What to Know Before You Create a Website
Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions building a new web presence for your business?
Are you ready to give your out-dated website a modern facelift?
Or do you find yourself in need of a new site after launching a new company?
In these cases – and others – you know you need a new website. But before you start writing content or choosing a template, you’ve got some work to do. Creating a plan for your future website ahead of time will save you plenty of hassles and heartaches down the road.
Walk through the following guide – which touches on everything from planning your content, to choosing your template, to organizing your navigation – before you start creating your new website.
Identify Key Pieces of Content
Proper website planning begins with an analysis of its future content. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
What questions do my customers commonly ask me?
There are a few pieces of content you’ll want to feature on any website, including:
- Your contact information
- Your hours of service
- Your location
- Your terms and conditions
However, depending on the type of business you run, you may need to include more specialized pieces of content as well. Possibilities include:
- A menu, for restaurants
- A price list or other pricing information, if appropriate for your products or service
- Affiliate disclosures, for blogs that will earn income from referral commissions
The easiest way to determine what content to include on your new website is to think through the questions you receive most commonly.
- If you’re asked about hours, plan to feature this information prominently on your homepage.
- If you receive repeated questions about your products or services, expect to build these into your product listing pages.
- If you often hear from consumers who are curious about your shipping or return policies, make sure they’re both easily accessible.
What content is currently performing well on my site?
Answering questions isn’t the only way to use content on your website. In the case of content marketing, helpful, informative articles can be used to build trust with readers, move them further down the path to purchasing and even drive sales themselves.
Assuming you currently have a website, you’ll want to look at which of its content pieces receive the most engagement.
If you have Google Analytics installed, navigate to “All Pages” under “Site Content” in the “Behavior” section:
From there, change the date range included to find your best-performing content pieces over the past month, the past year and your site’s lifetime. Gauge performance according to page views, average time on site and average bounce rate.
(If you don’t have Google Analytics, look for any similar information provided by your host’s or website system’s internal analytics program.)
Don’t overthink this analysis. Simply look at which pages have the highest overall engagement, as you’ll want to keep this content – even feature it prominently – on your new site.
Performing this analysis may also reveal some gaps in information that’s missing from your site. Make a note, as you may want to include this content as you make a plan for your new site.
Plan for Necessary Features
In addition to planning for your new site’s content, spend some time thinking about its necessary functionalities.
Based on how you support your customers, what does your site need to do? Features to consider may include:
- A contact form
- A checkout process for ecommerce purchases
- A lead capture or opt-in form for an email newsletter
- A mapping tool to provide shop directions to visitors
With modern web technologies, the sky really is the limit when it comes to features. But keep in mind that more features means both greater costs and a higher risk of breakdowns. Keep things as simple as possible to avoid high development costs and potential downtime.
Develop Your Brand Style
Besides your site’s content and feature, it’s just as important that you plan for its visual aesthetic. According to ConversionXL’s Peep Laja:
“People make snap judgements. It takes only 1/10th of a second to form a first impression about a person, and websites are no different. It takes about 50 milliseconds (that’s 0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they like your site or not, whether they’ll stay or leave.”
An attractively designed site that reflects your brand’s style is a key component to keeping visitors on site. At a minimum, plan for:
- A modern website template that reflects current design trends
- Consistent brand colors
- Appropriate typography
- Imagery that supports your brand’s personality and positioning (whether stock imagery, Creative Commons pictures or custom brand photography)
- Cleanly-rendered logo files (no fuzzy edges here!)
Choose the Appropriate Platform
If you’re like most small business owners, you don’t have the time to build your new site from the ground up. And fortunately, thanks to today’s new web design technologies, that isn’t really necessary.
- Register your domain name
- Sign up for hosting
- Install your desired platform
- Choose a “theme” or template design
- Modify pre-designed elements of your chosen theme to suit your needs
While this process generally holds true across platforms, there are a few differences you’ll want to be aware of. Ask the following questions as you’re evaluating your options, based on what you need from the site creation process:
- Is the platform free to use, or will I incur fees?
- How many templates are available to use?
- Do I actually like the available templates?
- Are the templates available to me mobile responsive?
- Does the system offer drag-and-drop design capabilities?
- Does the system support all of the features I identified earlier as being crucial to my new site?
- Can I preview changes before pushing them live to my website?
- How much manual development will I have to do?
- How secure is the system?
- Does the system offer support in case I run into problems?
If you’re on a strict budget, finding a free solution that checks off as many other boxes as possible may be your top priority. Similarly, if you couldn’t write a line of code to save your life, look for a system that’s as DIY-friendly as possible.
Organize Your Future Site
At this point, you’ve got the content you want to include on your new site. You know what features you’ll need to include. You’ve arranged your brand’s graphic assets and chosen the system you’ll use to publish your new site.
But before you dive in, we’d like to suggest one final step: take a day to organize your future site. This will make the process of turning your vision into a reality much easier.
To start, look at the template you’ve chosen for your website. Print it out, if possible, and map out which pieces of information you’ll put in each editable area. Not only will this speed up the design process, it’ll make you aware early on of any gaps you’ll need to fill with new content or imagery.
As an example, suppose you’ve chosen the template below from iPage’s Website Builder:
Map for yourself which images you’ll use in both the header and sub-specialty sections. Write out the content you’ll include in each area so that building your site is as simple as copying and pasting.
Take the time also to plan out your navigation bar. Which pages will you feature as main navigation bar items? Which pages will you include as drop-downs?
You may find it helpful to visualize your navigation structure using sticky notes on a wall. Move notes representing individual pages or other content pieces around until you’re happy, keeping in mind the general wisdom that it should take no more than three clicks (or taps, on mobile devices) to reach any one piece of information.
Put It All Together
Congratulations! You’ve done all the prep work necessary to build a website that’ll support your business by keeping your customers happy.
Now, it’s time to execute. Set aside a day or two when you can focus on bringing your new site to life. Dig in, and turn the plan you’ve worked so hard on into a beautiful new website for your company.
What other tips would you add to this list? Share suggestions from your own website-building experiences by leaving us a note below: