t spot until it’s live, changes in your offer, new technologies or just better ways to do something that you hadn’t considered – so keep that relationship with your web agency going beyond launch date.
Best of luck if you’ve read this far because you are working on your site and appreciate the advice. Do get in touch if you’d like to talk to us further or have any other ideas for improving our site.