At first it is a fleeting thought. Then it becomes a daily one. Soon after, you find it nagging at you throughout the day. You need a website! But how do you get started with website development? The first step, in my opinion, is to figure out what you want your website to do. Sounds like a simple thing, but it really is the most important one.
- Will you simply advertise yourself and use your site like you would a brochure?
- Do you need an online store to sell your products?
- Are you are in need of a portfolio to showcase your work?
- Do you want a content management system installed so you can update your site yourself?
- Are you publishing a collection of articles? Then maybe a blog is in order?
Figure out what you want to DO with your new website – what will its purpose be?
But what if you’re not sure? If you only have a vague idea for a website, you should start by surfing the Internet for sites that could be like yours. Say you want a gardening site, but you’re not quite sure where to take it. Then visit other gardening sites and see what they are doing. Some are informational only. Some sell products. Some showcase garden ideas or articles. After a few hours of research, you should be getting some ideas. Write down page names that you like. Bookmark designs you might like to emulate. Think about how you can do better than the sites you find. You get the idea.
How big will your site be? Most sites have pages (or sections) such as Home, About Us, Contact, Services, Portfolio, Shopping, etc. Think about the information you want to display to your customers and how you might display it compared to other sites you have seen. Write down your ideas so you can look at them later and revise them as needed. This can help you to better determine how many pages your website will have. Your developer will need this information to offer an accurate quote.
As far as features go, you should be thinking about the specific functions you want your site to perform. If you are in real estate, you might want to put a custom mortgage calculator on your site. If you are selling products online, ask yourself this: Do you need an entire shopping cart with a merchant account, or would a couple of PayPal “buy it now” buttons suffice? Or maybe you have a corporate site and need a private area for employees. How about an exciting Flash animated intro for your site or a fun game to demo your product? The options are literally endless, so try your best to foresee as many of these types of features that you might want on your site before you contact a developer. Your quote will end up being much more accurate than it would be otherwise.
Who will visit your website? You must determine who your “target market” is. This information will make an big impact on the style of your website. For instance, a website for children should look nothing like a website for B2B sales. They will use different colors and graphics, and they will use different technologies such as animated flash images or complex back-end content management systems. The layout itself will be entirely dependent upon your target market, so you should do your best to nail down who those people are. Your web developer will need this information in order to better reach your target market, thus resulting in a more productive and successful website.
You should also think toward the future. Let’s say that you want your site to do EVERYTHING but you can’t do it all now? No problem. You can always start small and work your way up as your budget allows. However, it is very important that your developer know what your future plans are. There are many things that can be done in anticipation of new features so that when the time comes later to add them in, they can be added in as easily as possible. Trust me here…it will save you a lot of time and money later (and I really mean a LOT) if you take the time to figure out where your site could be headed in the future before you even start creating it.
I know this seems like a lot of research and planning, but please don’t let that worry you too much. You don’t have to nail down each and every page or feature in the very beginning. But you should have a really good idea of how many pages you need and which features you want on them before contacting a designer. A good web designer can always help you make some of these decisions and offer ideas you might never have thought of. You should keep an open mind and listen to the suggestions, and really think about them. After all, this is why you are hiring a professional. When you work together with your designer, you ensure that your website will be more successful.
Click here to read the second part: Your Website: Getting Started – Part 2, Choosing a Designer.