Putting a website up for your business can be a daunting task if you’ve never done it before. Here is part one of our two part guide on what you should consider, how the process usually works, and things you can do to make sure it comes out the way you want it to.
The first thing you should ask yourself is “why are you putting up a website?”. That might seem like an odd question for a website designer to ask, but if you want the project to meet your goals you'll need to know what they are, and you'll need to communicate them to your designer so they can help you achieve those goals.
A common reason to put up a website is that it's really one of the cheapest forms of advertising for your business. A simple website can let potential customers know your business exists, where you are located, what your hours of operation are, and more importantly what you're about as a business. Another reason might be that you have a specific service you wish to offer your customers, or the public at large. A customer portal, for instance, where current customers can log in and check when their next appointment is or how the work you are doing for them is progressing, and a way for you to send messages indicating a change in the work or the schedule. Finally there's a full blown e-commerce site or shopping cart where you can offer the public the opportunity to purchase your goods and services online. Usually this is done to appeal to a potential customer base that is larger than just those customers who could walk in to your shop to buy your goods, though it would not be unheard of to build an e-commerce site simply as a convenience to your existing customers, or because it effectively increases the number of customers who can be served at any one time. Whatever features your website has, a primary goal is to tell the story about your business in a way that resonates with your viewers so those viewers become customers. The bottom line for a website, or really anything you do in business, is ROI or return on investment. Will this website generate more sales than it costs to develop and host? Building a website is usually not an inexpensive process, so you should be clear on how it will be making you money and how long it should take the website to pay for itself. The way you do that is called web analytics, which we will cover in the following sections.
Now that you are clear on your goals, the next task is to decide what to name the site, and what to build. All websites have a domain name that they are associated with. When you type in http://lillibolero.com, the domain name is lillibolero.com. This domain name is the base of the address of every page of your site, so you should carefully consider what domain name you will use if you don't already have one. The obvious, and best choice is the name of your business. Of course if your business name is Henry's Garage, there may be another Henry's Garage that has already registered the domain henrysgarage.com . That's why it's a good idea to register a domain if you think you may use it at a later date, even if you don't need it right now. At the very least you can set up your email to use that domain, e.g. , email@example.com , which looks more professional than firstname.lastname@example.org . There are lots of places, called registrars, to register a domain name, and unless you have particular needs for your registrar, one is about as good as another and the deciding factor comes down to the yearly cost to renew the registration and how easy it is to connect your domain name with your hosting account. The name should be as short and memorable as possible, and should end in .com (this is called the TLD, top level domain) unless you have a special reason to choose a different one. One more thing about domain names is that you should make sure it's registered in your name. Ownership of domains is ultimately decided by who is listed as the registrant of the domain. This isn't so much of a problem any more, but previously site owners could get into the situation where their web developer registered the domain in their own name. When the site owner wanted to move on to a different developer their original developer wouldn't let go of the domain name, leaving the site owner at their mercy. Just remember, it's your domain, it should have your name on it.
The hosting account is the place you put the files and data that make up your website. Your registrar probably sells hosting accounts, and your web designer probably has one or two hosting companies that they do business with. Another possibility is that your web designer runs their own server on which they host their clients' websites. For a first website, and depending on what exact services your host is providing, the cost of hosting should be modest. Don't start off getting the biggest and the best because you don't know how well your website will perform and if you get too large a hosting plan for the site you'll just be wasting money. You can always upgrade if you are getting more traffic than your hosting account can handle. That's a good problem to have.
The navigational structure, or sitemap of the site should be guided by its underlying goals. For instance, if the goal of the site is to make your business known and generate leads, then what you are trying to do is tell a story about why the viewer should visit your brick and mortar store, call the phone number presented to them, or write to the email address you provide. You should minimize the number of things your user needs to do such as clicking, scrolling, scanning through dense content, in order to call that phone number or write to that email address. Your competitor's website is always one click away! Never take for granted that the user is on your site, and always keep them focused on completing the goal.
Here's what we've covered so far:
Have clear goals for what you want your website to do.
Regardless of whether it's a basic brochure site, customer portal, or e-commerce site, your website should tell a story about your business that resonates with your customers.
As a business function, your website should be viewed in terms of return on investment; is the profit or exposure from the website worth the cost of developing and maintaining it?
If you don't have one, you'll need a domain name. There are a lot of domain registrars where you can get one, and your web designer should be able to help you choose which one to work with. Make sure it's registered in your name and not your designer's because whoever is listed as the registrant owns it, regardless of who paid for it.
Don't get too much hosting, You can upgrade if you need to, but you can't get your money back on hosting that isn't needed.
Keep it simple. You can and will add to and expand on your site as time goes by, so there's no need to do it all up front.
The sitemap should be guided by your goals for the site, whether it's buying, clicking, calling or visiting your store in person.
Your competitor's website is always one click away!
That's the briefest of introductions to planning your new website. In the next installment we will look at the process you should expect in building out your website, some tips to make the whole experience easier, and make you your web developer's favorite client, and how to choose a web design company. See you then!