E42: What Goes Into Planning a Successful Banking Website (And Why Does It Take So Long)?

What's the most critical signal of a successful outcome when it comes to a banking website project? Planning. Most people don't really get it. We'll dig into what goes into website planning and why it takes so long.

Michael Reynolds Hey, everybody. Welcome to the podcast today. Today's topic we have to rein Allison in because she might want even more time than we have allocated for this today, and it is what goes into planning a successful banking website, and why does it take so long. We only have 30 minutes today --

Allison Gibbs That's okay. Bring it on.

MR -- so that's our time constraint. I know you could talk about this for hours. [laughs]

AG I could, yes.

MR But as many topics come about, it was born by a lot of conversation this week in the office. We see a lot of situations, and one of those situations is we often see banking websites that -- before we get hold of them, obviously -- that one thing you tell me, Allison, is that you can always tell by looking at a website, instantly, whether it was planned or not. Is that true?

AG That is 100% true.

MR I think I've heard you say that more than once. We look at a website that is maybe -- our perspective client coming to us saying hey, we want something new, something fresh, maybe our website wasn't designed that long ago, but we're just not happy with it. We can't really put our finger on why. Or maybe a new brand or something. Anyway, you look at it and you're like, I can tell that site was not planned. So we can usually tell. That kind of springboards into our discussion today, which is why is planning so important and what goes into planning a successful website? First off, what goes into the planning process of a website and why is it so important?

AG I'm going to start with why it's so important and then go into the details of planning a website. It's important because the work that you put in up front, you'll see the payoff in the end.

MR Kind of like financial planning or --

AG Kind of like financial planning.

MR -- financial wellness. [laughs]

AG Well, I always like -- I'm a distance runner, and I have done several distance races. You guys have all heard me talk about -- obviously, you guys on the team -- they hear me talk about my training and how much I hate it. But when I get to race day, I'm in the best shape ever and I'm ready and I'm good and there you go. I've put in all of the work; I've put in all of the time and the planning for it.

So it's kind of a similar process. The more you put in up front, the payoff is better in the end. What I mean by that is by the time you get to design, you already have everything identified or at least 80% of the way there. You've already identified what are the goals for the site? What do we need ton each page? How do we accomplish this whole site or maybe this redesign or the reorganization of a site? You already have that identified, so then you get to focus on the fun stuff like the design. And once it goes into build, because we've planned it all up front, or at least 80% of it up front, once it goes into build, then it's pretty smooth sailing from there. And then once we add content, yes, we're making some changes. That's a natural part of the process. But we're not totally redoing full areas of the site, in most cases, and it just goes out much faster in the end, and you're going to be a lot happier. Once the site is launched, you're able to achieve your goals for what you want to do with a website and with your website.

What goes into the planning? I always start with what has brought us to this point or why do we want a website? A lot of the times I can look at the current website and understand why they want a new website. But I hear things like "we've got a new brand and now we need to roll out a new brand." Or, maybe, "we rolled out a new brand two and a half years ago and that brand has evolved since then so we need to make some changes." Or "people are having a hard time finding the information on our site; it's too cluttered; they don't know where to look." Maybe that's why. So I always start with what we are -- what started this, what brought this about, and then I go from there. The things that I like to focus on in a planning process is what do we include on the home page? I call those home page components. Obviously, it's going to be some type of feature; we're going to have online banking in there in most cases, or at least a link to it --

MR Online banking? Who needs that?

AG I know, right? Shocker. Online banking access, maybe there are some quick links to rates or financial wellness education, maybe you've got a blog that you're feeding in there. We've been working on a site that has community events that get pulled in.

So we talk about what's all of the stuff that we want on our home page and how do we prioritize that? So we do talk about it in the sense of what is the most important thing for our users to see on the site? Because I get a lot of okay, these 17 things are really important and they all need to be visible right away. And then as soon as you see it laid out, then it just -- people are just like, "That's really cluttered. That's too much." That's when we try to say this is why we talk about how the fold doesn't exist even though I do get a few arguments about that every once in a while. The fold does not exist. So back to the home page components, we put everything in an order. What's the most important for our users to see?

From there, we talk about the site map, the content organization of the site. Do we divide things up between personal and business products? Maybe the personal products are all listed out individually or the categories are listed out individually and then business is separate. Or maybe you don’t even have business products, and we can talk about how all that is structured. Maybe you are a larger regional bank that's acquiring new banks on a regular basis. That's a totally separate conversation for how does all of that stuff get roped into the content and the home page. These are all things that go into planning up front that can help speed things up later in the process.

After that, I go through a process where I go through every single page on the website. People always ask me, "Did you really click on every single page?" Yes. Even the 500-page website's that we've done, I click on every single product; I click on every single link from there; I do a crawl to make sure that I'm covering all of the pages --

MR Every single page?

AG Every single one. I do.

MR I believe you. I just wanted to emphasize that.

AG Every single page. People don't believe me when I say that. They're like, "There's no way you did this." Yes, I did, actually. Every single one. And the reason I do this is because part of a good planning process is knowing what we need and what is currently out there. What I mean by that is maybe there is a particular product page that needs to be laid out in a little bit of a different way. And that's okay. We just need to account for that when we're going through the design process. Or maybe you've got your resources set up in a particular way right now -- when I say "resources," maybe your financial wellness education resources, maybe that's laid out in one way right now, but hearing what you've got planned for the future, that might change things in how we lay them out. And that affects the design. And that affects the overall end product.

Because if you wait until the end or midway through the project to start on content or to start evaluating the content, that is when you start to figure out or that's when you start to find or where you start to add time to the process or time to the project because you are rethinking all of the components to the site and you have to stop for a second: did we account for this in the design? Okay, we didn't. So now we have to go back, maybe we have to design something else, then we have to get approval, then Sam has to build it, and that just adds time to the project. So the time that it takes at the very beginning to go through all of the pages to make sure that we've got everything accounted for -- or at least the majority of the items accounted for. I understand that things come up. I've done this several times. I know things come up. I know things change. And that's okay. We just want to try to eliminate as much of that as possible up front so that way the end goes smoother, and we can hit launch dates a little bit faster.

MR So what are some of the bad things than can happen if you don't plan a website properly?

AG Well, without a doubt, it always takes more time. That's just the realistic aspect of it. If you've got a launch date in mind, add, probably, 6 months to it if you aren't planning it properly. Because, what will happen is -- let's say you've got this website designed and you've got -- there was one last year that we were working on that the site was designed and they had a home page and an interior page, and I think maybe a blog layout. This was designed by somebody else, and it basically just didn't account for all of the different pieces of content that you needed. So it became do we change the content in order to fit into the template, or do we go back and we take more time, compromising the launch date -- which, at that point, the launch date pretty much had to be set just due to some other factors. So they basically had to sacrifice some of the content and redo some of that in order to fit in, and it just didn't look right in that case. So then what will end up happening is they'll go back later and change it and probably spend more money, whereas if somebody took the time to plan it up front, they probably could have avoided spending all of that money later --

MR I love these --

AG -- and the time.

MR -- yeah, sorry. I love these discussions because it -- we can usually apply it to the world of the client we're working with. So in this case, obviously, it's the financial industry. It's so parallel. If you make good decisions now, and you set a plan in place financially, fast forward to many years down the road, you're going to be in a better position and be happy because you made good choices now. In that case, we're talking 5, 10, 20 years down the road, obviously. But in the case of planning your bank or credit union's website, it may be a 6-month process, but if you make good decisions now, you're going to be really happy in 6 months when you have the launch and it flows properly and everything works well and it's actually making money for you.

AG Fact.

MR [laughs]

AG Agreed.

MR I guess I just had to get that out.

AG Second that. Well you like that type of analogy. That's your --

MR Yeah, well, I'm a finance nerd, obviously, so--

AG -- thing. Yeah.

MR That's why we're in this industry. [laughs] So why does this take so long? A lot of people say, well, I want my website in 2 months, and I don't understand why this takes so long. Why does the planning process take so long?

AG Fantastic question. First, it doesn't really matter about the size of the financial institution because, generally speaking, everybody has either similar products -- really the biggest difference is, probably, do they have a business line of products or not? Everybody else, generally speaking, has the same type of products.

MR Yeah, we talked about this during Brand Distillery. The products are all very similar so we have to differentiate, right?

AG They're all very similar. Yes, but what is not considered in that is that every single website has the same amount of pages, generally speaking. Somewhere between a couple hundred pages to 500 pages is usually what I see for a site. I think we forget that, that maybe some of the smaller community banks -- they're like "Well, we're not the same as this other larger bank for XYZ reason." Well, that's obvious, but you still have the same amount of products from a website perspective. So going through all of that -- just going through the size of the website, that stuff takes time. It just takes time to go through all of it. The fastest that I've ever planned a bank site, in particular, it took me about 30 days, and that was with meetings back and forth. And so the average that I see is about 90 days.

And part of that is because everybody has an extended team that they're wanting to work with and that they're wanting to get buy in and feedback on. You've got the different product owners and the different product leads and team leads and things like that, that you're wanting to get feedback on how, maybe, their site map is structured or the area of the content is structured. Or you're wanting to ask them, "Hey this is what with have identified for you and what we think you're going to need. Does that fit with what you guys have planned for this next year? Or for the next two years or however long you guys have that planned out." And you want to get that feedback and that stuff just takes time. Because -- whereas you may have the time dedicated to the project, and maybe it's that you've got 75% of your time dedicated to the project, not everybody on your team has that. And so it's a lot of the back and forth and the collaborative process of going back and forth that just takes time.

The other thing that I see that takes time is when the decision maker is not in the meetings. If the decision maker is not in the meetings alongside us planning this, then that's just one extra step that you're going to have to go through on your end to get that approval because we don't move forward unless we have everything basically approved and signed off on for obvious reasons. Because, like I said, if we don't have things planned out up front, then it just takes longer later.

Then the other thing that I see a lot of is when we don't have the appropriate amount of time dedicated to a project of this size. I'll never forget when we were in the sales process with one of our clients, and the director of marketing asked, "How much time should we have set aside for our marketing coordinator set aside to manage this entire project so that way this could be her focus?" And I thought, nobody's ever ask me that before. Oh my gosh, this is perfect. And the answer is a lot of time. I mean, if you can dedicate all of your time to it, that's preferable, but you definitely need to dedicate, I would say, 50-75% of your time to all of this. And that's for meetings, that's thinking about it; you're going to have to do a little bit of research on your end; you're going to have to have the collaborative conversations with your team and then go back and forth. It just takes time. So -- go ahead.

MR No, go ahead.

AG And so if we don't have the appropriate amount of time set aside, then that usually thwarts the planning and makes it go a little bit longer -- or a lot longer in some cases.

MR People don't think about that part of it. They think oh, building a website involves just the mechanical tasks of doing the work. And I'm looking at Sam, who's running our board here today in the studio, and Sam builds websites here. Sam could build a website, probably, in less than 30 days -- a banking website with no people involved. [laughs] But when you involve people, which you have to have in the collaborative process, that tends to make it take longer. So I always tell our clients hey, it takes about X number of months, but -- 5 or 6 months or whatever -- and they're like "Really?" Sometimes they say "Oh, well, that seems normal." And other times they say "Really?" It varies depending on their experience. But I always explain well, the actual work doesn't take that long, but when you factor in everyone's schedule and the approvals and the vacations and back and forth, it ends up taking about that long. So that helps them understand. That's a good point. What else?

AG I was going to say everybody always has other stuff that comes up within their work. Maybe there's a new product launch or there's something that comes up, and we understand that. We fully recognize that that happens within this industry. But you just have to keep that in mind that that doesn't mean that the launch date or that the end date doesn’t move because you had to focus on something else for a couple of weeks.

MR So what would you recommend -- I guess some closing thoughts. If someone is ready to redesign their bank or credit union website, what is the best thing they can do to help ensure that the project is planned successfully?

AG Number one is just trust in the planning process.

MR Be patient?

AG Yeah. Well -- I just finished the planning on one project where -- and this happens to me frequently. So I love the planning process. Obviously, I'm talking about it a lot. I love it, but Heather on our team, our project manager, it's not her favorite, and creative is her favorite because she likes to be really interactive, and she give a lot of direction and works alongside Jason, our designer. The planning process to her is kind of like yawn, boring, when's Allison going to be done talking? And I just love getting everything organized in spreadsheets and --

MR -- she likes the design phase better.

AG -- on paper and whatnot. It's hard -- I think it's really difficult for people to visualize a lot of this stuff. Because I'm used to -- I know. I've done this a lot. I know what the words on the paper -- how that translates to the end product. And so a lot of it is just trusting that -- is trusting the process of getting everything organized knowing that there is an end goal and that we know what that end goal is, and it may not make sense to you until you see the wireframes, until you have a visual in front of you, but just kind of trust in that process. So that's step 1.

Step 2 is making sure that you have the appropriate amount of time allocated and then also getting your team allocated as well. So I would advise, up front, thinking about who needs to be involved in the different sections. And in some cases, the marketing -- the director of marketing that we'll work with, they don't get feedback from the department heads or the program heads or product owners or whatever the title is within your particular financial institution. They don't get that piece of feedback. And that's okay because they're empowered to do that, so that stuff takes -- it obviously takes less time because they're not going to all of these different people. So if you do have a lot of people that need to be involved, get meetings on their calendar up front, and so that way you can know what is going to be discussed when, and you have those dates, we can all be in communication together or whoever you're working with -- everybody can be in communication together about when to expect different pieces of feedback.

The other thing is just patience and understanding that things come up and that affects overall time line. We understand you want to go on vacation. We know this. And that's okay. You shouldn't have to worry about a website project when you're on vacation. Things come up. You get sick. I got sick a couple of weeks ago. Things happen that might push things back a little bit, and that's okay.

MR It's an investment. You have to keep remembering --

AG 100%.

MR -- it's an investment. In our world that's very applicable. It's just like a CD or a money market or a mutual fund. It's an investment, and you can't expect to put money in today and then 30 days later be wealthy. It's an investment that takes time and patience. Ultimately, what we want to get to is a website for your bank or credit union that makes money and brings in accounts for your financial institution. That happens when it's planned properly and the right goals are in mind like inspiring trust and creating a workflow that helps people to generate leads better and brand yourself in the community to elevate yourself above the competitors. All these things happen when it's planned properly. And all these things will pay off for your financial institution when it happens correctly. Think of it as investment. That should be easy for us, right?

AG It should be.

MR Anything else you would add before we wrap up?

AG I did have one thought, but then I just lost it.

MR Oh no!

AG It'll probably come to me in 45 minutes.

MR As soon as Sam clicks the "off" button on the board, it'll come to you.

AG I know. It will. It will. Hang on. Keep talking for a second, and then maybe it'll come back to me. It was something about timelines.

MR I think I'm done. I got nothing else.

AG Oh, great. It was something about timelines.

MR We'll sit here in silence, and I'll stare at you until you think of it.

AG I know. Please do. Something about timelines and planning and it'll come back to me later. That's fine.

MR Well, maybe next week.

AG It's fine.

MR If it comes back, we'll recap next week. With that, we will go ahead and wrap up for today. Thanks, everyone, for joining us. We appreciate you being a listener. Don't forget you can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, on the web at capitalpointmarketing.com as well. Again, thanks so much for being here. We will see you next time.