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5 elements to consider before designing a website

Nov 9th, 2011

1. Determine Your Needs

What kind of website your business needs also depends on what you want the website to do for you, so the first step is to evaluate how you want your website to serve your business. Websites can generate sales leads, inform visitors, communicate your ideas, facilitate online sales, act as an administrative tool, and much more. In fact, a properly developed website can be as important or more important than your brick and mortar office or showroom. For home-based businesses with no storefront, websites are an absolute need. As well, a website can turn a locally scoped business into one with a national market for a very small investment. When compared to opening satellite offices nationally, the investment is infinitesimal.

Some websites are basically online brochures. Others can basically do everything but wash your dishes. Some websites are online catalogs and others can perform point of sale transactions. All websites, even the largest, most technical, feature rich ones, were designed with clear goals in mind. Tools and features were developed and integrated in order to meet those goals more effectively and efficiently. Those who are considering having a website created would be wise to first assess their business needs and determine how a website can assist in facilitating reaching these objectives. A top notch website design company will be able to extrapolate the needs of their clients, suggest tools and content that provide solutions, and then ultimately design a website that integrates all of these elements into a user-friendly online resource.

Here are some popular tasks that a website can help accomplish:
• Disseminate information
• Communicate ideas
• Facilitate dialogue
• Generate sales leads
• Perform administrative tasks
• Organize contacts
• Sell products & services
• Collect information
• Showcase products

So what does all this mean to the business owner?

A website that is done properly can: 
• Educate potential customers
• Give your business credibility
• Make your business more efficient 
• Keep current customers informed
• Help brand your business
• Act as a second office
• Act as a showroom
• Protect

Which, in turn can:
• Increase contacts from customers
• Turn visitors into customers
• Increase sales from new customers
• Increase sales from current customers
Another very important thing to consider is whether you'll need to update your website on a regular basis. If so, you'll then need to decide if you want the ability to make those changes in-house, or whether you'll want your website designers to make them for you. Either way, make sure your web design company has the resources to accommodate you, either by having the ability to install an easy-to-use content management system, or by being available to make your needed changes.

2. Know Your Target Market

Once you've determined what you want your website to do, you then need to determine who exactly your website is for. Exactly who is it that you are trying to reach? Determine your target market so you can speak directly to them in their own language. Figuring out who your ideal visitor is is the basis for a successful website. If you've ben in business for a while and have some experience in marketing, you already have a good idea of the demographic you should focus on, and the internet allows you to refine it even further. Another advantage of the internet is that it's accessible by pretty much the whole world, which means your website will be also. It's important not only to determine the scope of your potential visitors, but to determine who your ideal visitor is. (This concept is also very important when considering the ways you should market your website, but we'll cover that a bit later.) Knowing who your trying to communicate to will help you to determine the copy content and writing style, the visual design, and the interactive features you need.

Important demographic information you should consider about your target audience:

• Age
• Gender
• Geographic location
• Education level
• Culture
• Average income

3. Static Website Content and Copy

Static content is the foundation and substance of your website, and includes all copy that doesn't change over time and has no interactive features.  Through your copy content you spread your message and describe in detail to your visitors who you are, what you do, and communicate to them directly. Another important thing to consider is that great content, full of selected "key words”, plays a major role in determining how relevant your site is within your field or profession, and helps determine where you'll rank in search engines such as Google and Yahoo. For this reason, your copy content should speak not only to your target market but to search engines as well, which we'll cover in another section.

Content can take many forms, such as resource pages, blogs, "about us” pages. FAQs and more. Most content appears in the static pages and organized under content navigation through website menus.

Here are some of the most common menu items that organize static content:

• Bio ("About Us”)
• Services
• Products
• Contact 
• Why choose us
• Gallery (portfolio)
• Disclaimer

4. Interactive Features and Kinetic Content

This includes website content that actively engages the visitor, allows for interaction, performs a task, or changes on a regular basis. The addition of such features takes a "brochure” website to the next level. Again, the interactive features your website should have will be ultimately determined by the desired functions of your website, as well as for search engine optimization. It's a proven fact that the longer you can keep a visitor on your site, the more likely they'll become a regular visitor or customer.
Some popular interactive or kinetic website features:

• Video & Audio
• Blogs
• Podcasts
• Online forms
• Chat rooms
• Surveys
• Shopping carts
• Customer log-ins
• Newsletters
• News & Events
• Interactive portfolios

5. Visual Design & Navigation

The design of your website is not just about visual appearance and graphics, although these elements can play a large role in the overall success of your website. Website design also dictates the navigation of the website, which is also very important. It won't matter how much great content and features you have on your site if your visitor can't access it, or gets frustrated and leaves your site for one that is easier to use. The visual graphics and color scheme of your website is a powerful tool that can actually change your visitors mood, much like a song can, so these elements must be given due diligence and thought out properly to be most effective. A well designed website can guide a visitor, almost effortlessly, to the section of the website where you want to them to go, and the best websites can make it's visitors think that arriving at that section was their idea!

The way your website looks should be based around your business branding and identity, an assessment of what your visitors may want and expect from your web site, and the utilization of key marketing techniques. Within the first second on your website, a visitor should instantly recognize your brand, know immediately the function of your business, and be compelled to explore your website. To allow for easy exploration, it's important that all the information on your website, especially the most important to converting your visitors to customers, be readily available and within a click or two. In fact, the really important stuff should be staring them in the face and accessible from your index or landing page.

Navigation of your website should feel intuitive and your visitor should almost have the feeling that your website is reading their mind. A good website design company will have a navigation specialist who knows exactly how to arrange the menus and organize the information on your website in an easily accessible and engaging manner that guides the customer through your website unhindered.

The visuals on your website, from highlighted text to web graphics to animation, must be integrated in a balanced and effective manner. If under-utilized, the website is unappealing and therefore less effective. If there are too many visuals, the website becomes too busy and also affects navigation, resulting in your visitors leaving your website for a better one. This is especially true with animation and flash. Almost no one sits through a 30 second animation introduction that were so popular a few years ago. Most people want information from a website, not just entertainment, so it's crucial to serve up the information in a visual appealing way, without overdoing the graphics. Flash animation should be used sparingly, and utilized to put emphasis on a particularly important area of your website.

One of the decisions you'll need to make before undertaking your website design project is whether to hire a professional web design company to custom build your website or to purchase a website template. This one's a no brainer. Go custom! Templates are a cookie-cutter quick fix, and generally don't allow your showcase your company identity or allow your website to grow in the way it needs to. As well, they are considered to be cheap and unprofessional, not the image your business needs.

Here are a few quick tips on how to find the right design firm. For the full article, click here.

• Go with a local web design firm.
• One that doesn't farm out the programming overseas.
• One that is more than a one or two person outfit.
• One that designs fully custom websites, and not glorified templates.
• One that has a store front and is accessible and accountable.
• One that considers your marketing goals.

And if you were looking for our agency sites . . .