You've been procrastinating for quite some time now about getting a website for your company. Finally, you allocated a budget and decided to take action, but have no idea where to begin.
You don't know how you would like your website to look or what content to include. And when it comes to domain names and web hosting, you don't even know what they are let alone where to go to find them.
If any of this describes you then you may find the following tips and information very helpful.
Planning your website
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 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:
Your company's uniqueness is your website's primary goal
Before creating your website, the most important thing to do is determine your website's goal(s). 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.
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 the niche market who will benefit from your uniqueness will be the primary goal 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 goal, but your business goal.
Look at the structure and overall feel of your competitors' websites.
How many sections and pages do they have? What key elements do they cover in their content? What colour scheme and images do they use? How user-friendly is their website? Does it look professional? Do they provide lots of useful information? 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 their website 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 pages will definitely save you time and money in the long run.
Now that you know your target market and you've determined your website's goal(s) make a list of all the sections, as well as sub-sections, you want to include in your website.
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 and, similarly, 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.
You will also want to provide a contact or location page so that visitors can easily find out how to contact or locate you.
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 there is at least one link to and from each page.
Create a sitemap by writing a hierarchical list of all the sections, sub-sections and individual pages to be included on your website. Include a short name ("alias") for each page as well as a long name or 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 designer in the menu bar for that section as well as for the file name. The long name or description will appear as the main heading for your page. Your website designer will also use the description in the alt and title text of the corresponding link to aid SEO.
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 key phrases to use as headings on each page that will attract your visitor's attention and lead them to read more and includethem in your summary.
This will not only help when it comes to writing the web content for each section, but it will also help your web designer learn more about your website's goals so that the design reflects and complements the content, and the summary can be used in 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. Each key phrase will be repeated in the content, page title, meta tags and images to help 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 your content will be formatted in advance will allow your web designer to determine whether your budget meets with your expectations.
Will your website design include lots of graphics or do you want to keep it simple?
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 in your content: individual photographs, scrolling images, animations or flash?
Who will be supplying or creating your images?
If you need royalty free images who will be sourcing 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 design company may be able to help you with all of this or at least recommend companies you can work with. Either way, you will need to budget for these items ahead of time.
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 we use.
Who will be updating your web content?
Will you need to update your content frequently? If you offer programs or workshops you may want to include a calendar of events and add events yourself. If you plan on providing regular information to your customers, there are a number of solutions to choose from - content managed software, a blog, emailed newsletters or digital flyers.
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.
Will you need shopping cart software or will buy now buttons do?
If you are selling products, will you be offering online shopping? If so, who will be adding the product details to your website? Will you need a fully functional eCommerce site or will PayPal buttons suffice?
Don't know the answer to any of these questions? Visit osCommerce.com where you can view a demo "shopping cart" site.
If you only plan on selling a few products online, buy now buttons with links to a secure payment site, such as PayPal, ClickBank or Indiepool, can easily be added to your website. Visit their websites for more information and to learn which is the best option for you.
Banks also offer merchant services with computer software and website customization, enabling you to sell online as well as offline using the same system. Kaz Design Works can put you in touch with a local sales representative who can help you decide if this is the right option for you.
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.
Need help choosing your website's colour scheme? We've put together some colour resources to help.
Still not sure of all the processes involved in creating your company website? This website, Designing a Small Business Website, might help.