A Simple Nine-Step Website Checklist to Use Before Creating Your Site
Creating a website, or hiring someone else to build a website, can seem like a daunting task. This is especially true if you’ve never been through the process before, and are not familiar with the principles of web development. However, by understanding the basics of web design and the general process of setting up a website, you can make the design and development process much easier.
A bit of extra planning and effort now can save you trouble later on down the road. In fact, once you acquire a general understanding of web design and how websites work, putting up a basic website can be relatively easy. Fortunately, you can acquire the basic knowledge you need right here. We’ve put together this short guide to make the website design process easier, so let’s get started!
1. Consider and Register the Domain Name
You will have to register a domain name if you want to set up a website. Fortunately, many services make registering a domain name easy. There are hundreds of DotCom types to choose from (i.e. ipage.business, ipage.org). Figure out which one is best for you. Generally speaking, .com and .org are the most respectable.
When choosing a domain name, make sure that it fits your company’s style and brand. Preferably, the domain name will simply be your company’s name. In some cases that name might be taken.Try adding your geo-location to it. For example, if BobsPizza.com is taken, see if BobsPizzaNYC.com or BobsPizzaCharlotte.com is available.
You will also have to pair your domain with a hosting service. Often, it is easier to keep them all on one platform. iPage makes it easy for companies to register a domain name, and set up hosting services with a single account registration.
2. Understand Your Goals
First, you need to ask yourself why you’re creating your website. The answer may seem obvious. When you ask yourself this question, the answer might pop right into your head. “Build awareness.” “Increase Sales.” “Provide Information.” These are common goals for people and companies looking to launch a website.
Most websites, however, are driven by multiple goals, and micro-goals that are part of these larger goals. It’s important to understand and outline micro-goals before you begin developing your website. Once you know your goals, you can start to research how to achieve them.
Take a quick search through the web and you’re sure to find poor websites. Restaurant websites that don’t bother listing contact information, menus, or hours. Sales websites that lack calls-to-action (CTAs), which is a compelling piece of text that urges someone to act. Informational websites that are bogged down with CTAs and sales text. These websites were not designed with the proper goals in mind. As a result, they will underperform.
By outlining specific and detailed goals, you reduce the risk of building a website that won’t meet your needs.
3. Know Your Audience
Your audience is vital. You need to know as much about them as possible. This includes demographics, such as age, sex, income, location, education, and all the rest. You also need to understand them on a deeper level. What are they looking for? What are their wants, needs, and pains?
Once you know who your customers are, you need to consider how you can “connect” with them. Selling services or products to highly-educated adults, such as doctors or professors, differs greatly from marketing to teenagers. Well-educated professionals are going to be more thorough in their research, will use a higher vocabulary, and are often less susceptible to strong CTAs.
As you consider the goals of your website, you need to consider them within the context of your audience. As you start to develop your website, you have to constantly think of things from your audience’s point of view. If you build a great website, but are speaking to the wrong audience, you’re unlikely to reach your goals. Creating buyer personas can help you understand more about your potential customers and how to appeal to them.
4. Consider Advanced Features That You Might Need
By now, you should have a good idea who your audience is, and what your goals are. Now you need to consider if you will need any advanced features. What is an advanced feature? First, let’s talk about basic features. These are non-static content, such as images, links, and text.
Features that allow users to interact with your website are usually more advanced. For example, if you are going to run an ecommerce site, you’re going to need to build in product listings, secure payment processing, and other features. If you are going to allow users to comment, or to sign up for newsletters (thus gathering leads), you are looking at “advanced” features.
Don’t be intimidated by the word “advance.” That doesn’t always require technical coding, or spending a lot of money. There are many “plug-ins” that provide advanced features quickly and easily. By knowing what advanced features you will need, and then doing research before you begin the development process, you can keep costs down.
5. Know the Basic Principles of Web Design
Web design is both a science and an art. The best web developers spend a lot of time crafting their skills. And they never stop educating themselves on changing design principles, technology, code, and user experience best practices. We aren’t going to go over web design principles at length here, but we do need to touch on some basics.
First, every website needs to be optimized for mobile use. Many websites are built to be mobile responsive. This means the website will automatically change to be mobile friendly. Smartphones and tablets now make up a majority of website browsing and use, edging desktop use. If your website is not optimized for these devices, search engines will punish you, and visits will be brief.
Here are some other “basic” web design principles:
- No flash or distracting effects. Visitors don’t like them, and they can slow down the website itself.
- Navigation friendly- Make sure menus are easy to use on every device, and that the page layout makes it easy to access content.
- Reader friendly. This means avoiding huge blocks of text and content overload. Content should be scannable, well-written, typo free, and easy to read.
- Images and videos are a plus. It’s best in most situations to avoid auto-play.
6. Understand the Competition
Competing online means you have to understand who your competitors are. You want to have a website that is at least as good as your main competitors. Of course, it’s best to have a website that is better. So doing a bit of competitive research before you even start developing your website is essential.
Once you know what you want your website to do, and have planned for a basic web design, check out the competition. If you’re running an online business, you should find the leading websites in your niche. Or, if you want to launch a travel blog, check out other travel blogs. When you visit their website, what do you like? What don’t you like?
The competition should always set the bar. However, if they are setting a low bar, you need to find a higher one. Let’s say you run a pub in your local town. The local restaurants all have old, dated websites. This doesn’t give you a free pass to build an outdated website.
Instead, find the thought leaders in your business segment. If you run a restaurant in a small town and the other local businesses have sub-par websites, search for the best restaurant websites elsewhere. Check out what restaurants in places like New York City are doing.
7. Make Sure Communication is Easy
Sometimes a customer will want to get in touch. Maybe they have a question to ask or want to make a complaint. Make sure you are considering communication methods right from the beginning. It’s a good idea to set up an email address and make it easily accessible from your website. You can use a regular email service, or set up your own branded service.
If you are running a small businesses, you may chose to use BusinessNameCity@gmail.com (or yahoo.com, live.com, etc.). Many hosting companies, like iPage offer the ability to create email addresses that match your domain. Doing so makes you look more professional and credible than using an email from a free services. Once you create the email, you have to get into the habit of using it. You should check your business email at least once per day and should strive to reply to all inquiries within 24 hours.
8. Figure out hosting service options
By now, you should have a good idea of what goes into developing a website. As you have seen, launching a successful website takes a lot of planning. There are many factors to consider. As you approach getting to work on your website, you should consider hosting options. There are many different website hosting server options, and you need to pick the one that matches your needs based on affordability, availability, and scalability.
iPage offers powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use hosting services for small businesses. Our platform has been built from the ground up to meet the needs of SMBs and other organizations. Our free website builder also makes it easy for non-website developers to build their own website.
9. Start Planning Ahead: Marketing Beyond the Website
An effective digital marketing campaign will involve a lot more than selecting a domain name, creating some content, and launching your website. That is really just the first part, in the long term you will need to continually optimize and campaign so that users are able to find your website.
You need to pay close attention to the content that goes on your website and how you will keep it up-to-date. Making sure your content is optimized for search will be critical. Use these Search Engine Optimization tips to help you understand what terms your customers are searching for and create the content to help you appear at the top of the results list.
Consider utilizing email marketing campaigns as a way to stay in touch with your customers and make them aware of your new content and special offers. This can be a great engagement tool and is relatively inexpensive.
If you plan on running ad campaigns, it’s important to draw up a budget and goals. Making sure to target the right audience is crucial if you want to see results for your efforts. This can get tricky, so you may want to call in the professionals. iPage offers a variety of professional marketing services to get you started, including Pay-Per-Click(PPC) ad optimization, SEO optimization, and other services.
Once you have your budget and goals, get to work. Find a developer you love, or use our drag and drop website builder to build one on your own. Ask for feedback from friends and family, and tell them not to hold back. If something doesn’t work, or they don’t like a feature, you need to know. Once you have feedback in hand, adjust.
Launching your website is just the beginning. You should continue to update content and even the website itself. Constant improvement will bring you ever closer to perfection.