Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Where do I start with my website?

"Where to start planning a new website?" is a question I am asked quite often. This is a broad question and many resources already exist that help getting to the right answers.

Here is a link to a comprehensive blog post on the topic "Preparing to work with a designer: What to bring to the plate when you are planning your website?" It is well worth the read.

Or perhaps you prefer to get advice from a Rapper - see this SEO Rapper tell the story of web development.

Digital Daisy's blog also has a few articles that answers this same question:
Like all planned journeys, the web development process starts with a destination in mind. There are two questions that are important before embarking on the web development journey:
1. Why the heck am I doing this?
2. What do I want from my site?

A website has 4 basic elements that require planning:
  1. Design
  2. Content
  3. Navigation and
  4. Functionality
Developing content will most likely be your responsibility and the earlier in the process you get this done, the easier it will be on the rest of the process. A small business owner knows best who he/she is talking to, and what to say.

Planning a site's navigation is like planning a journey with its main route, detours and excursions. Think of how content in the site has to connect to each other. Two sites I like for planning, are GoMockingbird (great for mocking up a page that shows where all the elements of the page should be) and Slickplan (for creating flow charts). Microsoft Excel is useful for this as well.

The functionality you'd like your site to have depends on the site's purpose and could be an events calendar, a form, a photo gallery, social media widgets, a shopping cart or more. One piece of functionality that is almost a given nowadays is having a content management system (CMS) for your site. This allows you as the owner to add, delete and edit pages on your site in a user-friendly way.

Popular CMS's are Django, Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. Even Blogger which was originally a blogging site, now allows for easy addition of pages to the blog page. In the list of questions to ask a Web Developer - ask to have a CMS and ask to see an example of how it works.

Other benefits of a CMS: CMS's like the above are used by many developers across the globe who collaborate to write functionality for sites (also called plug-ins). These are often available for download by other developers (free). This means that you are able to "plug in" new functionality into your site as you need it at low or now cost very quickly, like a registration form or a calendar.

The most important point about content is that is should be written for the user and from the user's perspective. What is your reader looking for?
Other web writing tips are on this blog post 11 Tips for Techknowledgeable Writing.

The Hidden Bits
  1. Ensure that you get the domain name of your choice, that it is registered in the name of your company, using an email address/es that will always reach you.
  2. Make note of your registrar, its web address and passwords to your domain registration account.
  3. Make sure upfront that the web host you select can host the files your developer will create.
  4. Make a note of your web host's web url and password to your account.
  5. Meta content (page titles, tags, key words, alt-tags) are not always visible on first glance at the site. Make sure that they are there, that they are unique for each page and that they are search engine optimized.
  6. Plan for links: Link the content of your pages together. Hyperlinks is another form of site navigation and search engines like it. Also plan for other sites you want to link to or want to request a link from - good for users, good for search engines!
  7. Add analytics to your site - Google Analytics is a popular choice and ask your web developer to set it up on your site and to show you how to use it.
  8. Plan for Social Media - which of your social media would you like to integrate on your site and where? Widgets are available from most social media sites (Linkedin, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and more). This can help to keep your site fresh and interesting. Also plan for sharing options to add to the page such as RSS feeds, Email This, Tweet This, Like, comments and ratings options. One quick way to add this is by adding something like AddThis.

No comments: