"He who fails to plan plans to fail" Winston Churchill.
Before you start planning your website it is very important that you identify your business goals in the next 24 months. Once you are clear about your business objectives then you can start looking into how your website can help you achieve them. Many businesses don't have clearly defined goals but its likely there is a pretty good idea about where your business is heading over the next couple of years. It is very important that you convert those general ideas into clear objectives because they will have a major impact on your website plan and structure. Here is a few things to consider:
- Do you want to grow your business and by how much?
- Are you planning to launch new products or, services?
- Do you want to improve efficiency?
- Are you planing a change or improvement in your customer service process?
- Do you want to expand into new demographic market?
Once you are a bit more clear on your business goals its time to set objectives for your website. Your overall business strategy will determine the goals and structure of your website.
1. Who is it for?
Do you want to sell more to existing customers, acquire new ones or both? Will you be targeting new markets and if yes what will they be? Do you want to sell online?
2. What are they?
New customers? Employees? Existing customers? Suppliers?
3. What do they want?
Now that you know who your users are you must identify their needs so you can begin planning your website structure and content in order to satisfy those needs.
4. Plan your structure and content!
Although your website should satisfy the needs of all you target groups its important to prioritise to ensure your most valuable user group needs are met first. In todays fast paced environment your users must be able to locate pages and content of interest within seconds or they'll leave! Now that you have answers to above questions you can get a pen and paper, and sketch your preliminary site map. Your site map doesn't need to be a work of art but, it should shape a bit like a pyramid so you can visualise where the pages for your key user groups are and how long it will take to get there. Make sure its fast!
5. Identify your users behaviours and plan for the future!
Different demographic groups use web in different ways. Younger groups tend to use mobile browsers more frequently than others although, in very near future this distinction may become invisible as older web users are catching up fast! Therefore it may be wise to plan for the future and ensure your website is responsive and can adapt to mobile devices.
6. Graphic Design
Most people start out their website plan with graphic design but, web design is not so much about how it looks but, rather about how it works.! And that is why it was important to identify the above objectives first. For example: different colours appeal to different market groups. And its your content should be driving the graphic design, not the other way around!
7. Plan your budget
Only just now? Yes! If you haven't' clearly identified your website objectives than how could you even begin to imagine the costs? To make a comparison: When you decide to build a new house you will more than likely, identify how many rooms you need, if you want a swimming pool etc. The next step will probably be to ask quotes from couple of builders and if the quotes are higher than your available funds you will give up on the swimming pool or perhaps one of the rooms for the time being. Same principle applies to websites and web developers are used to staged work so its not uncommon that under budget pressure one of the user groups or, some functionality is left for stage 2 or 3. But, now that you have identified and prioritised your website's objectives its much easier to decide what is postponed for the next development stage or perhaps dropped altogether.
8. Choose your CMS (content management system)
These days majority of websites have moved from static HTML websites to dynamic content management systems and these fall into two categories: Commercial and Open Source. Which one is better? They each have their strengths and weaknesses but, one of the key differences is cost. Open source is free while commercial CMS is usually paid for on subscription basis so budget planing stage may influence your decision on CMS choice. On thing to remember is certainly that free Open Source are much more widely used and tested. In fact Open Source CMS's are powering some of the most widely known government and multinational corporation websites such as; The White House, United Nations, Yahoo, AOL, Sony/BMG, Universal Music Group, Warner Bros Music, just to name a few. As you can imagine these websites cater for diversity of user groups and experience enormous traffic volumes, and often have very high security standards. In a nutshell, you shouldn't eliminate the Open Source CMS from your choice just because they are free.
9. Choose your web developer
Whether you are buying a new car or, taking out a mortgage its all west best if you are prepared and do your research. Same applies to ordering a website and if you followed all the previous steps not only are you armed with information enabling you to be a better, more informed choice but, you are also well prepared which will enable your web development company to better understand your needs and, provide a more accurate cost estimate. You'll find that cost estimates will differ however, lower initial cost may turn out to be much more expensive in the long run as many development companies nowadays engage in cross selling products such as; web hosting or, their own commercial CMS. If for example, you decide that you feel more comfortable with commercial, vendor supplied CMS then you should add the cost of a 24 months subscription to your total website cost before comparing it to other offers. Its also worth considering what happens if your relationship with that particular web development company goes sideways because, your website is built on custom CMS so migration may be very painful. And if you think that you can get the same website built for less overseas than think again about the last customer support call you made to your telco or, credit card company…
10. Ready, Set, Launch
You are past the planning stage now and you can start preparing content. Once your content is ready it will get passed on to graphic designer and web developers (often the same company) who will then build the website according to your instructions. Its important to set realistic deadlines for launch to save both you and your web developer from unnecessary frustration. When setting the deadline try and consider how much time it took to create the content and you can realistically anticipate web development will take at least twice that long but. likely even longer depending on complexity of your design and requirements.