February 26, 2010

Build Your Web Site on a Solid Foundation


Hostway Team

By Gail Seymour

Your Web site doesn't start with a design. A good plan is essential for creating a Web site that meets your goals and gives your visitors what they want.

What Do You Want from Your Web Site?

Before you begin planning out the pages of your new Web site, ask yourself what you want to achieve with it. Typical aims for a company Web site include:

  • Sell products and process orders.
    You will need shopping cart software, a merchant account and a payment processor.
  • Generate leads
    You will need a contact form and compelling copy.
  • Reduce customer service costs
    For your customers to track progress of their orders online, you will need a secure area for account access. To provide a Frequently Asked Questions section, you will need to prepare the questions and the answers.
  • Raise the company profile
    A blog is ideal for press releases, though you need to commit to regular updates for it to be effective.
  • Gather information and feedback
    Collect invaluable market research information by including a forum and asking questions on the boards regularly.

What Do Your Visitors Want from Your Web Site?

Your visitors arrive with their own agendas, and you need to ensure they are able to complete their objectives, rather than yours. Typical Web site browsers might be looking for:

  • Advice
    Include the advice on your sales pages and the information becomes suspect. Remove it from the sales process, and the visitor will trust the information, and you, more.
  • Communication
    Answer questions though an “Ask the Experts” blog, or forum. Include links to social profiles on your “About Us” pages, and you become accessible.
  • Product information
    Once your visitor knows and trusts you, he may decide to shop at your site. Now he might want detailed product information and the ability to order online.
  • Access to accounts
    Your customer might want to be able to access his account online, track orders, make payments and raise support tickets.

Defining Your Blueprint

Draw up a map of your Web site, like a family tree, with each page in a box. Organize these into a logical sequence, from your visitor's perspective. The difference between your site appearing sales focused and impersonal vs. visitor centric and welcoming can be as simple as the order of your main navigation.

For each page, consider why it's there, what your visitor's goal is and what you want them to do while on it.

Prepare the content for each page. For some pages you will have detailed copy and graphics you want to include; for others, only a few bullet points. That's OK — you can build on this as you go.

Put together a summary of each page including possible titles, keywords and phrases you imagine visitors might use to search for the page and any links you want to include on it.

Building Your Web Site

Once you have your blueprint, it's time to build your Web site. Whether you do that in-house using design software, or outsource the work to a Web site designer will depend on the knowledge and time constraints of your existing staff. Either way, having this blueprint ready will provide you with a work plan, or the basis on which to ask for quotes from several designers on a like for like basis.

About the Author

Gail Seymour has been a Web site designer for more than 10 years. During that time she has won three Sitesell design awards, and has provided the content and copy for dozens of Web sites and more than 50,000 Web pages.

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