Planning a New Website

Businesses that are building a new website or redesigning an existing one should allocate the proper time and resources into planning. By just jumping into the project without the necessary planning, there may be any number of ways that the final product does not maximize its potential.

Planning is common for large-scale corporate projects, but many times smaller businesses try to tackle the project without dedicating the amount of thought that it deserves. Sometimes the planning is essentially left up to the designer, which is not usually in the best interest of the client. A designer doesn’t know your business as well as you do, nor does he/she know the specific goals that you want your website to accomplish. These things need to be thought out and communicated to whoever is designing the site.

Things to Consider During the Planning Process:

1. What Are Your Goals?

You want a website for a reason, so make sure you have a solid understanding of specifically what it is that you want to accomplish. Your goals should be considered in almost every decision that’s made along the way.

2. How Do You Want the Business to Benefit from the Website?

Your answer to this question will help to determine the content of the site. Are you primarily interested in increasing revenue by selling products online? Are you looking to increase the exposure of your business online? Do you have a portfolio that you want potential customers to be able to see?

3. What is Your Budget?

Websites come in a very wide range of prices. You need to know how much you are willing to spend to achieve the goals that you have established. In addition to budgeting money, you should also budget your time (or someone in your company’s time). This project will require communication with the designer and a lot of information will need to be prepared (if it hasn’t already been prepared).

4. How Will the Site Represent Your Corporate/Business Image?

Your business’s website should be one piece in the company’s marketing plan, and it should reflect a message that is consistent with your other marketing efforts. Anything that is a standard part of your marketing (logo, colors, slogans, etc.) should be used and presented on the website.

Many people today will go to the internet first when they are researching a company. A website should be a vital source of information for anyone wanting to know more about your business.

5. What Do You Want Visitors to be Able to Gain from Your Website?

The aspects of planning that we have looked at so far have focused on you and your company. Don’t forget to also include your visitors and customers in the planning. What will they want from your website? How can you make the website a valuable resource for them? Every effort should be made to create a user-focused website that will truly be an asset for both you and your visitors.

6. What Will Keep Visitors Coming Back?

Getting visitors is just one part of having a successful website. Repeat visitors will be much more likely to buy from you and become loyal customers. Your website has to have something that will make them want to come back.

Blogs are becoming more and more common as a means for businesses to communicate with their customers and gain repeat traffic. A blog allows you to easily add new content whenever you want, and it allows your visitors/customers to subscribe to an RSS feed/email  that will help them to stay up-to-date with your business.

7. Where Will the Information/Text Come from?

The information on your website needs to come from somewhere. If you already have other marketing materials, such as brochures, you may be able to use some of this content that has already been created. Too often the actual content is overlooked during the design process, and sometimes important pieces of information are either forgotten or left up to the designer to include. Don’t leave important decisions about the content of your site to designers. Make sure that it is given the proper amount of attention in order to make the site effective.

8. What Domain Name Will You Use?

The domain name is a huge part of the planning process that sometimes gets rushed. A domain name needs to represent your business and be easily remembered by your visitors. Generally shorter domain names are prefered, and .com extensions are more likely to be remembered than other options (unless your business is a non-profit, educational, or government institution).

After you’ve completed the first part of the planning process you now have a good understanding of what you really want out of your website and what content you want it to contain. At this point you’re already doing better than most people that launch a new site, but there’s still a little bit more planning that you can do to make the process even smoother and more successful.

The aspects of planning that are covered in this post are more related to the makeup of the actual website, whereas yesterday we looked at goals and big picture aspects of the plan.

Parts of the Design Process that Should Be Planned:

1. Colors

If you are designing a website for an existing business, chances are the business already has established websites, which can make this step easy. If the business does already have colors you will want to use them in the design in order to help with branding and recognition.

If the business does not have an exisiting color scheme, or if you need to choose some secondary or complimentary colors to use in addition to the standard business colors, this is something that should be given considerable thought. Not only can the colors drastically impact the look and appearance of the site, but they can also impact visitors psychologically. For more information regarding the psychology of colors and for a list of some great tools for choosing colors, read Find the Perfect Colors for Your Website.

2. Logo

Once again, if you’re woking on a site for an established busines you may be in luck. Obviously, you will want to use any existing logo (unless it’s due for a re-design itself) in the new website. If there is no existing logo you can either create one yourself or look into getting one professionally designed. It’s good to know at least the size and colors of a logo beforehand so you can plan accordingly. If the site is completely designed and then you try to stick in a logo someone it can look cramped or out of place.

3. Slogans and Catch Phrases

Any slogans or sayings that the business uses in its other marketing efforts should also be used on the website. All of the first three items listed here will help you to give your customers a consistent message that will help them to shape their observations and opinions of your business.

4. Layout

Most designers prefer to skecth out a design (or some create Photoshop files) before actually starting to code. In order to create a layout that will successfully work for a site you’ll need to consider the contents of the pages as well. For example, you don’t want to spend your time creating a beautiful three column layout only to find that a two column layout is more suitable for the content of the pages.

5. Structure of the Site

On top of deciding on a layout, you also will want to decide the basic structure of the site. The structure refers to how the pages are connected. What primary pages will you have? Typically there will be a Homepage, About Us, Contact Us, Products or Services, FAQ, etc. Under Services you may have 3 secondary pages that describe each of the services you offer, and so on.

Knowing how you want to structure the site will help you to design more effectively. The site will flow better, and navigation will be more logical. This is very important since your visitors will need to be able to move through the site without much effort.

6. Navigation

Navigation is one of the most important aspects of design. First of all, navigation menus are often focal points of a design that give a page a more attractive visual appearance. More importantly, the functionality of the navigation will impact each one of your visitors. In the previous step you figured out the basic structure of your website. The navigation on each page should link to all of your primary, or most important, pages. Secondary pages will probably be linked from the appropriate primary pages.

7. Photos and Images

When you planned a basic layout you probably left some space for images and graphics. Finding the right picture is another important part of the design. If you’re on a tight budget there are several places where you can find free stock photography. If you’re willing to spend a few dollars, you can easily find high quality photos for very low prices.

You now have a good portion of the work done, and best of all, it’s been done in an organized and strategic process. With this type of approach you’ll spend less time making changes and fixing problems. If you have an existing website you may also want to do some analytical work during the process. Google Analytics provides some useful information about your visitors that can be used when making some design decisions.

If you have an idea or a project that you’ve been thinking about, now it’s time to take some action and start planning. Good luck.

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