Define Your Website Goals
Whether your website is a corporate website, an ecommerce website, a niche social media site or a totally new online business concept, you should put your website goals on paper.
Website goals should clearly state the purpose of your website and what the website should accomplish when someone visits your website.
For example, the goals of an ecommerce website is a self-service purchase of products or services and to create a customer for life, whereas a corporate website may be more informational or designed to pre-screen prospective customers and generate leads for your sales department.
Every business is different and every website will have very specific goals. By writing down your goals and working backwards, you can design a website that supports your website goals.
Create a Site Map
A site map can be as simple as an outline or list of the main pages your website and sub-pages your website will have.
A typical small business site map will look like something like this:
- Mission Statement
- Our Founder
Our Services & Products
Frequently Asked Questions
What Our Clients Are Saying
Request a Quote
Your site map is a great way to organize the general navigation of your website, before you start designing the look and feel.
Special Website Features
Special website features are capabilities your website will have, beyond a standard website page.
Special features typically include:
- Form Pages - Sending form information by email and database capture.
- Newsletter Subscription - Automatic signup by visitors for email newsletters.
- Autoresponders - Automatic sending out of one or more emails in response to a request for more information, series of tips, online course, etc.
- Photo Gallery - Slide show or thumbnails of product images.
- Shopping Cart - Ability to allow users to purchase products or services online.
- Flash Presentation - Audio and Video presentation to be downloaded or viewed within a website page.
- Registration and Login - Ability for customers or prospective customers to register and receive access to website pages and information not available to the general public.
- CMS (Content Management System) - Ability for you and your staff to update website pages, delete and add pages to the website through an Administration page.
- Knowledge Base - Support for products using a database and content management to offer many topics with support information for each.
- Survey - Series of questions which captures survey responses into a database.
- Trouble Ticket - System for customers to contact your support team to resolve issues, track responses and issue resolution.
- Online Operator (Chat) - System for chatting with potential customers and customers who have questions in real time.
- Project or Job Status - System for allowing customers to check on the current status of their job or project.
Approaches to Building Your Website
Even if you have a small website project, you should look for an expert to help you build your website. A website designer can save you both time and money, and help you with the many technical issues that you will encounter along the way.
Rent or Own? - There are some online website building sites that let you "rent" space on their server and create your own website using their software. This approach should only be used to build a quick website presence or to create a "prototype" of your website.
Renting "Gotchas" - While the low monthly fees of a do-it-yourself website building website vendor are tempting, keep in mind you never really own your website. Later, when you decide to move your website or add more complex features to your website, you will find a rented website to be a major headache.
Content Management - You should have a content management system for several reasons. Google likes content rich websites, and having an easy-to-use CMS will encourage you to add more content your website frequently, and free you from having a webmaster make update for you.
Branding - Your website should reflect your branding. Make sure your logo and corporate color scheme is used in your website so all your marketing materials look like they belong to the same design family.
Website Requirements - Before you hire a website designer, put all your website requirements on paper so there are few if any assumptions made about your website. For more complicated websites, be sure to put together a RFP (Request For Proposal) and ask several website design companies to give you a proposal.
RFP - A Request For Proposal, if properly detailed, can help ensure you will have a proper response by several different website design companies so you can choose between several approaches to creating your website.
Website Proposals - Evaluate all proposals to make sure the proposal fits your RFP or website requirements. Be wary of proposals that are extremely low or extremely high. Talk to the different vendors who respond to your RFP so you can get an idea of how well they communicate and what it will be like to work with them.
Get It In Writing
Be sure to have a formal agreement with your website designer and make sure you understand the agreement before you sign on the dotted line.
- Out Clause - Make sure you have a way out of the agreement in case there are problems or you find your vendor delaying the project or not delivering what the proposal calls for.
- Website Ownership - Ideally, you should own all the website project files, graphics, website code and files upon completion of the website, but sometimes this is not spelled out in agreements.
- Hosting - Be careful if the website vendor is providing hosting. In the event you part company with your website designer, you will need full access to the hosting account in case you want to move the website to another hosting company in the future.
- Additional Charges - Your agreement should spell out how additional project requests are to be handled so you do not have unexpected charges after the fact.
- Time Line - Your website proposal should include a project plan and at least a simple week by week time line so you will know how long the project will take.
- Project Management - Who will be responsible for managing the project? Your website design company should do this, but if you hire a freelance resource you may be assuming some project management.
- Vendor Payment Schedule - Most website designers will require an up-front retainer fee, which is either one fourth or one third of the total project price. Additional payments should be paid as work progresses. The final payment should not be paid until the website is approved by you and ready for launch. Never pay for a website project in total up-front.
Building your website can be very challenging when you consider all the small pieces of the puzzle that have to fit together to make the project complete.
If you have a large website project or one with many website features and custom programming, consider creating your website in phases. Focus on getting a basic website up and running in the first phase, then use one or more future phases to add additional features.
Working with a website design professional will make the process go faster and more smoothly, and provide you with a sounding board for your ideas to make sure your website will be professional and technically sound.
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