So, you're ready to build a new website, and you have been shopping around for a web design company, or about to build the website yourself. If you haven't chosen a web design company yet, I encourage you to read part 1 of this series. Now that you are ready to start designing your website, you need to put a plan in place for what you want your website to achieve. Planning is a very important component in getting ready to build your website, and to see what is necessary for its design. If you don't plan properly, and don't think of everything you will need before the website is built, you may find your costs will skyrocket simply because of the additions you need to include. Of course the web design company you have chosen; if you are using one, should be able to guide you in the right direction, but no-one knows your business like you do, so both parties should be involved in the planning.

Planning

Define the purpose of your website.

What do you want your website to achieve for you? It is important that you clearly understand the purpose of your own website. Websites can be used for different purposes, such as:

  • Marketing, branding, site positioning
  • Promotional campaign site
  • Transactional sales-oriented site
  • Customer service support site
  • 'How to' instructional site
  • Product or service demonstration site
  • Lead generation site
  • Viral or buzz creation site

Who your target market is?

What type of visitor to your website are you trying to attract? I come across many small to medium businesses that don't have a clear definition of who their target customer is. The clearer the understanding you have, the easier it will be for you to connect with your target audience and the more successful your website will be. If your website is not clear in what you offer, then it is highly likely you will quickly lose these visitors. Some businesses are afraid to leave a clear indication of what they offer because they are worried about their competitors finding out information about them. Your competitors can easily find this information out anyway if they choose to, and all you are really doing is losing potential customers as they leave your website because they are not clear about what you are offering. Take the time to look at some websites that you like and don't like. Write down what appeals to you and what doesn't. Use these points to refine your website. Does your website portray the same message as the rest of your marketing? Often businesses forget that a website is a part of the overall marketing mix, communicating who you are, what you do, and why you do it better than your competitor. Marketing is also about branding, and positioning your business. If this is done properly you will stand out from the crowd. Does your website honestly reflect this? Make sure that your website is consistent with the rest of your marketing mix.

Marketing your website

Do you want to attract business through the search engines? This may seem a simple question, but many people think it is enough to build a website and the traffic will come. I come across people all the time that still think that being found through the search engines is not important, only to find six months down the track how important it really is. A recent client approached us to add the finishing touches to their e-commerce site. During this process, one of the questions I asked was, how they were planning to market their site as it was purely an online selling tool with no bricks-and-mortar business associated with it. The response was; I don't know, I thought I would build the site first and work that out later. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon approach these days when it is quite easy and cheap to get an online business up and running. Many people don't realise that whether you have a bricks-and-mortar business, or your business is entirely online, it takes planning and hard work for your business to be successful. There were a number of reasons why this website would not work well:

  • It was built entirely using only graphics, even the text was in graphics. On an ADSL 2 connection it took more than thirty seconds for the page to load, which is simply too long for most people to wait.
  • At this time search engines cannot read graphics. Search engines like Google would have no interest in listing it in their rankings.

Choosing the design style

One of the hardest things in designing a site can be getting a clear understanding of what a client wants in the look-and-feel of their site. Design depends on individual taste, and designing a website from a first draft that the client will like from the start, can be a real challenge. Some clients have a very clear understanding of what type of design they want, but most do not. It can be really helpful to find some websites that you like the look of, and use them as a basis for what you like I am not encouraging anyone to copy another website, but it does help to have a clear idea of what you like and don't like.

What colours do you want?

The colours you use play a major part in the success of your website, for a couple of reasons.

  • If the colours are not appealing to your visitor, then they may be instantly turned off by your site, and you will lose them altogether.
  • If the colours you use are too bright, or do not contrast well, then visually impaired people may not be ale to read the information on your website. A great tool to use to choose your colours is: http://www.kuler.adobe.com/# I strongly recommend that you integrate your business colours, or at least as closely as possible. Of course, if your website is the first step towards changing your branding, then it is fine to use different colours.

Note: As a rule you should not use more than three different colours in your website colour scheme.

Website Content

The content in your website is something that will often grow over time, so if you haven't fully written the content for your site before you are ready to start, don't be too concerned. In saying that, you should at least have the basics together so that when the site is being built, it is being built with the correct structure. The content you place in your website is an extremely important element. It needs to connect with your visitor quickly research shows that on average you have 7-8 seconds to capture a visitor's attention and to convince them that they have come to the right site. In the current market you should look for a good mix of video, audio and written content to get your message out there. This mix will vary depending on what you offer. Content should be well written or presented and easy to understand. If you aren't a natural writer, don't despair, there are people that can write content for you, or at least improve on what you have put together. For more on writing content for your website, read my article 'SEO and Website Content'

Logos and Images

What logos or graphics will you want to use on your site? If your business has a logo, then it is important that you clearly display this, without overshadowing everything around it. Some people make the mistake of trying to make their logo so prominent on the page in their excitement to get their brand out there, that it spoils the overall page effect. Using the correct images on each page of your website can help a potential client relate to your website. i.e. if you are a B2B website, you will want to have images of business people or business related images. Images can be a great way to break up a page that has a lot of content on it, to make it more visually pleasing and easier to read.

  • Do you want animation within your website? While animation can look great, sometimes too much animation can take the focus off the important elements of your website. Your chosen web design company should be able to offer you the best advice on what will suit your individual business needs.

The more planning you do before you are ready to develop your website the more you control the cost of it in both the short and long term, and you will see your website up and running much faster.