Here’s a checklist of 17 steps to planning your website to help you jump-start the design process and hit the ground running:
- Put together information about your business, such as the services and/or products you offer, your company mission and history. (How does your business stand out in your market? What do you do differently? What benefits do your customers get from working with you?)
- Make a list of your competitors, and look at their websites for ideas. Look at what kind of content they have on their sites. Also, look at their web design. Note that larger companies—especially national ones—tend to have better designs.
- Who is your target audience? What kind of person do you visualize using your products or services? Who is your ideal customer or client to work with?
- What kind of information do you want your visitors to get from your website? Do you want to showcase your services, encourage customers to call you, sell products, etc.
- What pages do you want on your website? For example, these are the most common ones that customers want to see: Home, About, Services (or Products), Testimonials, Contact.
- What colors do you like or dislike? Usually, design colors are pulled from your logo and branding materials. If you don’t want a logo, think about what colors would best represent your business.
- What kind of style do you like? Clean and professional, warm and friendly, bold and colorful?
- What sites do you find attractive and easy to use? Collect some links to send to your designer for inspiration and to give them an idea of the kind of site you are looking for. Not sure where to look? Google “web design trends” or “best web design”
- Do you need any special features? Think of anything you want to include, such as: logo design, header banner, blog, photo gallery, mailing list signup, shopping cart, PayPal payments, events calendar, content management, social media integration, website stats, Google map, contact form, SEO.
- Do you want your customers to make payments or buy a product or service on your site? Let your designer know if you want an online store. You can use a secure payment processor like PayPal to easily accept payments on your website for both products and services.
- Do you need social networking? Consider setting up accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Only set up accounts for the social networks you will update frequently. If you don’t enjoy posting on social sites, don’t use them! Ask your designer about adding sharing buttons to your site, so others can share your content.
- Do you want users to find your website on search engines like Google? Will you need SEO–Search Engine Optimization? SEO is the process of placing keyword phrases in targeted areas of your website, so search engines can correctly index your pages and help you get ranked better for searches. This service is sometimes included in a web design package, but it’s often extra. Be sure to ask what this service includes.
- Do you have a domain name and/or web hosting yet? A domain is your website address, such as WidgetsByBob.com. Web hosting is where your website is stored, so it’s always available online. Both of these are required and need to be renewed each year. Most web designers provide this service, and they can get you discount pricing, so ask first before buying.
- Will you need stock photos? Or will you provide all the pictures you need for the website? Usually, your designer will include at least one high-quality stock photo for each page of your website. Pricing for specific photos starts at around $1 to $2 each. Most stock photo sites require you to purchase at least $15 in credits to download photos.
- Do you have your website content written and ready to go? You will need to write up your basic content for your website. Generally, you don’t need it right away to begin your project, but you will need to provide it as soon as you can to get your website up and running. When writing your content, think about putting in some keyword phrases that people may use when searching for a site like yours. Don’t overdo it, though, or you could be penalized. The best approach now is to use several different keywords, not the same phrases over and over.
- What is your budget? (Expect to pay in the hundreds for a small site of up to 5 pages. If you are a large company, expect to pay in the thousands for a site with lots of pages or advanced programming.)
- Will you want to update your own site, or would you like your designer to maintain it? Think about this before you build a site, and ask your designer to build your site with a CMS like WordPress, so you have the option to update your own site if you like. Waiting until after your site is built will be too late.
Congratulations! If you have answered these questions, you have all of the information you need to get started. Now, you are ready to find the right web designer to build your website.