Many web design projects, and I’d guess possibly even most, start from entirely the wrong place. They might start from a visual idea or from a series of your printed brochures or from some websites that you really like the look of. A re-design might start from an understandable and perhaps laudable desire to freshen things up. You may have just started a new venture and be throwing up a site because you feel you have to. Whatever the trigger that started the re-design process or led you to set up that new site, STOP NOW and THINK. There is still time to do this right.
Your web design project needs to start not with what the site will look like and not with slapping a brochure online. It needs to start with a clear understanding of what your site’s purpose is going to be. Your website needs goals. Not because I am a fan of American self-help authors but because your website should be there to achieve something for your organisation. If you genuinely can’t think of any business benefit that a website can provide, then you don’t need one. Personally, I’d suggest that you aren’t thinking hard enough but the web is full of sites that have been thrown up by businesses and organisations that didn’t really know why they were there. Some of them look good but most of them struggle to achieve anything. How could they achieve anything? and, if they did, who would notice?
Your site’s goals or objectives don’t need to be fancy. You don’t have to try to take over the Internet. This isn’t a blog for .com multi-millionaires in the making.
Your regular small business will generally need a website and can benefit from one. It’s the regular small business that is most likely to throw up a site because they feel they should and include standard elements without thought or because the designer put them there. It’s the regular small business that looks at the finished site design and says “that looks cool, thanks a lot”. They look at it a few more times over the next few weeks and then abandon it for 8 months and get this vaguely dissatisfied feeling that this website business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
That doesn’t have to happen to you. If it’s already happened to you, it doesn’t have to stay that way and you don’t have to make the same mistake again. You need to plan your website if you want it to succeed. Your website needs a purpose (usually it will have several in fact) and this purpose comes before its look and feel because it may affect its look and feel. It will certainly affect what features and what sections and what content your site has and will likely affect the layout that gets chosen.
If you do your own design then you should start with setting out the purpose your site will fulfill. What are its goals? If you are hiring designers, as most small businesses will, then think about the purpose of your site before you bring the designers in. Discuss the site’s goals with them and discuss the design of the site in the context of how they plan to further those goals in the work they are doing.
You may end up with a brochure site that aims simply to reinforce your marketing efforts by providing some basic information on your company, maybe describes key staff, maybe shows some examples of your work. That’s fine, or at least it’s a start. Beginning from the purpose of the site (e.g. to reinforce your marketing efforts) you can determine what elements of content will further that purpose and the site begins to develop from there. Having specified the purpose of the site, you are way more likely to end up with a site that fulfills that purpose.
Perhaps your site could do more? Your website is not necessarily limited to its current function or to the first function that you have in mind when you start your project. You should speak to staff in different functions in your business and examine whether there are ways that the site can help them. If you are your only staff, you may have to put your different hats on to do this.
You may originally envisage your website as part of your sales and marketing function. There are many decisions you need to be clear about there as well. Are you planning to sell products online or simply to further or support the sales process? How do you see this being achieved?
You might talk to your service or support department and find out that your site could also fill needs in communicating with existing customers. This may create efficiencies, save money. It may generate repeat business.
Your site may end up not with one goal or function but with several. Then you can plan how best to achieve those functions and what affect this has on the design, layout, content and structure of the site. At the end of the day, your designer is way more likely to come back with a site that fits your needs and delivers real business benefit if you can make them aware of exactly what you want to achieve. They may be able to help you refine and improve on these goals because they have knowledge of what can be done.
If you never think about the purpose of the site in the first place, however, many designers won’t either. Your project will be rudderless and while you will get a new design, there is no telling whether it will benefit your business. That’s not how I’d be spending money in this climate.