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Getting your business online!

Planning a Website

planningPlanning can be the most important stage of website development. You can employ a cutting edge designer, with superb technical skills, but if you haven’t planned your website right from the start, you can quite quickly run into trouble and make expensive mistakes. Ideally, the majority of the planning will have been done before you even contact a web developer for a quote, though any web professional worth their salt will be happy to talk you through the process. Forward planning will save you money, and will save your designer’s time – these are two elements which are inextricably linked in the field of web design. If the designer has to strip the site back and start again because there’s been a structural change, you may run over the initial budget. Good planning will help you avoid this.

Purpose

First off, consider what your website is for. What is it going to do for you? Do you want to sell products directly from your site? How extensive will your product range be? Do you require a shopping cart to integrate with your stock control systems? If you are not ready to sell directly from the site yet, how likely are you to do this in future? These factors will affect both the type of hosting you require and the software necessary to implement and maintain the site. As a general rule, it works out cheaper to make sure you have a fully featured hosting package** from the outset, even if you don’t immediately use all of the available features. Changing the host (the server on which the website is located in order to be made available to the general internet public) after the site is launched is both costly and time consuming, and would lead to the site being unavailable for 48 hours or so. That’s a long time in the commercial world. If you are completely sure you won’t need an e-commerce solution, or a content management system (more about this below), then a more basic hosting package may meet your needs.

Maintenance

Next, decide who is going to update and maintain the website once it’s launched. For small businesses and individuals, who are unlikely to have access to an in-house team of IT professionals, this is a crucial financial decision, and one that has to be taken correctly right at the beginning of the web project. It boils down to this – do you want to pay a smaller amount for the initial delivery of the website and then pay your designer by the hour for subsequent changes and additions/deletions, OR do you want to pay a larger sum for the initial delivery of a solution which includes a content management system (CMS), allowing you to update the content of your site yourself without the risk of breaking the design? The answer will depend on how many updates you anticipate the site will require. If your site will be strictly informational, with perhaps a newsletter page which needs updating quarterly, then it makes better sense financially to pay your designer’s hourly rate. However, if the site relies on fresh content regularly then a CMS is the way to go. Again, this has implications for the type of hosting your site will need.

Content Management Systems work by separating the design and layout of the site from the content. The content is stored in a database on your server and slotted into the page design as required. The person(s) responsible for updating the content can add items to, and edit items on, the database by logging in via their normal web browser with a username and password. No special software is needed on the user’s computer, as the CMS software and database are installed on the server. Anyone who has ever used a web form or a word processor will already have the skills to update a site using a CMS once the designer has set it all up.

Structure

A great deal of thought has to go into the content of the site, and how it will be structured, whether the designer will be updating the site or a CMS will be used. Larger sites can become quite unwieldy, cumbersome and confusing for the users if they don’t have a logical structure. There are various ways to represent the navigation of a site, but all of them rely on the underlying structure. The content of most sites can be split into categories by subject area, and further into subcategories if the site is large enough. It’s not recommended that you go to another layer of subdivision before providing the visitors with the information they are seeking as they start to get frustrated. Preplanning of the divisions and/or subdivisions means that new articles always have a logical home, rather than being tacked on in an ad hoc way. This simplifies things for the visitor, making the information easier to find, keeps the site tidy, and means that the designer won’t have to add new items to the main site navigation every time a new page is added to the site. Even if your site is starting small, thought should be given to the structure at this early stage to allow for easy expansion. Basically, imposing a logical structure from the start will “future proof” the design.

Driving Traffic

Another aspect to consider, particularly in sites with a product or concept to “sell”, is how you will drive traffic to the site. Adverts and search engine optimisation can only do so much. They are important, yes, but the most important factor in driving traffic (and repeat traffic) is content. Content in this context means information you provide which is not directly related to the selling of your product. Some examples of this are the many health related sites on the internet which have informative articles about health conditions, and sites selling electronic gadgets which also carry reviews or advice about how to connect them up. Give people information they need, and they are more likely to buy from you than your competitor. Remember to allow for adding this sort of content when you are planning the structure of your site.

**Special note: This article is designed to give general advice about the issues to consider when planning a website. All of the hosting provided by stc-webdesigns is fully featured, even for the Starter Package**