Planning your website can be very time consuming but well worth the extra effort. Not only will it save you time in the long run, but it will also save you money.
By doing your research, knowing your target market and having a plan for your website before your website designer begins the design, you will avoid additional costs that may be incurred for adding extra pages, changing content or redesigning your layout and graphics later.
Here are a few things to consider to help you plan your website:
Targeting a niche market and getting customers to buy from you are your website's primary goals
Before creating your website, the most important thing to do is determine your website's goals. To do this you need to know your target market, understand what they are looking for and focus on how your company can solve their problems. You also need to understand your strengths and weaknesses, along with those of your competitors. Your website's goals will be similar to your business goals, so you should find them in your marketing plan. Have your goals changed since you wrote your business plan? If so, write down your new goals.
If you're just starting out and don't have a business plan yet or your plan is out of date, search for websites of companies that provide similar products or services to yours. Using business directories and/or website directories, search for local competitors and compare the benefits you offer with the benefits your competitors describe.
Do you offer something unique that they don't? Targeting a niche market that will benefit from your uniqueness and getting them to buy your product and/or service will be the primary goals of your website! If you haven't already done so, carry out a complete S.W.O.T. analysis to help you to determine not only your website's goals, but your business goal.
Stand out from the crowd and do things better
What are your competitors' websites doing to reach their target market? What are they doing well? What are they doing not so well? What can you do that's better? The same rules in business apply to your website.
When examining your competitors' websites, look at the structure (layout), the content, the functionality, the colour scheme and overall feel of each website.
Does it have attention grabbing headlines with clear calls to action? Does it use large imagery to draw the visitors in or does it mostly provide information? Is there any visitor interaction such as sliders, subscription forms, polls or videos?
How user-friendly is their website? Is it easy to navigate and is information easy to find?
Look to see what sections and pages they include? What key elements and information do they cover in their content?
What colour scheme and images does it use? Is it easy on the eye or is it hard to read?
Does it look professional? Does it provide lots of useful and relevant information?
Do any of your competitors' websites stand out (in a good way or bad)? If you were a customer would you visit again or be enticed to buy their products or services?
Make a list of all the pros and cons of each website: its design, content and usability. When creating your website you want it to stand out from the crowd so you need to determine how you can improve on all the good points and avoid all the bad ones.
Save time and money by preparing your web content
Preparing your web content is crucial. Knowing ahead of time what content you plan to include in your website and how often you'll need to update your web pages will definitely save you time and money in the long run.
If you offer services and only plan to provide basic information about the services offered and won't be making frequent updates to your content, you may only need a static website and will pay your web designer to make future content updates. If you plan to offer tips and information on a regular basis, you'll probably need a content management system such as WordPress so you can add the content yourself, especially if you want to avoid ongoing charges. If you plan to sell products online, depending on the number of products and your target market, you may need an ecommerce website that can handle a variety of payment options as well as international shipping.
Knowing the structure of your websites pages will also help your web designer during the design and development stage, as well as your content writer, so that content is not duplicated and important information is not missed. Since you've already determined your websites' goals and examined your competitors websites, you'll have a pretty good idea of what's needed on your own website. Write a list of the sections, sub-sections and individual pages needed to reach your target market.
In addition to the home page, which is the face of your website inviting your visitors to explore further, generally, your website should include a section about the company, perhaps a bio of the owner or profile of your staff/team members as well as a brief history of your company. This section might also include a portfolio or gallery showcasing samples of your work or a résumé detailing your skills and experience or you may prefer to have a completely separate section with a link from the main navigation menu bar.
If you sell products, you may need a section for each product range or manufacturer as well as indivdual product pages, and additional information pages for your terms and conditions, privacy, shipping and returns policies. If you offer a wide range of services or have a varied target market you may need a separate section for each service type or market type. If you offer workshops, classes or events, or want to share news and information with visitors you may want to include separate sections for these too.
Since buying your product and/or service from you is the ultimate goal of your website, you will also want to provide a contact page where visitors can easily find your contact information or locate your store or office.
An organized structure of your website aids usability
During the planning stages of your website, it is a good idea to create a site map of all the pages (or at least of all the sections and sub-sections) you plan to include. This will give you an organized structure to work with, making it easier when it comes to writing your content and deciding where to include links in your text.
It will also prove useful to your website designer as it can be referenced when creating your navigation menu bars and used as a check list to ensure that, not only the content has been added to every page, but that there is at least one link to and from each page in the content.
Create a sitemap by writing a hierarchical list of all the sections, sub-sections and individual pages to be included on your website. If you are selling a large number of products and will be using an ecommerce system, you do not need to list each product, although you may wish to include a list of categories in the order you'd like them to appear in the menu bar.
Where possible, include a short name ("alias") for each page as well as a long name and a brief description for each page, ideally the key phrase for the page or section. You may need to review your sitemap after writing your web content summary and add the long names later.
The alias will be used later by your web designer in the menu bar for that section, as well as for the file name on static websites and/or permalink on CMs websites. The long names will be used as navigation aids on links and/or may be used for your page titles, although your web content writer may craft better page titles later. The descriptions may also be used for the meta descriptions to aid SEO, although again you may want your content writer to craft better descriptions later.
Now you have your site map with all the sections you would like in your website, write a brief summary for each of the main sections, i.e. the general theme of the section or goal you seek to achieve.
Think of one or two keywords or a key phrase to use in your headings for each page that will attract your visitor's attention and lead them to read more. Include those keywords or phrase in your summary.
This will not only help when it comes to writing the web content for each section (and save you money if you're hiring a content writer), but it will also help your web designer learn more about your website's goals so that the design reflects and complements the content. Part of the summary may also be used for your meta description.
Search engine robots will use your key phrases when potential visitors search for your business. They should therefore include keywords that potential visitors might use to search for your business. Think about the questions your target market need answers to, or the problems they need solving. What are the keywords or phrase they use to search for you. Your keywords or key phrase will be used in the page title, and repeated in the content, meta tags and images to aid SEO.
Decide whether you want any images to accompany the text, how you want the text formatted - in paragraphs, tables, forms, information boxes or tabbed panels. Will each section follow the same format or will they differ? And likewise, will each page in each section follow the same format? Knowing how you want your content presented will help your designer create web page layouts that match your vision. It will also allow your web designer to determine whether your budget meets with your expectations.
No doubt your website will have some kind of imagery on it. But the amount and type of imagery can depend not only on the type of service or product you sell, but who your target market is. If your target market is swayed by visuals rather than large chunks of text, you'll want your images to do the talking, so they'll need to big and bold. On the other hand, if your target market likes to read reviews before making a purchase, you might want to use smaller images that use less data. If your target market tends to search for what they need on their cell phone, you'll want to keep images to a minimum to avoid high data use and slow page loading.
Budget might also be a consideration. Depending on the type of images you need, you may need to hire a photographer to take professional product photos, an illustrator to create the artwork and your web designer to combine photos and artwork to create a finished ensemble. You may need to compromise and use generic stock images or ask manufacturers to supply professional quality photos of their products to use on your website.
Some considerations and questions you might want to ask are:
- Will your website design include lots of graphics or do you want to keep it simple and/or quick to load?
- Do you want background graphics, a fancy header and button links?
- Do you have a logo or is it a work in progress?
- What type of images will you be including with your page content and how will they be presented (page banners, individual photographs throughout the text, image galleries, sliders, or animations)?
- Who will be supplying or creating your images and other graphics?
- If you need royalty free images who will be sourcing and supplying them: you, your designer or both?
- If you need photographs or a video of your products or show room who will be taking them?
Your website designer may be able to help you with all of the above or at least recommend companies you can work with. Either way, you will need to budget for these items ahead of time and allow time for their creation.
Kaz Design Works includes one royalty free image per web page when we design your website. Here are some useful tips plus links to the royalty free image sites that you can use to find images for your website.
The type of website you need will depend on a few critera, such as how often you plan to update your content, whether you plan to sell products or services from your website, how many products you will be selling, what additional functions and interactivity (e.g. blogging, newsletters, forums, commenting, scheduling system, MLS integration) you need.
If you plan to blog, update or add content frequently or even sell products or services online, a WordPress website is ideal. However, if you plan to sell a large inventory of products, provide multiple payment and shipping options or multiple store fronts for different customer groups, then an eCommerce CMS, such as OpenCart, maybe the best option.
If you don't plan to change or add new content on a regular basis, if you're only selling a handful of products to a local market and have a limited budget and/or have no desire to learn how to use a content management system, a static website may be all you need. It may be possible to add third party products such as PayPal buttons, Constant Contact subscriber forms, PollDaddy Polls or Google calendar and interactive features such as image sliders and videos, at little to no extra cost.
You will want to discuss your requirements with your website designer so that he or she can help you determine the best option for your needs and your budget.
It's never too early to choose and register your domain name
If you are a start-up business, you will need a whole host of print material as well as your website to market your business. Finances will be limited at the beginning so choosing a domain name and registering it prior to having all your print material printed is critical.
If you haven't already done so, you should register your business name with the appropriate authority before choosing your domain name. There's nothing worse than finding out after your logo and marketing material has been designed and printed that your proposed business name is already being used by another party.
Once you've registered your business name, it's a good idea to register your domain name as soon as possible to ensure you get the URL you want. There are plenty of domain name registrars to choose from. If you want a .ca domain name here is a list of some Canadian registrars.
Your website designer will also need to know the domain name prior to beginning its design, so that links can be referenced correctly.
You will need to arrange hosting for your new website. Many domain name registrars also offer web hosting, but you do not need to purchase a hosting plan right away if you don't plan to launch your website for several months.
However, you should determine your hosting needs and compare package options available, as well as prices, so that you can allocate a budget for your hosting ahead of time.
Do you need to manage your own content? Will you be selling products online? Will you want to write a blog? Check whether hosting packages include content management software, shopping carts, blog and compare prices.