Doing your homework to prepare for your new website

So, you've decided its time for a new website. Its a big project with a lot to think about and many decisions to make. A good web design firm will help you through this process, but it really helps to do a little homework up front.

Taking a little time to think through your needs before you talk to your web designer can make a big difference in how your project goes. You will be better prepared to talk about what you need, who you are trying to reach, the timing for the project, and other important aspects to a successful website.

Here are 10 questions to ask yourself:

1. What am I trying to achieve with my website and how does it fit into my overall marketing?

When preparing for a new website or a website redesign, it is always important to start with the big picture and understand your purpose and goals for your website and how it fits into your overall marketing strategy. Here are 4 common purposes for a business website:

  1. Sell: Generate direct sales online (e-commerce)
  2. Prospect: Generate calls / leads of prospects for offline sales
  3. Inform: Provide customers and prospects with information on your products and services
  4. Differentiate: Establish your expertise and competitive differentiation

2. What is my corporate culture and how should my website reflect that?

How do you want to present yourself to your prospects and customers? Do you want to convey business-like professionalism, or be edgy and hip, or light and fun?

It is important that you convey your company’s personality and culture. This of course should be consistent with your other collateral and overall brand.

3. Who am I trying to reach with my website?

Understanding who is your target audience is a key component to any marketing campaign or project. The more you understand about who you are trying to reach, the better you will be able to reach them.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What is my current ‘typical’ customer like?
  • What types of information will they need to make a decision?
  • What do I want people to do when they get to my website?

You may have more than one “typical” type of customer. In this case, it is helpful to create different personas that can help describe the different types of visitors and what each group is like and what they want from the website. Different visitors may have different reasons for coming to your website.

4. How will my website function?

This question ties closely to the purpose of your website. Consider some of the following:

  • Online store / e-commerce site (you want to sell online)
  • Online brochure (you want to inform or generate leads)
  • Customer portal (you want to provide a higher level of service to existing clients)
  • Interactive community (you want to have a place for people to interact)
  • Blog (you want to connect with your visitors and provide your unique perspective or establish your expertise)

5. Will I require any special programming such as a contact forms, surveys, shopping carts, or other custom functionality?

Most modern websites will at least contain a contact form. But you may also have other needs based on what you are trying to achieve with your website and the needs of your target audience. Perhaps you want to provide video or white paper downloads. Or perhaps, you want to require registration before your users can access the information.

6. How many pages and what specific pages do I need?

Here are some typical starter pages or sections to consider:

  • Home
  • About Us
  • Products / Services
  • Order Online
  • Resources such as Newsletters, White Papers, and Articles
  • Contact Us

7. What is my budget?

Be reasonable. As they say, ‘you get what you pay for.’ Websites can vary greatly in quality and effectiveness. They can range from a few thousand dollars to well into 7 figures. Most quality small business websites will start in the $7-10K range and go up from there depending on the features, custom programming, etc. You really need to consider your overall marketing budget and the importance of your website to your business and plan accordingly.

8. What is my deadline for project completion?

Web projects typically take anywhere from a few weeks to several months or more to complete. You need to plan to be an active participant in the process and your availability will oftentimes directly affect the schedule.

You will need to be available for meetings or calls, provide information for content, provide electronic copies of logos and other content, review design layouts, provide comments and feedback, etc. For example, some businesses may be able to review a design and provide feedback the day after receiving it, but others may take several weeks or more to respond. You need to consider who will need to provide sign-off within your organization and factor in their availability as well.

9. How will prospective customers find my website?

A website without visitors is about as good as a brochure sitting in a storage closet. It is important to understand how you expect your audience to find your website. Is search engine traffic important? Or will you limit your website primarily to a small defined audience and promote it in specific locations? If you need a broader reach, then search engines will likely play a key role and you may want to consider search engine optimization and / or Pay Per Click or other online advertising.

10. What are some sample websites that I like?

Create a list of web addresses of sites that you like as well as your competitors’ websites. Note what you like about them and why it appeals to you. This will give your designer a much clearer idea of what you are looking for as well as generate ideas on how you can use your website.

Be sure to look at your competitors’ websites. It is important to understand what your visitors may see when they look at your website and compare it to your competition. Are your competitors’ websites well designed? Do they have any unique features that stand out? Do they offer great content that is well-written?

Conclusion

Hopefully, I’ve given you some good food for thought and helped you better understand the thought process that will go into your new website. The better you can prepare up-front, the better outcome you can expect.