Building a website for your business is one of the most exciting adventures you'll dive into. Along the way, you should let your imagination run wild, because truly, the possibilities are endless. However, too often we find that poor planning, disorganization, and a simple lack of understanding can turn a fun 10-hour project into a grueling 50-hour project. By taking a little extra time at the beginning to fully clarify everything, you can save yourself countless hours (and dollars) in the long run. Today, we've outlined some basic good practices as you prepare to watch your vision come to life.
The Deck Analogy
Building a website is analogous to building a deck for your home (as proposed by author Ben Siegel). Let's say you hire a carpenter. Without thorough planning, you simply tell them you want a deck built on the side of your house that's this long and this wide, and you give them a deadline. Well, the carpenter needs to know what kind of wood to use, how many levels it should have, whether or not you have the right building permits, etc. So those details are discussed, but only briefly, because everyone's excited to get started, and we don't want to miss that deadline.
Suppose you check back a week later. Although satisfied with the progress, you've decided you want a railing and a bench added, and understandably so, because those are lovely features that belong on a deck. However, those things weren't discussed at the beginning. The wood has already been cut, and a good portion of it has already been drilled and attached. To add those things, the carpenter would have to remove the wood and re-cut it. They'd also have to buy extra wood, costing you extra money, and the deadline would most certainly be missed. On the other hand, what's a deck without a railing and a bench?
A lot of times with web design, these kinds of details are skipped over during the preliminary planning stages. The designer may have to make some judgment calls along the way, installing legitimately useful and attractive features. However, you may find after the installation that these features are incongruent with what you initially had in mind. In this way, miscommunication and improper planning can turn the greatest projects into ones that deeply frustrate both parties. Let's take a look at how we can avoid these hurdles.
Spending a little bit of time on a thorough needs assessment will save hours of development time later on. It will also help to give you an accurate idea of how much the website will ultimately cost – without this, you'll inevitably be resigned to a vague ballpark, as each website is so different.
The first things to consider as we begin are:
Who will be contributing content?
What is the ultimate end goal of this website?
How will this website reflect the marketing persona?
Anyone on your team who has something worthwhile to contribute should be heard; while you may be the overseer of the project, as it were, you may find that someone else on your team has a knack for copywriting, or organizing an event calendar. Get all valuable staff members involved.
Having said that, the more people who participate, the more complicated communications can become. Although we encourage you to make this a team effort among your staff and your stakeholders, also be aware that some of our best websites have come from a one-on-one needs assessment. Both scenarios are great; the important thing is to get this figured out at the beginning – that way, everyone who wants to contribute will be heard, and there won't be any unnecessary uprooting halfway through for a great idea that may have flown beneath the radar.
The good news is that here at HDM, we've got all the resources you'll need – so if you're only providing your ideas, that will always be enough, as long as we can communicate.
The next thing to have in mind is the website's end goal.
What type of business are you? What are the needs of your client base? And most importantly, what do you hope to accomplish? Is this website purely to inform? Are you going to be selling your products online, or are you simply trying to incite contact from potential clients? The answers to these questions will have a direct impact on the structure and design of your custom website.
Finally, we need to consider your brand.
At the end of the day, your custom website is an incredible marketing tool. In today's digital age, it's like the sign on your front door, as well as the lobby of your office. An effective website leaves a lasting impression on its visitors, which is accomplished when a lot of small things work together perfectly. When both parties fully comprehend the overall marketing efforts, the custom website will look and function better.
Structuring Your Custom Website
Once you've developed a general idea for the custom website's function and purpose, you can then start to figure out what your content will be, and ultimately how that content will be divided between different pages and sections.
Of course, there are a couple staples that you will almost always find on a custom website, such as a Contact page, and oftentimes, an About Us page. Having said that, we'd like to challenge you to actually visualize what some of your other pages might be, and how they will connect with each other. Building a site map is one of the best ways to get all participants on the same page.
There a number of ways you can go about building a site map. There's free software, such as Gliffy, that can make things easy. However, a lot of times, there's no substitute for a pen and paper – or perhaps a large white board. In this way, you can get the entirety of your staff and your stakeholders bringing their input to this essential step in the process.
We also encourage you to conjure as many different kinds of content as you can. Your written words are an important aspect of your content strategy. However, it's always a good idea to make use of other media in order to engage your readers. A lot of small to medium-size businesses these days are implementing images and audio, syncing with their Facebook & Twitter, allowing for PDF downloads, and sometimes even embedding their own YouTube videos.
You should always be asking yourself: How does this contribute to the ultimate end goal? There's a good chance we've created a custom website that has had similar objectives in mind. During the initial needs assessment, we can go back through the HDM portfolio of custom websites and take a look at some of the different kinds of web content and site function in action. The possibilities are truly limitless, and we want to help any way that we can in sparking your imagination.
Websites are not as simple as they look. You'd be surprised how quickly things can get confusing. When the conversations start to get tricky, it'll always be helpful for both parties to have that initial assessment to refer back to.
Over the years, we've developed and refined our operation, resulting in creative solutions and enhanced functionality. Rest assured that this process will be clear, easy, and above all, fun. We encourage you to get excited, come up with ideas, and write everything down. Let your vision to come life.