Anyone can build a boat, but without the right plans, proper tools, and focused maintenance, it will sink. The same goes for websites. There are over 1 billion websites online, however, many have been sunk, abandoned, and left wallowing in the digital depths due to a lack of strategy informing their design.

Here are some ways to create a website that not only stays afloat, but provides your passengers (consumers) with a smooth, easy, and memorable journey.

Strategize Wisely

Your website should not be an afterthought and cannot be your only marketing asset. Instead, your website should be a well defined piece of your overarching marketing plan. In order to successfully master this marketing balancing act, you must set and stick to a well thought out strategy. In order to do that, you must first ask yourself the following questions:

What are my brand goals? Knowing your brand, inside and out, is the key to success for each and every marketing strategy you will ever have. Without a thorough, deep understanding of your brand’s culture, offerings, history, and aspirations, you don’t really have a brand to begin with.

What is my brand’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? Define what makes your brand unique, what makes up your driving force. Are you the fastest? Smartest? Most professional? Least Professional? Whatever it may be, defining your USP is essential to creating your marketing strategy. Setting yourself apart from the competition is one of marketing’s age-old problems and addressing it is especially important in today’s cluttered digital economy.

Who is my ideal audience/consumer? Knowing the motivations, needs, and wants of your audience is paramount to making the right choices for your brand. Create a profile for your ideal consumer and use this to inform your strategy and meet their expectations with your website. Try sending out a survey to your social media followers; this is a great way to obtain any insights you feel you are missing.

Which marketing channels (social and traditional) does my intended audience use? Knowing the most frequently used marketing channels that your consumer uses will help you decide on the best channels in which to engage and which types of content to create.

What language or search terms does my audience use when researching my product online? Knowing your target audiences vernacular will help you increase your SEO rankings by using these key terms when creating content.

Function Over Form

A strategy comprises top level goals for your brand. Tactics are the tools you employ to meet these goals. Without strategy, any marketing efforts will be hit or miss, and, more or less, dependent on luck. Your website is the pillar for your digital marketing strategy.

Many businesses, large and small, make the mistake of over thinking design and forgetting function. A website makeover will not automatically lead to better sales or more traffic. There are simply too many competing websites out there to depend on aesthetics as your website’s driving force.

Instead of jumping right into the look of your website, which is very easy to do based on the visual nature of the medium, make sure your well planned strategy takes center stage. You have taken the time to know your brand, so start by telling your brand story and differentiating yourself from your competitors. Don’t bury your USP in a glut of other content. Shout it loud, make it known why you do what you do and how you do it best. Not only will this let your consumer know what you stand for, but if your USP is truly defined, it will increase your SEO performance.

Make it Easy

Make sure your content connects with your ideal consumer. The better you know your audience, the better you can predict how they interact with the website. Use blogs, Twitter feeds, Pinterest boards—any of the social media tools at your disposal—to help attract visitors. Don’t choose these tools at random: if your ideal consumer doesn’t know what Snapchat is, don’t use Snapchat.

Create an enjoyable experience by offering a simple, stress-free user interface. Don’t overwhelm your audience. The easier your site is to navigate, the longer your audience will stay engaged. Include quick, easily digestible, and trustworthy information that quickly addresses any questions your consumer may have.

And perhaps most importantly: think beyond the desktop. For many internet users, mobile is the main access point to the web. Having a scalable, easily navigable mobile version of your website is key to reaching your audience where they live.

Remember, strategy comes before action. Step one is to create a marketing plan, step two is to focus on your website. No matter how great your design looks, all of your efforts will prove worthless without a solid strategy informing every aspect of your company’s brand.

John Jantsch has been called the world's most practical small business expert for consistently delivering real-world, proven small business marketing ideas and strategies. John is a marketing consultant, speaker and best-selling author of

and his latest book

SEO for Growth: The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers & Entrepreneurs