Designing Your Dream Website

How do you go about finding the right developer for your website? If you do not already know a good developer, ask around and get some ideas from colleagues, friends, or family. They are always good places to start and you are sure to get honest feedback.

If that is not an option, go online to some of your favorite websites. If you like what you see, find out who designed it and contact that person. The best criterion for choosing a developer is looking at a portfolio of his or her work.

Before you make contact, put together an outline of what you want to accomplish. Your plan should include some or all of the following pieces:

  • Vision
    What is your overall vision for your website? How will it be used in your business? What will it look like? What do you want customers to do when they visit?

  • Objectives
    What are your goals? You should keep your objectives limited to three. Here are some examples:

    • Sell products or services
    • Help customers locate your company and tell them your pertinent information (hours, telephone, address)
    • Tell customers why your products or services are unique and convince them to call or stop in
    • Distribute a free newsletter to increase online or in-store sales

  • Image
    This is what your company is all about. Customers will associate this image or brand with your products. If you have a logo or a phrase that you use, that should be included on your website.

  • Target
    Who do you want your customers to be? A summary of your customer base or customer target will assist your developer in the design of your website. One great way to sell your company is by using customer testimonials.

  • Budget
    Be honest with your developer about your budget, timeline, and deadline. This will aid in the planning and developing on both sides of the table. If you have questions on certain items, your developer will be able to use your guidelines and assist with these elements.

  • Basics
    What do you absolutely need on your website? Not what do you want, but what cannot you live without? These can be very simple, such as your logo or a color scheme, or very elaborate, such as a Java applet or a theme song. Remember to address the customers' needs first and your must-haves second.

  • Examples
    If you have done your homework and surfed the Internet, you have seen websites that you like or even pieces of them that you want to incorporate into your website. If you have a list of these websites, you can show your developer and give him or her a sense of what you want. Sometimes having visual aids is quite helpful, especially if you cannot quite put your finger on it.

  • History
    Some customers are interested in the history of your company and how it came to be what it is today. If this is motivational to them, it may inspire you to use this as a guide for your website's development.
Under Construction: Stages of Building a Website

There are six basic stages in website building:
  • Planning
  • Content Development
  • Design
  • Programming
  • Marketing
  • Maintenance
If you think of your website as a finished product, these six steps are getting you closer to your goal. Planning is the most critical step, because this sets the groundwork for the other steps. The more organized you are, the better your website will be ultimately. Things to consider in the planning stage are your audience, Internet connection speed, and what you want to accomplish with your website.

Content development should encompass information you currently have and information you will need to create. You may want to enlist the services of a creative writer to put words into action. Something to consider including is frequently asked questions (FAQ) or inquiries. Take some time to think about these and write them down. The more information you can provide for your customers, the less time you will need to spend responding to their queries. Remember, your website is a natural extension of your company so your content will add value for your existing customers, as well as generate new business.

Regardless of how interesting your content is, your graphic design will set the tone of your website, as well as contribute to your company's image. You will create a good first impression with intriguing graphics on your home page. To ensure continuity, incorporate these design elements throughout your website. Do not go overboard with your design, though. The limitations for website pictures differ from print. Your graphics may be totally awesome, but if they take forever to download, they are no good.

Once you have your website mapped out and your content and graphics ready to roll, it is time to convert them to a web format. This means that your original documents need to be readable on the Internet. Programming your website can be as simple as adding HTML tags or writing client-side or server-side scripts for dynamic content.

Creating a brilliant website is wonderful, but it will be useless if nobody knows about it. Your developer will be able to assist you with this piece as well. One quick way to market your website is to register it with a search engine. This way, your company will come up when people type in keywords.

The final piece to your dream website is the maintenance. Like anything else, it needs proper care and feeding to keep it running. Simple updates on a regular basis will keep your website looking fresh and get your customers to return to your website. If your website is stagnant, it will not be as appealing as one that is dynamic.

Your website is your online vision for your company. The image it projects will attract or repel your target audience or customer base. By thinking things through, being organized, and talking with your developer about your goals, budget, and vision, your website will be one that customers will talk about for a long time.
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