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Top tips for planning a website

When planning the development of a website, consider the following:

1. Research competitor sites

Browse the sites of your competitors and any other websites that you enjoy visiting and make a note of layout, features and content that impressed you.

Your site will need to stand out from your competitors because in reality, it is likely that there are thousands of sites with similar offerings to yours. Ask yourself:

  • what is the minimum you must do/provide in order to be on a par with your competitors and/or meet the current standard of websites used by your target customers?
  • In what way can you stand out from your competitors? What can you do better? How can your site be unique?

2. Define clearly the role your website

A website does not operate in isolation to the rest of your business. Write down your business objectives and what you want your website to achieve in specific and measurable terms. You need to map out:

  • how it will integrate and impact the rest of your business operations
  • measurable goals that you can evaluate success against
  • the steps in the sales process in order to create a seamless progression from inquiry, sale and after sales service
  • how you will support and promote your website via a robust offline marketing strategy
  • what key metrics on site usage you will track and evaluate regularly to drive continuous improvement and the ongoing development of your site (to get started, go to Google Analytics)

3. Determine your content requirements

You will now need to focus on the specifics of your website with regard to what content you would like on the site, what sort of content will appeal to your target audiences and who will be responsible for updating content and when. Ensure your content includes:

  • the use of headings, page titles and abstracts
  • headlines or short spiels that state what you offer and the benefit to the audience (studies show eight of ten people read the headline, and only two of ten people read the first paragraph, so your short spiel needs to be direct and concise)
  • clear, compelling sales messages, easy-to-find information, and directs the visitor to take the next step (i.e. place an order, request a quote, or donate to your cause)
  • relevant keywords – absolutely essential in your website design. The keywords that are relevant to your site are the words that customers are using to find products like yours when they use search engines. It is essential that you use these key words on your home page and all other relevant pages of your site so that search engines will find and present your site.
  • meta data description tags – descriptor keywords used by search engines to describe a page on its search engine listing, so every page should have an accurate and unique meta description.

4. Decide on the website platform technology

As part of identifying the purpose and function of your website you need not only to consider your customer, but also to consult your staff to identify what features, functions or content could make their lives a little easier and whether technology can be used to address those needs. Find out about:

  • different content management tools and look for something that is easy to use and customise. If it is simple for you or your staff to make changes to your site you'll have a more effective and flexible marketing channel.
  • technologies that allow you to easily and affordably add functionality and interactivity to your website as your requirements grow.
  • website developers who are experienced and knowledgeable about current options who can advise you on best practice and the appropriate solutions to meet your needs .
  • look at your long term business plans and possible new directions or initiatives and how this might impact on the future needs of your website – this is quite important because it will save you time and money in the long run. It is better to have flexible website structure and functionality that can adapt to your changing business needs upfront, than to find later that your website can't do what you want it to, in which case you will need to start again.

5. Conduct user testing

It is very important to test and observe how your customers engage and navigate your website and identify where there are usability issues that hinder their experience or ability to complete an outcome on your site (e.g. find specific information, follow a purchase process).

In developing usability of your site, take into consideration the following:

  • how well do you know the user's needs, motivations and online behaviour?
  • does the language you use on navigation labels make sense to your customer and do they find what they expect to find when they click on a link?
  • things that look the same should act the same – use consistency in your design styles and icons
  • the information needed to make a decision must be available where and when the decision is to be made
  • error messages should actually mean something to the user and tell the user how to fix the problem
  • every action should have a reaction
  • the user should always know what is happening
  • everyone makes mistakes, so every mistake should be fixable
  • keep it simple, the fewer the steps, the better
  • make your contact details clearly available so that they can contact you if experiencing any difficulties (and that way you'll also learn more about usability issues also).

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