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How to Plan Your Website

Whether you intend to create your own website or commission a professional web designer to do the job, there are certain things you will need to think about.

Many people decide they need a website and immediately start to think about its appearance. What colours should it have? Where should the photographs go?

A good, effective website is not just a pretty picture on a screen. If you want your website to be an asset to your business or organisation, you will need to think about its purpose and how the website’s information is organised.

By the way, you can find a brief check–list of things to look out for at the bottom of this article.

What Do You Want Your Website To Do?

The first thing to consider when planning your website is this: what is the main purpose of the website?

  • Is the website’s purpose to inform visitors about something?
  • Is the website’s purpose to sell products to customers online?
  • Is the website’s purpose to engage its audience, for example with a discussion forum?
  • Is the website’s purpose to broadcast your opinions, for example in a blog?
  • Is the website’s purpose to contain advertisements?

A large majority of business websites fall into the first category. They exist to inform potential customers of the products the business sells or the services it provides.

Getting the Structure Right

With an informational website, you next need to decide on the structure of the website: how the information in the website is to be organised.

Basic Website Structure

For a small business, the structure is usually straightforward. The information in a basic small business website might fall into the following categories:

  • The services our company provides.
  • Our qualifications and experience.
  • Our contact details.

Adding More Detail

You may decide that some topics ought to be covered in more detail than others. For example:

  • The services our company provides:
    • We design widgets.
    • We manufacture widgets.
    • Our widgets are available in a wide range of colours.
    • We ship widgets all over the world.
  • Our qualifications and experience.
  • Our contact details.

Optional Features

Of course, each business will have its own requirements. You will probably want your website to contain a contact form, like the one at the bottom of this page. Other features are optional:

  • You may or may not want your contact details to include your phone number, email address, and physical address.
  • If you expect your customers to visit your premises, you may want your website to include your opening hours and an interactive map of your location.

You can have anything you like, but it’s best to decide things like this early on.

Search Engines

If your website is for a business, you will need to think about what you require from search engines, and how you intend to attract visitors:

  • Do you want your website to be found on a search engine when people search for the name of the business? Almost any website will do this.
  • Do you want the website to be found when people search using other words and phrases? If so, you will need to think hard about what those words and phrases should be, and let your web designer know. Feel free to contact us for advice about optimising your website.

If you expect to get most of your visitors from other sources, and you are not concerned about whether your website is ranked highly by search engines, you can ignore this part.

Search engine optimisation is largely a question of identifying the words and phrases that you want the website to be associated with, and incorporating those words and phrases in the website using the appropriate code. You should bear in mind that most do–it–yourself website programs will not produce a search–engine–friendly website.

Assembling the Information

Once you have worked out the general structure of the website, you can start to write the text and assemble any illustrations that may be necessary.

The most important part of almost every website is the text. Your website’s visitors will want to find out information, and in most cases that information is best communicated by text.

The Visitor’s Point of View

When writing the text, it’s important to put yourself in the position of a visitor to your website. What’s important is not what you want to see, but what they want to see (for an illustration, see this cartoon: http://xkcd.com/773/).

You should always ask yourself:

  • What audience am I aiming to attract?
  • What information are they looking for?
  • What is the best way to give them that information?

Keep it Simple

As you probably know from your own experience, casual visitors will usually skim most of the text on a website rather than read it all the way through, at least on a first visit. So keep things short and snappy. If in doubt, cut it out!

Use Plain English

You should always write as clearly as possible. Unless your website’s audience is made up of advertising executives, you should avoid using marketing–speak and management–consultant gibberish. Writing “we aim to exceed customers’ expectation parameters when rolling out initiative solutions going forward” is like writing “we have nothing much to say, so don’t waste any more of your time on this website.”

Technical jargon is fine for a website that is aimed at specialists, but if your audience doesn’t understand what you are saying, they are likely to leave. Your competitors’ websites are only a couple of clicks away.

It is worth mentioning that you should use accepted standards of spelling and grammar. Even if some of your audience won’t notice the difference, others will spot errors and may not be impressed.

Professional Advice and Assistance

Lab 99 Web Design can help you with the text. We are experts at turning rough notes into good web copy, and are happy to give our customers free advice about assembling the text and images for their website.

Updating Your Website

You need to think about how often the text of your website might need to be updated. This will affect the way in which the website is put together, and the total cost.

Occasional Updates

If you don’t anticipate changing the content often, the easiest solution is to get your web designer to make any alterations as and when they are required. Lab 99 Web Design are usually happy to make the occasional small alteration free of charge.

Frequent Updates

You may want your website to contain a blog or a latest news section. If the website is likely to be updated frequently, you have three options:

  • You can ask your web designer to update the website.
  • You can make those changes yourself if you are familiar with HTML, the coding system that websites use.
  • If you want to update your website yourself but you don’t want to learn basic HTML, the website will need to be constructed using a piece of software called a content management system, which allows a non–technical user to add text, photographs and other files to a website without having to bother about the HTML code that makes it all work.

Pros and Cons

Incorporating a content management system into a website takes time, and will add to the basic cost of creating the website. On the other hand, if you need one it will probably save you money in the future.

There are a few other points to consider:

  • It is possible to add a content management system to an existing website, but it is cheaper and more effective to build the website around it in the first place.
  • How much of the website do you need to be able to update? A content management system can be configured to your specifications. The simpler it is, the less it will cost and the easier it will be to use.
  • A content management system will allow you to add or edit text, but it will not allow you to alter the layout or any of the website’s other design features.
  • A content management system requires certain technical features, such as a database, which must be provided by the website’s hosting system. Most websites do not need these features, and the cheaper hosting packages do not include them. Lab 99 Web Design can provide suitable hosting.
  • You should think hard about how often you intend to update your website. Many website owners treat a content management system as an impulse buy, like a subscription to a gym: they sign up, they go along a couple of times, then they lose interest. As with all non–standard website features, if you don’t really need it, don’t include it.

Decorative Features

You may want your website to incorporate a photograph gallery, a slide show, an animation, or some other decorative feature.

As with a content management system, you should work out whether or not such features will improve your website. There may be problems:

  • Slide shows require photographs to be taken with the letterbox format in mind. Most photographs cannot be cropped appropriately, and don’t look good in slide shows.
  • Slide shows and animations slow down the loading of the page. Visitors with slow internet connections will not appreciate this.
  • Non–standard features do not work on every computer system. Many mobile phones, for example, cannot display certain types of animation.

If in doubt, keep the website’s features as simple as possible.

Expanding Your Website

Do you anticipate expanding your website in the future? It is always possible to add pages or sections to websites, but this can cause problems if it has not been incorporated into the original layout.

The navigation menu, the most important part of most websites, may or may not be able to cope with the extra pages:

  • A vertical navigation menu will normally be able to include any number of extra pages, but is not suitable for some types of website.
  • A horizontal navigation menu, which you will find on most websites, is a more effective use of screen space but has only a limited amount of extra capacity. Too many extra pages may require an expensive redesign.

If you think you are likely to want to expand your website in the future, let your website designer know in advance!

The Final Stage: Designing the Website

Once you have done the basic planning, you can start to think about the appearance of your website (for an amusing account of what not to do, see this: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell).

Here are a few of the questions a good web designer will consider:

  • Does the client have a preference for a particular colour scheme?
  • Does the client already have a logo? If so, is the logo suitable for a website?
  • What design features are appropriate for the information on this website?
  • What is the most appropriate type of navigation menu?
  • Does this category of information deserve a page of its own, or would it be better incorporated into a page with other information?
  • How much information should go on the home page? What is the best way to present this information?
  • How many columns are appropriate for the basic page layout?
  • Should the contact details appear on every page, or should they go on a page of their own?
  • What should the footer contain? Just some basic copyright information, or links to the main pages, or contact details?
  • What is the best way to incorporate information for search engines?

Website Planning Check–List

Here is a brief summary of the questions you need to ask yourself when planning your website:

  1. What is the purpose of my website?
  2. What information will my visitors want to find on my website?
  3. What is the best way to organise that information?
  4. Does my website need to rank highly on search engines? If so, what words or phrases are my potential visitors likely to use when searching?
  5. How should I write the text?
  6. How often will my website need to be updated? Do I want to update it myself?
  7. Will my website benefit from features such as a photograph gallery?
  8. Will I need to expand the website in the future?
  9. What preferences do I have for the design, colour scheme and layout?

We are happy to give advice, so feel free to get in touch!

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