Originally written April 2004. Updated March 2011.
You know you need a website. Or you want to redesign your current one. So, where do you begin? What’s most important? There are several factors to ponder as you build—or rebuild—your company’s internet presence. These questions and issues will help guide the process.
Who are your audiences?
Whether you’re a non-profit and need to speak to volunteers, donors and board members, or a spa that needs to address current customers, those who haven’t found you yet, get even more specific. Are your volunteers in a particular community or demographic? Are your spa customers typically women in the Gold Coast over age 40, and do you want to attract a younger demographic for other services? It does pay to talk to your current clientele to learn how they view your brand, and what attracted them.
What is your goal?
Is it to draw customers by establishing yourself as an expert in your field, the company with the best product selection and ordering system, or simply to give your contact information? The first two are great—they set you apart from your competition with value-added services. The last, however, stops far short of a strategic goal for your site. Once someone comes to your site, they want to know what you have to offer—and your address and a phone number simply aren’t enough to effectively draw in a customer, and keep them coming back.
Focus on navigation, then content, then design.
Navigation is key to allowing your site visitors to find your information easily. The best content in the world, plus the best design, won’t fix unwieldy or unintelligible navigation.Key stakeholders should write down what pages they feel are important, thinking of how your various audiences will look for the information they need in order to confidently purchase from you. This may require multiple navigations, which is not overkill but simply good practice with multiple audiences that all search differently. For instance, a donor will approach your site differently than a volunteer simply looking to help out; and a potential customer may not be sure what to look for, whereas a seasoned one will want to access their information quickly.Testing various information-gathering and ordering scenarios with people unfamiliar with your business [your own focus groups] will better structure the site and likely provide hidden feedback.
Content is still king.
I started designing for the web back in 1996, and all these years later, copy still leads your site’s findability on search engines, its perceived professionalism and your reputation. Wireframes, a design-less “map” to each page on your site, also makes your site more intuitive [does your contact page need a email newsletter sign-up?] at every step.When writing, focus on facts about your company’s experience, skill base and product or service offering, but consider writing them to appeal to your audiences — it’s about them, not you! What can you do for them?Beyond this, consider writing expert articles on your field with which your customers will find value. Consider linking to partner sites and build reciprocal linking relationships. In all things, make sure you keep your site up to date and relevant, and error-free.
Focus on credibility—in design.
According to a 4-year study by Stanford University, almost half polled paid more attention to the design and layout of the site than its content. So what does this mean to you? Work with an experienced web developer to build a well-designed, targeted site. It’s common to want to develop your own web site, but it’s also a common mistake. You may be able to develop it quickly and cheaply, but does it reflect the sophistication, reliability and responsibility you want your clients to buy into?The old adage, “you get what you pay for,” applies here—you’ll see the payoff of a well-done site long before one you did in your spare time. You’ll already be a step ahead of the game with a great web presence you’ll eagerly want to share with the world.And, with the content management system [CMS] becoming commonplace, you can indeed manage the site on your own and save money for the long-term.
Before you start [or restart] your website, ponder these issues, pick an experienced web developer, and soon you’ll have a site worth seeing—again and again.