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Seven Practical Steps for Planning a Website

Your website is your storefront window to the world, so its critical that it work for you. Consider these seven steps before you start building your site.

helpful tips

Your company’s website is its storefront window to the
world. As such, it is critical that your site delivers the message and fulfills
its mission in the most effective way possible. Even if you hire a professional
organization to help you design and build your site –consider the following
checklist, before you start the process.

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1. Most important tip! Before you do anything, define the group that approves
the site’s design and implementation. Include representatives from various
departments for different parts of the site (e.g. Sales representation for the sales
pages, Customer Service for the support pages, etc.). Even if you are diligent about
this, you will still get a boat-load of unsolicited advice on everything from purpose
of the site, to its design and color scheme. Once you get corporate ‘lock in’
who has the final say, the process will go much smoother.

2. Next, define the goals of the
site; is the site primarily a sales tool, a corporate identity site, or a
commercial site? You would be surprised how different people in the company
will view the website differently. You
can have multiple goals of course, but when the arguments about content and
design flare up, use the site goals as your compass.

3. Make a list of the important
elements to be incorporated on the site; for example, the ability to download product
trial versions or capture form data to the corporate CRM system, and the inclusion
of multimedia customer testimonials or an ecommerce section, etc. This is
easier than it sounds. Scout out sites you like and have your team do the same.
Set up a meeting to go over what you like and don’t like about each of these
sites. Compile a list. You will quickly see the elements that are more
important, and which are less.

4. Critical! Clearly define your
marketing position. I can’t
overemphasize this is a prerequisite for getting started. Know who you are and
what how you want to project your company. A simple exercise is to do a complete
a ‘pain sheet’–drop me an email if you want a sample. Finalize the text you
want to put on your home page; the one sentence definition of who you are.

5. For each product/service on
your site, identify the top 3 points you want to make. You only get a few
seconds of reader attention, so these points must be relevant, engaging, and
crisp. People don’t read lots of website text. ‘Less’ is definitely ‘more.’ A
good designer will suggest clever controls for making this information easily
accessible.

6. If you are going to use an
outside firm to design and build you site, now is the time to engage. You have
all the relevant information in hand to start the design. If you are going to
build the site yourself, continue reading.

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7. Create a site map. Here is
an easy way to do it. Start by defining
the top level menus that must be displayed on the home page. From here, create a
spreadsheet that follows the main menu structure. For each page–for example, define
the following:

  • A unique number so you can
    identify it, even if the page name changes
  • Description of the page content
  • SEO-friendly URL
  • Where this page links to —
    where you want readers to be able to reach from this page

I have prepared an Excel sheet that I used for a site I
recently completed. It was an valuable tool for me to coordinate efforts across
the design, implementation, and testing teams. If you want a copy, drop me an
email.

At this point, you are ready to do start designing the
site. Specific details about the
dynamics of the site construction process are beyond the scope of this post,
but here are a few more tips about the overall plan execution:

  • It will take longer than
    you think to finish the site; plan to be ‘live’ about a month before you need
    to be.
  • QA the site at several
    levels–obviously at the technical level, making sure there are no broken
    links, etc., but also at the business level.
    Does the site deliver your intended message? What do your sales and support
    people think about the usability of the site? The earlier you can gauge this,
    the better.
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About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission. In my 'spare' time, I am pursuing an advanced degree in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), focusing on how social collaboration tools impact our perceptions of being overloaded by information. I am an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.

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