A good business plan is essential to running a successful business. Likewise, a good website plan is essential to running a successful website.
Here are some guidelines to help you through the planning process.
Choose a Goal
Many business owners know they need a website, but they don't know what to do with it. They end up with a website that has no purpose.
Choose a goal. Maybe you want to generate leads, get more appointments, or make more sales. Whatever it is, be specific. Choosing an appropriate goal is important because everything you do on your website must reflect that goal.
Make the Content
If possible, this step should take place before the design is made. Just save your text in a word processor until you're ready to put it onto the site. This will help you avoid making content just to fill empty space. The content is more important than the design, and it should be the top priority.
Keep your goal in mind. Everything you say on your website should lead visitors toward your goal. Before writing anything, ask yourself whether or not it will help fulfill your goal. If it doesn't, it shouldn't be on the site.
Decide how many pages you need, and what topics they should cover. It's fine if you only have two pages. It's better to have a few useful pages than 100 filler pages.
Now that you've created useful content, you can choose a layout that fits the content. Maybe you have a photography website and you need a big slideshow on the front page. Maybe you don't need photos of your products and you just need a basic layout. Just make sure you don't have more features than you need. If you only have 4 pages, for example, you don't need a big sidebar menu.
Pick a Design
When you've chosen the features of your site, you can start looking at colors and design. Many people start on this step and overlook the more important things. But, this step isn't important until you've made great content.
Try to find a design that will still look good in five years. Having an up-to-date design will give your business credibility. It doesn't need to be flashy. It just needs to reflect the quality of service you offer your customers. And whatever you do, unless you're a clown, never use the Comic Sans font. Seriously.
Find a Designer
When you are looking for a designer, look at their portfolio before you look at prices. You can get a website for dirt cheap, but you'll get what you pay for. Serious web designers will be more aware of browser compatibility, search engine optimization, branding, etc.
On the other hand, there are plenty of designers that charge too much. Don't let them tell you what you need on your website. If you made a good website plan, you'll already know what you need.
Many web design firms will try to sell you SEO services. Unfortunately, a large percentage of those designers only have a superficial understanding of SEO. If they offer you "search engine submission," they're trying to rip you off. If they say they'll do SEO, and they're really planning on buying pay-per-click advertisements, they're lying to you. Ask specific questions so you know what you're paying for. It's usually safer to find a company that specializes in SEO.