Most people know they need a website in order to publicise and promote their business but very few people know what they want in their website. Fewer still are those who can actually sit down and plan their websites well.
If you don't plan ahead, problems will crop up later.
For example, who is going to take care of the website? What are the costs involved? Will you have the time to maintain it or should you hire a webmaster?
These and many more reasons should be compelling enough for you to plan your website well now. Planning your website also ensures that your website fulfills its purpose. It also prepares you financially for the costs of designing and maintaining the website.
Before you go online with a website, here are some issues to consider:
As a business website owner, your first task is to choose a suitable domain name which reflects your business. A domain name should also be easy to pronounce and easy to remember. To do this, first list down some domain names which you prefer. To project a professional feel, avoid cutesy names or names which have negative connotation. Those in the service or consultancy line might want to use their own names as domains. Next, check availability of the domains that you have chosen. What happens if the domain you choose is already taken? Go for alternatives, such as .net, .org or .biz, if .com is not available.
Design of Website
These days, it is not necessary to hire a web designer to design a website although you can, if you want to. The alternative is that you can learn to create a website yourself by learning HTML or by using a WYSIWYG editor.
HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the code or language used to write or create most documents you see on the World Wide Web. If learning HTML from scratch is too complicated, you can also use a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Editor.
A WYSIWYG Editor makes it much easier because it allows users who do not have technical background the freedom to create and edit their own web pages easily. By using a WYSIWYG Editor, even those who do not know HTML or web design can create, update and maintain their own websites.
Purpose of Website
Not every website's intention is sell to consumers. Some websites are used for prospecting while others are used for education. Define the purpose of your website so that your marketing activities can be better structured to fulfill this purpose. For example, say you intend to sell your products online. How do you plan to do it? Do you want your customers to pay using credit card, direct fund transfer or via some other means? How do you plan to ship the products?
If you want to sell products and services online, ensure you plan e-commerce facilities early into your website. Of course there is nothing wrong if you want to use your website for prospecting, sales and education. However, be sure that there is a strategy for each purpose or you would be losing valuable visitors unnecessarily.
Knowing whom you are creating the website for will go a long way in helping you market your website later. Think about the age group, geographic location, income level and interests of your audience. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine you are a visitor to the website. What would interest you? What would turn you off? If you cannot imagine your target audience, how about thinking about people who are currently buying your products or services? What are they like? What age groups do they belong to? What is their geographic location? More importantly, what do they need?
The main reason why people go online is to find information. Therefore your website should contain information. But what kinds of information could you provide? You could offer information about your products and services. You could also offer information about your company. Another type of information comes in the form of articles, books, newsletters and reports. Again, this brings up more questions. How often will you update your information? Will your content be free? Will you be writing the content yourself or will you obtain articles from other websites?
Good quality content is important if you want to attract web users to browse, read and learn. In the process, they educate themselves and find themselves trusting you and what you market. Besdies, writing and providing interesting and useful content in the form of articles, tips and how-to's is a great way to position yourself as a trustworthy expert.
Good copy or text is always important on any website because if your customers don't trust what you are saying, they won't buy from you. Do not attempt to place the copy found on your printed brochure directly onto your website because that wouldn't work.
Writing for the web is different because of the way people read online. People scan text when they read online as opposed to reading word by word when they read printed books.
According to http://www.useit.com, reading from computer screens is about 25% slower than reading on paper. In short, it is painful to read from computer screens. As such, any type of writing for websites should remember that reading short and succinct text is far more appealing than reading long chunks and blocks of text.
To help people read better online, use headlines to break up long paragraphs, use bulleted lists, write shorter paragraphs and write less than you should. Spend some time looking at good websites and see if you can learn how to write web copy for your website. If the job sounds too tough, get the services of a professional web copywriter.
Interactive elements makes your website come alive and attract visitors. For example, are you planning to offer audio talks or mini videos for visitors to download? Do you want to have a forum where visitors can have discussions? Do you want to enable visitors to talk to you live while both of you are online? While interactive elements are fun, do bear in mind that these do take up bandwidth. You might like to discuss with your web hosting provider about your hosting needs if you intend to include these elements into your website.
Graphics and Images
Good graphics and images are key to making a website look professional and polished.
What product images do you have? If you do not have good images, consider getting professional shots done. Or you can also consider buying stock photographs. How about logos? Do you have one or do you need to create one? What other images do you need for your website? Note these down. Remember that images for the web should be either in .gif, .jpeg or .png formats. Graphics should also be optimized for the web meaning they should not be too large as large graphics tend to make your webpages load too slowly which over time, would turn your visitors off.
Planning for web hosting is another important step. Make sure your web host can support your requirements especially if your website contains a number of interactive elements.
Updates and Maintenance
Do not be mistaken that a website that is completed and live online can be left as it is. A website can never 'grow' by itself. As a website owner, you need to help it grow. You need to update and maintain the website therefore you must plan updating and maintenance work into your website.
How often will your website be updated? Will you be the person who will update and maintain the website? If you intend on doing so, can your web designer integrate a content management system into the website? Or if you don't feel you can do this job well, maybe you should think about delegating this work to a webmaster. If you need a webmaster, be sure you calculate into your budget an allocation for webmaster fees.
The best thing about having a website is that you can make immediate changes to your website and you see the information in real time, updated and relevant. Unlike printed materials which takes time to be printed and distributed, which by then some information may no longer be relevant, a website enables you to make immediate changes easily and cheaply.
Updating and maintaining your website is also important because it encourages search engines to come and index your website, thus enabling your website to be ranked in the search engines when web users do an online search.
Nic Sim is the owner and founder of http://www.RedboxStudio.com a web design firm dedicated to helping solo professionals and small businesses go online affordably and successfully with its easy to use, no-fuss Redbox DIY Website.
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