The key to building a successful web site is planning. In the words of author Stephen Covey, you should “begin with the end in mind.”
1. Define the Purpose
What is the site’s purpose? Is it to provide a professional presence? Prompt the user to call? Sell products or services online? A tool to save time?
It is imperative to clearly state the goals of the web site in writing. Goals provide clear direction which ultimately leads to better results. So, begin with the end in mind. What do you want to your website to accomplish and why?
2. Define your Target Market
In order to design an effective site it is important to know your customers. Who is your target market? What are their demographic characteristics? Male or female? Age bracket?
From there, you can dig deeper. What are their buying habits? What magazines do they read? What do they do for recreation? Do they play golf? Hike? Answers to these questions will help gear the site to your audience and meet their expectations. It will also help you to choose imagery that reflects the audience.
3. Choose a Domain Name
A short name is better than a long one
Use keywords in your domain name if possible. (Keywords are words that people might use to search for you on Google.)
Consider using a geographic keyword, like “PortlandPeaches.com”
Avoid trademarked names.
Avoid combining words that end and start with the same letter, like “talbotttools.com”, which would likely be misspelled.
4. Cost Justification
What is the average dollar value of one customer over a two year period? (Average dollar sales per customer X number of sales per year X 2 years.)
From this calculation you can determine how many new customers the site needs to generate in order to pay for itself. (The total site cost divided by the figure in the above calculation.)
5. Size Up the Competition
What do your competitor’s sites look like? You should keep that in mind during the design phase so that your site can stand out from the crowd, yet be appropriate for your industry.
6. Decide on a Style
Take a look at other sites and list three to five that you like and detail why. Also find at least three that you don’t like and list why.
This will help you determine what to shoot for during the design phase. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. At the same time, due to copyright law, you can’t copy or re-use someone else’s work without their written permission.
7. Write the Text Content
Writing the text content is a key step in the process. You can save a good deal of time and money by writing the content yourself. After all, you know your business better than anyone else. The text content should be broken down by category. Those categories become the buttons for your site.
Massaging the text, getting it into it’s final form, before designing the site will allow the designer to know how to accommodate the quantity of text to be included on each page.
8. Flow Chart
Use the text content to create a flow chart for the entire site, showing the content for each page and how the pages relate to each other. This will become the road map or blueprint to follow during the design process.
9. Choose Imagery
Using high quality photographs and imagery is crucial. Photos or images that are blurry or pixelated reflect poorly on your organization. Use quality lifestyle imagery that is appealing to your target market. Appropriate lifestyle imagery will help the user to relate to your site and create a more positive mental impression.
iStockphoto.com is a good source for lifestyle photography and useful illustrations. It is important to follow copyright law and not to use someone else’s imagery without their written permission. When using images from iStockphoto, you are granted a royalty free license, which includes permission to use the image.
10. Decide who will maintain the site.
It is important to decide at the outset, who will maintain the site. Sites can be designed for ease of maintenance, if that is a goal at the outset. Custom sites created in Adobe Dreamweaver are typically maintained by the web designer. Sites may also be designed using a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress.
WordPress sites are created using a template or “theme” and may be maintained through a standard web browser with minimal training. No additional software is required. The down side of using a CMS is that by using a template, your site may end up looking somewhat similar to someone else’s.
11. Choose a Designer
This could be you! If you are relatively web savvy and you want to tackle the design phase on your own, WordPress’s content management system is a good option. Also, you may consider hiring a web designer at this point. If you do, everything you’ve done so far will save you money. And, you’ll have a clear direction for the designer to follow, culminating in a positive result.
12. Choose a Hosting company
Choose a reputable company like Go Daddy or Bluehost. I’ve found them to be priced inexpensively and they have great 24 hour technical support. Go Daddy is great for Dreamweaver based sites, while Bluehost has better support for WordPress sites.
Criteria for choosing a hosting company should include price, phone technical support (vs. online chat only) and if you’re going to use WordPress, a hosting company that supports it. An indication of how well a company supports WordPress is whether or not they have “one-click” WordPress installation.
13. Build the site
Execute the plan and build the site. Ease of navigation is a key factor in putting together a successful site. Navigation buttons should have a consistent look, be titled intuitively, and located in the same place on each page.
You can’t talk about “getting noticed” without talking about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is a subject all on it’s own. In general, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing, use an algorithm to evaluate your site’s relevance to the user. They rate your site accordingly.
Google is by far the leading search engine company. To get noticed, the idea is to configure your site so that you are rated highly in the organic search, as opposed to the paid advertisements at the top and sides of each page.
You can start by adding keywords to your pages. These are words that someone may type into Google in order to find you. Choose both geographic keywords and keywords relevant to your content.
By following the principles outlined above, you will be able to construct a site that meets your goals, is easy to navigate, has compelling imagery, exceeds your audience’s expectations, and sets you apart from your competition.