Getting Started With Your Web Site

How do I start my website? This is a very commonly asked question, and I hope the following will give a few very basic answers, as well as giving you some starting knowledge of what is involved in creating a personal or business web site. I intend to cover each of these topics individually, and at much greater depth, in coming weeks, but for now here is my basic starter guide to putting the first few feet forward on the path of web site creation. Although aimed at small business and organizations most of these principles apply to web site projects of all types and sizes.

Step One: What Do I Want My Web Site For?

Every web site needs a reason to be, a purpose to fulfill or a job to do! The first step in creating any web site is to define the reason why your site needs to come into being. Have a brainstorming session by yourself or with your team and answer the following questions:

Who are we trying to reach with our website?

It is very important to know the target audience or “demographic” you want to appeal to with your web site (or any form of public marketing for your organization). A site intended for high level industry professionals will and should have a very different look, feel and function to a site intended for children or a site intended for selling fashion accessories. A good thought experiment is to write down the attributes you would want in your “ideal” visitor. This will really help in answering the other questions going forward about your site.

What do we want visitors to our website to be able to do?

A web site can allow a visitor to find and do any number of things and it is up to you to decide what functions you want to provide. Is your site just about information? Are you looking to sell a product or encourage prospective clients to contact you about buying a service? Do you want visitors to be able to get an online quotation or to be able to donate money? Don’t limit your vision. If you don’t have the full budget, or your business isn’t quite ready to service all the features you want, you can always split your project into stages and launch a site that can easily grow, expand and develop when you are ready.

What “call to action” do we want for our visitors?

This is a very important, arguably the MOST important question to answer about your web site before starting any design process. How do you want a visitor to act ideally on finding your web site? Do you simply want to encourage them to telephone your company? Do you want them to make an online request to contact them? Do you want them to go ahead an make a purchase or a booking right there on your site? Do you want them to send you information, or perhaps subscribe to your mailing list? Here again it can help to make a simple point-by-point plan on paper, from “A visitor arrives at your homepage…” to “A visitor leaves your website.” Having this information at hand will enable you or your designer to tailor every element of your site to making this happen.

What “style” do we want for our site?

Almost certainly if you are reading this you have spent some significant time “surfing the web”. By now you know what you like, what you dislike and what you find just plain scrumdelicious. If you are in a business or organization you have very likely spent time browsing your competitors’ web sites, or sites similar to the one you want to build. Bookmark these sites and write down what you like or hate about each. You may love the way a menu works in one site but hate the color scheme. On another you may like the way they take orders, but find the site hard to navigate. At our company we call these sites picked out by a client “exemplars” and they can be invaluable when creating the look, feel and function of a site that will meet what the client’s vision for their project. There is nothing wrong with adapting a good idea from one site to use on your own or taking inspiration from another site in the design of your own. As a web designer, this is actually one of the highest compliments one can receive. On the flip side, don’t try to re-invent the whole web site concept. Visitors expect to find navigation menus in certain places and pages such as a “contact us” are a useful standard. The balance in style is between building a site that looks pleasing, distinctive, and professional, but has the type of functionality a visitor expects and can easily navigate.

What is our budget for this project?

Budget is a very important factor when approaching a web design project. Some costs, such as domain registration and a hosting account, cannot be avoided but if money is extremely tight you may consider building a site yourself or finding a “talented amateur” family member or friend who will give you a hugely discounted price. If you choose to go with a professional you should definitely get several quotes and ask for project proposals and estimates from each of the companies you contact.

Beware of companies that can quote you a price almost without hearing any details of your project. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions! Your web site represents a significant investment and you should get clear explanations of what is involved and how the project is priced. On the other hand you should also be ultra clear and specific about the process flow of your business. Remember, your designer might know little to nothing about your industry and without sufficient specifics from you, there can end up being unexpected costs when the designer has to rework the design and coding.