Proper planning for your website is crucial to building an effective website for your business or purpose. Some initial basic questions to consider are:

  1.   Who is your target audience?
  2.   What is the purpose of your site – your ultimate goal?
  3.   Determining your budget range.
  4.   How will your site be organized?
  5.   Know what you like.
  6.   Determine the “look” you want.
  7.   Useability and interaction
  8.   Are you offering services or products? What will be the format for the products/services?
  9.   Advanced features?
  10.   Hiring your designer

Use the answers to the above questions/points as you begin to put together the outline for your site.

1. Write down all those people you are trying to target. Make a complete list and then make a sublist of those traits that they have in common.

2. Write down the purpose of your site in detail. What is your ultimate goal? To sell your products? To sell your services? To get a message across? As much information as possible will aid your designer in making sure that your site is appropriate for your purposes and your target audience.

3. Determine your budget range. This is one of the most crucial aspects of your web plan. You must know where you will fit in the “need to have” v. the “want to have”.

4. Draw up a chart (flow chart) as to how you see your site working and begin to organize the structure of your site. Consider this a draft, changing and “fixing” things as you go. Have a rough idea of the number of pages you will need and how they will be laid out when you sit down with a designer. Make a list of all of the possible pages you want on your site and what headings/subheadings they should go under.

5. Go and view other sites you like or dislike and write them down, listing why you like them OR why you dislike them. What is it that draws you to them or doesn’t – specific features, colors, useability, etc. Be very specific.

6. Next, consider aesthics. Do you have an idea of the fonts you want? Understand that most people only have basic fonts loaded on their machine, so if you use “funky” fonts, you may be one of the only people who will see your pages the way you intended – the rest will see the default fonts on their own computer in their place. Will you want animation such as flash or just a basic interface? Colors are crucial to getting your message across. You will want to maintain consistency of the look and feel of your site throughout, which helps the viewer stay “connected” throughout their visit to your site. In other words, you don’t want, one page with pink background, one with yellow, one with green, etc. The general look should stay the same throughout.

7. Useability & Interaction. Do you want feedback forms? Do you want to have the current date on your site? Do you want people to be able to communicate with other customers on your site (i.e., a forum or guestbook)? What type of navigation do you want? What will be easiest to use for your clients/customers? Keep this in mind particularly if you cater to a specific audience that focuses on people with any disabilities.

8. Images, content, etc. What will you want for images? Do you already have a logo or will you need to have one designed? Will you want it to work with printed materials you already have? If so, be prepared to give your designer a digital copy to work with. Most designers will not provide copywriting for you. If you want to have copy written for all of your site, do a search on the web for copywriters. This can be a very expensive aspect of your website if you hire a professional copywriter, so do a good deal of research and ask for samples of their writing (i.e., sample sites they have written copy for, etc.) Will you want flash or other media on the site? If so, be prepared to provide extensive details to your designer.

9. Advanced features. Will you need a shopping cart or need to collect donations on your site? Would you like scrolling announcements? If you need a shopping cart, have you looked into online merchant account options? A good place to start to learn about how they work is: http://www.mals-e.com/services/help14.htm.

10. Hire Your Designer. Once you’ve compiled the above and feel comfortable with your rough layout and ideas, contact a designer. Review that designer’s work to see if that person’s work is what you’re looking for. Look for clean, professional designs with consistent flow between pages. Look at the imaging – does it look professional or like something out of a child’s coloring book (keeping in mind that some people INTEND their site to look child-like, of course)? Designs with lots of animation like images that constantly move (other than flash – I am not referring to flash designs) tend to deter people from hanging around. Also look at their WHOLE portfolio if you see things you don’t like in one of their samples – lots of times clients will request and insist that many of these things that are on their website remain there even though they are not recommended by the designer and since the site is owned by the client, the client is the final say. Lots of designers are very versatile and can work with many completely different design ideas and formats, while other designers stick pretty much to the same layout all of the time, and don’t offer much flexibility.

Do your research and you should have a successful outcome.

We can work with you to build a professional, affordable website for whatever your needs are if you choose us to be your partner in building your website.

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© 2012 Susan M. Totman. All rights reserved.

This article may be reprinted with written permission from Susan M. Totman only. All copyright information MUST accompany the article wherever reprinted.