How to Design an Effective Web Site

1. Introduction

A web-site can be a very handy and useful tool to almost anybody these days. Before one begins to design or build a web-site it is very important to understand your reason for building a web-site. Websites are built for a variety of reasons and could be used for:

  • Information purposes
  • Generate online sales
  • Obtain leads for services
  • Create brand awareness

This article helps put some structure to the process of building an effective web-site to allow you to better think and plan through the process to increase the effectiveness of the finished product. The discussion is broken into the following topics on how to:

  • Planning for a Web-site
  • General Content and Look and Feel
  • Selecting the right development path
  • Leverage your asset once it is online

2. Planning for a Website – what should you focus on?

Web-site goals and objectives

One of the first items on your list is – what is my web-site going to achieve? Is it going to help me sell a product or am I using it to make people aware of information? These questions will drive the rest of the plan of your web-site so it is important for you to spend time thinking about what would make your web-site a successful web-site. Try not to set too many goals for your web-site as this could complicate your design and confuse your customers (anybody visiting your web-site) making it less effective. Rather have several web-sites meeting separate objectives than a single web-site with a confused objective. Also ensure that your goals and objectives are SMART: –

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Have a time measure attached to it

Target Audience

Once you know what you wish to achieve with your web-site you probably already have a good idea on who your target audience is as well. It is important to describe your target audience in enough detail to be able to differentiate them from anybody surfing the net. This provides you and the developer as to what the design, the content and the general look and feel of the web-site should be like.

Analysis of competitor’s web-sites

Whatever the purpose of your web-site it is always useful to see what is already out there. This will provide you with many ideas on either what you want to do or what you do not want to do on your web-site. It also gives you an idea of how effective your web-site could be to serve whatever you need wish to achieve with it. This is a quick task that can add immense value to your final product.

Sitemap

With an understanding of the above issues, one can begin to build the web-site map. This is a description of the various pages, high level content and links between all the pages on the web-site. This will help you organise your thinking into something that begins to take the structure of what you would like to see on the internet once development is done. The sitemap is also a useful tool for the developer to quote you costs on as it quickly provides them with an idea on how complex the project you are looking it is. Again do not try to complicate the sitemap. Instead look for logical and simple relationships with a good flow between sections.

Domain Name

The next step is to decide on a domain name for your web-site. It is quite easy to register your own domain name. Your domain name should be short, memorable and easy to spell. The only detail you will have to remember is your web host’s domain name server (DNS) number. Before you select a name you should conduct a trademark search at a corporate registry office – you wouldn’t want to have to change your domain name after having it go live after a big corporate company approaches your for infringing on copyright!

3. General Content and Look and Feel

Above and beyond the specific content you would have decided on to meet your objective or goal there are some general content categories that you should include to make the web-site surfer friendly. This includes: –

  • About us
  • Products and Services
  • FAQ
  • Customer Support
  • Contact information
  • Value-Added content
  • Site map – or search function
  • Privacy policy and legal information

Once someone looks at your site, the objective is to keep them there. The initial layout (landing page) is crucial and could turn someone away, irrespective of the content. Keep a lookout for colours, layout and simplicity. By keeping it simple, they can easily find what they want without effort. Thus navigation should be easy enough and a “site map” could also assist in finding information.

4. Selecting the right development path

Two options exist, namely, building the site yourself or getting another an “expert” to build it for you. The former option allows you control over development. Given the number of tools available, at a cheap price, this is an option that can be pursued with little investment. To improve the look, templates for typical sites can be bought and these provide a good starting point for content and layout. The disadvantage is that the exercise could be time consuming, especially the first attempt. If you wish to pursue the self development route you may always use online tools such as Joomla ( www.joomla.com ) with the use of a guide. The second option of getting someone else can be more expensive. However, the end result might be more professional and could include enhancements to the site. Reputable web developers can also provide suggestions on their previous efforts. This would ensure that proven examples and templates are used. The choice of right developer can be a tricky decision especially with the large number of services available on a global basis these days.

Create a list of candidates

The first thing you need to do is find the right developer for your requirements. A good start is once again with your competition or people/businesses that have a similar web-site to what you are currently trying to design. Referrals are a good way to find out what the quality of the service from a developer is like. Another way is to search your area for developers. It is best to find a developer that you could meet with face-to-face as these interactions limit the amount of miscommunication and rework (and hence reduce the effort and cost of your project).

Narrow down the list

You should narrow down the list of candidates based on a few of your own criteria e.g. size of company, past projects, feedback on past work etc.

  • You can then contact these developers and ask them a series of questions which should include: -Have you worked on a similar project in my industry?
  • How can you assure me that the site will be done on time and on budget?
  • What main software applications do you use when developing a website?
  • Can I view the development of my site in progress?
  • What is your deposit fee (if any?)
  • How much will the site’s updates cost after the site is complete?
  • What makes you better than any other developer?

After you have narrowed down your list even further you should ask all the developers on the list for a web development proposal that includes a cost quote. Your plan will be the biggest piece of input the developer will use to base his proposal on. Don’t get too excited about low quotes – you usually get what you pay for. A very low quote could mean the developer is unqualified to provide a quality end product, while an abnormally high quote may indicate that the developer believes you are willing to pay more than you need to. A web development proposal should contain timelines, targets and costs. It should also have a communication plan to allow you to manage the content of your web-site during development.

5. After your website is Online

Maintenance

You do not really want to be concerned about the general maintenance of your web-site. It is usually better to outsource your maintenance. Most developers also provide for a maintenance fee to help with updating or changing content etc. If you are outsourcing the development of your site, request a maintenance quote as well.

Marketing

Once you have a working web-site half of your effort is completed J. Remember that the web-site will only be as effective as the number of people that actually ends up on it and using it for whatever purpose it was built. Therefore once your site is online, it is a good idea to implement a marketing strategy to generate traffic. Depending on the marketing budget, you may wish to advertise your site on the web or register it with Internet search engines and directories. It can be effective to advertise your site in trade related publications or associations (online and print). If you have other material linked to the content of the web-site it is also useful to incorporate your web-address into all other marketing publications – brochures, business cards, radio and television advertisements, and e-mail signatures. Your site should also have the ability report the number of daily web visits and length and the origin of each visit. There are a variety of free and pay-per-use web traffic tools available on the Internet. This will help you determine if your marketing strategy is effective or not.

6. Conclusion

Good luck with your web-site design. Remember that the web-site is your face on the net so spend some quality time on it.

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For more information you can email Jeff at jeffbaker123@gmail.com  Author Profile