Planning Your Website

Planning your website is the most important step in the web development process. It’s surprising how many people and businesses have paid good money to have a website built without planning anything. In my opinion, that’s just money wasted.

Defining The Purpose Of Your Website

It is important that you decide on a purpose for your website. Your website should have one main purpose and you should focus on that purpose when planning your site.

You can ask yourself “How does my business make money?” and then ask, “How can I use a website to help that happen?”. Some examples may be:

* Realtor – Main purpose would be to sell houses.
* Retail store – Main purpose is to attract new customers.
* Retail store (online) – Main purpose is to have people buy your products directly from your website.
* Landscaper – Main purpose is to attract new customers.
* Accommodation – Main purpose is to increase bookings.

These are some examples of why someone might need a website. There are many more. See the goals section below for some suggestions of how to accomplish the purpose of the example websites.

Setting The Goals For Your Website

Hand -in hand with defining the purpose of your site comes setting the goals. When people visit your site you should have some expectation that they will do something. Everything on your website should be geared towards accomplishing that goal.

* Realtor – Showcase of current listings, description of your qualifications for selling houses to generate new listings to sell. The goal is to have the customer phone or email you for more information or to arrange a showing.
* Retail store – Description and pictures of products, directions to the store, reasons to shop with you, latest sales. The goal is to get people to visit your store.
* Retail store (online) – An easy to use, secure shopping cart system. The goal is to get customers to make a purchase right away or at least to bookmark your site and come back to make a purchase later.
* Landscaper – Descriptions and pictures of the services you provide, testimonials from satisfied customers. The goal is to have new customers phone or email you to hire your company.
* Accommodation – Pictures and descriptions of accommodations and amenities, an online reservation system. The goal is to have customers book rooms.

All of these websites will have some sort of “call to action”, what it is you want your customers to do. Phone, email, buy now, come down to the shop. The entire site should be headed towards that call to action. Most websites are likely to have more than one goal but you should be able to define your primary goal and focus your site plan on that.

Building Your Site Plan

Your site plan is where you decide what you are going to include in your website and where it will go on the site. I like to draw a sketch with boxes. Some people find a simple list to work well.

When you are drawing or writing your site plan, every time you decide to add something to your site, ask yourself “How will this help to accomplish my site goals?”. If you can’t come up with a really good answer, seriously consider leaving that item or feature out.

Some things that should be included in most websites:

* About Us – People want to know who they’re dealing with.
* Product or service descriptions.
* Contact information.
* Customer testimonials.
* Clear easy navigation.
* A call to action.

Some examples of things that shouldn’t be on some websites:

* Flash movies – unless you are a Flash movie producer.
* Music – unless you are a musician.
* Banner ads for other businesses on any business website.
* “Under construction” pages.

Make sure you include everything that will help accomplish your site goals but make sure you only include things that will achieve your goals.

Deciding On A Type Of Website

I offer several services and many different types of websites. For the most part, the type of site you choose will be dictated by how much involvement you want to have in the upkeep of your website. The look of the site and the information contained in the site isn’t necessarily affected by the type of site.

Basically there are two types of websites available.

Static web sites are coded in HTML and are built one page at a time. This is the tried and true method that has been used since the beginnings of the internet. Usually the updates have to be done by a web developer with knowledge of HTML and scripting languages. They tend to be cheaper to build but can end up costing a lot to update over time.

Dynamic web sites store all the information for the pages in a database on the web server and the pages are created as they are required for each visitor. With a dynamic web site and a content management system, most clients can update their own websites with only basic computer skills. They tend to cost a lot for the initial set up but you can do your own updates and save money over the long run.

A brochure website for a tourist attraction that may only change their hours of operation twice a year would probably be best suited as a static site.

A real estate website that gets new listings every day would probably be a good candidate for a dynamic website.

Design & Layout

Our suggestion? Keep It Simple!

Website design and layout is when you decide where the various elements are going to be on your pages, what colours you’ll use, what type of navigation menus you’ll have and what graphics you will include.

When planning the design and layout of your website, it’s a good idea to try to stick to what can be considered as web standards. Now, if everybody did this without variation, you wouldn’t be able to tell one website from another. Every site would have black text on white backgrounds with blue underlined links on the left side of the page and a header image at the top.

Actually, if you did this, no one would ever get lost on a website, everyone would be able to easily read the text and know just where to look for the menu, company logo and contact information.

Without looking at any website in particular, just think about where you would look for:

* The company logo?
* The main navigation menu?
* The page headline?
* The company phone number?

Most people will get this result:

* The company logo? (top left)
* The page headline?(top middle)
* The main navigation menu?(left below logo or just under headline)
* The company phone number?(top right, just under the menu on the left or bottom middle)

The point is that after 20 years people expect web sites to have a certain consistency. If you make your customers hunt for expected elements on your site, you may find them heading for other sites to find what they want.

Gathering and Organizing Content

A website without content is a decoration. You will need to plan and organize the information you provide on your website well in advance of the building of your site. Some people think gathering the content for their site can be a daunting task. If you keep your site purpose and goals in mind, you’ll find the job isn’t so bad at all.

Some ideas of where you can find content for your site are:

* Your existing website if you have one. Even if it’s not working for you, there may still be some valuable information on the site that can be used on your new site.
* Printed materials — brochures, catalogs, manuals, handbooks, etc?
* Customer testimonials.
* Current or past advertising campaigns.
* Company history.
* Press releases.
* High resolution copies of your logo, photos or graphics that you would like to include on your site.

Try to organize your content into categories. Think about your audience as you organize your content. Use words and phrases to describe your content categories/sub-categories that would make sense to the general public and organize content accordingly. These categories and sub-categories will eventually become the categories and pages on your site.

Planning For After Your Website Launch

After the launch of your website is when the fun begins. Planning, design, building and deployment are the lead up to using your website.

In order to use your website, you will need website visitors. Having the site isn’t enough. You will need to promote your site. You will probably want to monitor your site traffic to judge how your site is furthering your business. And you will want to keep your site current and updated to keep visitors coming back.

If you have an e-commerce site, you will need to deal with your customers questions, comments and orders. Other database driven sites like members areas or forums will have to be managed as well.

It is better to decide early who will look after your site and how they will do it. Depending on the site, you may need to hire extra staff to maintain it.