In this multi-part iNoobs article we’ll be discussing, from start-to-finish, the process of designing (or constructing) a website. We’ve gone over a few of the elements in previous articles, but now it’s time to put it all together. To start we’re not going to worry about anything technical, we’ll dive into how to code html and css, and use photoshop in other articles/series, for now we’ll concentrate on what I consider to be the more important aspects, the planning, execution, setup, and marketing.

This first article will cover what you need to do when planning a website.

Before we get to planning let’s list out ALL of the steps required to execute a website this will be your guide for this article and the next to come:

  1. Develop site plan – Use Case Development (optional)
  2. Create Sitemap
  3. Content
  4. Wireframing
  5. Design
  6. Technical
  7. Testing
  8. Launch

Planning a Website

Process of Designing a Website: Part 1   Site Plan

Insert Corny Website Planning Image

I worked at a marketing agency years ago that churned out websites. It was like a factory – “praise Ford!” My old boss was an English buff, if he’s reading I hope he appreciates the Huxley reference. We would churn out 5 – 10 websites/week. They were just templates, everything was templated – the imagery, the design, the content… just new domains and a new address. It was not fun from a creative perspective. But, it did teach me the power of planning. One plan became the basis for dozens of fine websites.

At my current fort myers web design firm, we treat projects a bit differently – and they’re no longer duplicates of each other! – but the process is very much the same. You have to start with a plan.

The planning phase of any project or business, is the most important, although I’m sure you agree – to some extent – it’s the least fun. I be you want to jump right in get your hands dirty, start coding, designing, executing.

But, especially when it comes to web development, getting your plan right is important for so many reasons:

  • Keeping costs down – if you keep changing your mind, making changes it’s going to cost you
  • Keep time to completion down – plan and plan and plan, execute once, and save time – changes during production always take longer than simply changing a word document!
  • Unity of vision – make sure the site, all of your other web properties (social networks), and each design element has a unified vision.
  • Understanding who will take care of what – crafting a plan will immediately help you understand all of the elements involved in a great web presence (and you’ll soon realize you’ll need people to do the work!)
  • Proper search engine marketing – much like how business owners used to name their business AAA Plumbing in order to show up high on the Yellow Pages – a site’s architecture and structure play a HUGE ROLE IN MARKETING (on search engines).

Let’s get to the plan!

Much of your website plan can be crafted by answering these key questions:

You should write down the answers to all of the questions below in a word document and continue to refer to this document while building you site, upon completion or “launch” of your site, and throughout its ongoing development. Remember a website is very much an organic thing – you should ALWAYS be tweaking it – adding to it – changing it, making sure those changes are in line with your initial goals and mandates will help you create that unified message.

  • What is the goal of your website? – This is THE most important question to be asking yourself, and you can answer it in many different ways. You may have 10 goals for your site, you may have a couple goals per section (which we’ll go into more detail on under sitemap). Just make sure to list your goals and constantly reference them!
  • What is your budget for your website? – Even if you’ll be developing your website yourself you must ask yourself this question as there will ALWAYS be outside costs, if only for hosting and a domain name every year – there will be additional costs. The more complex your website or online business, generally speaking, the more it will cost. Additionally if your project revolves around a company website, make sure to budget money for marketing.
  • What needs to happen for you to see a return or for you to consider it a success? – There should always be a return! In the conventional business-website sense, you want the website you build to attract customers. But, even if you’re building a site for personal use or pleasure, add it to your portfolio and impress your job, your co-workers, etc. Or you could even use the site you build to land you a job (create a website under yourname.com and create an online interactive resume that you constantly keep up to date).
  • How will you measure the performance of your website?  - Along the same lines as above, when will you have met your above goals? How will you measure/keep track of that. You must put in place a process, either in your daily life or digitally to measure the return of your investment in building a website. Make sure an analytics package is installed (software that can track visitors and email contacts) or simply ask someone that calls you after “finding you” whether they came from your website.
  • What design requirements do you have? – Getting back to the meat and potatoes  of development, what requirements will your design need to accomodate? Where will your visitors be viewing your site? Do you want to have pictures featuring children, adults, seniors, etc. get as specific as possible.
  • Are there additional marketing materials that are vital to have on the site? – Maybe you have a brochure you did for your company, or you’re building a personal resume site, make sure that you borrow as much as possible in order to maintain your brand (personal or professional).
  • What tools do you want on your site? – Technically what must your site be able to do? What would be cool? I see opportunities all the time with partners who ignore their websites and, beyond the initial development, forget that you can constantly add additionally functionality and tools to better connect with your audience.
  • What can you live without; what is absolutely required? – List everything you’d love and want, but especially in the beginning, reign in your desires – focus on only what is absolutely necessary. This is the largest stumbling block for many devs and their clients. We all want everything, but everything takes an infinite amount of time and resources. Focus in on what’s most important to start and expand from there. Your plan may change anyway so you don’t want to waste time on tools that don’t get used, or worse, get thrown out.
  • Who is your audience? – Get as specific as possible. When making advertising and marketing decisions, having a clear breakdown of your audience, ensures you don’t waste your time or money.
  • What pages/sections will be on your site? – Finally, and perhaps most technically break out every section, sub-section, and individual page of your site. This is also called a “sitemap.”

This concludes the first part of the iNoobs’ Process of Designing a Website series. In the next article we’ll be reviewing a sitemap, going into more detail on exactly what it is, what it needs to accomodate, and – most importantly – how to create a sitemap!

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the drafting of a plan prior to developing your website, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help!