Planning to start a website of your own but don’t know how? Want to add a touch of personality to your website? Don’t have much time to maintain your website? If these are the cases, then there’s nothing to worry about. Not many know much about making a website of their own or managing its performance. If you are a beginner, then this article is meant for you. Here, we will discuss the ten most important things you need to know before you start a website of your own.

The First and Most Critical Step In Planning a Website: Strategy

use multiple strategies for planning a websiteA clear strategy is the most important thing to make before you start your website. Research and planning can make or break the usability and effectiveness of your site. Divide your strategy into three different parts – Basic or core strategy, long term strategy and dynamic strategy.

Basic or Core Strategy

The basic or core strategy is what you need from your website and how you are going to do it. It should cover the overall plan of action. You should add as many details to it as possible. It will ensure your minute requirements are also covered.

Long Term Strategy

The long term strategy is one where you make small milestones and tasks that would be carried out once a specific milestone is reached. When you make a milestone, make sure you cover every aspect of the task and time required for covering each milestone. If you do not give ample time or give less time to each task, it would become very tough to implement your strategy successfully.

Dynamic Strategy

You might need to tackle a situation immediately and for a short span of time. The dynamic strategy is a short-term strategy where you implement yourself to meet immediate goals. It can be a sale season, festivals, thanksgiving, etc. Your dynamic strategy can diverge from the core strategy to meet the goals.[MM1]

In the coming weeks, we will discuss each of these three critical strategic components in detail. So, stay tuned!

Deciding the Customer Journey

Another very important aspect to consider is deciding the type of website you want to have — what your goals are and how are you planning a website that will meet your goals. Once you’ve established your strategy, you can craft the customer journey.

The customer journey means how will the user end up on your website, how to persuade him to explore your website and finally, convince him to take the desired action.

For example, if you run a blogging website, your primary intent is to take the user to as many pages as possible. Your intent to inform customers or increase brand awareness can be done in creative ways. You can create a whole new section to showcase your subject expertise as well.

Example Journey: The user reads the page, clicks on a product link, purchases the product, and receives the purchased product. This is a simple customer journey of a website. Formulating a customer journey based that adheres to your business model can help you provide a better customer experience, increase conversion rates, and get better ranking on search engines.

Most websites have multiple customer journeys, many of which they never think about. Journeys can cover learning about the company, ordering a product or even resetting a password. Most of the best performing websites pay attention to all user stories because even helping a customer recover their password can be an opportunity to build a memorable brand experience.

Creating Sitemap

sitemaps help a lot when planning a websiteAfter establishing your customer’s journey, the next step in planning a website is to create the sitemap of your website. Site maps contain the organized structure of your website in hierarchical order. You can start with boxes and arrows mentioning a web page’s name in each box.

This simple step brings clarity about how your website can be better understood by your users. There are three types of sitemaps

  • Sitemap developed by a website designer
  • Human-readable sitemaps
  • Structured listings for Web crawlers

Sitemap developed by a website designer

This sitemap is created at the time of designing the website. The website designer adds each and every URL in the sitemap as it will help him maintain uniformity across subsections.

Human-readable Sitemaps

Human-readable sitemaps are developed with the aim to make the user understand the structure of the website. You can create it using flowcharts for proper presentation.

Structured Listings for Web Crawlers

A structured listing is a machine-readable sitemap primarily developed keeping web crawlers in mind. These crawlers scan the complete structured listing and index the new pages.

Sitemaps are important for new webpages and poorly ranked pages.. Your webpages should be crawled by search crawlers to be eligible to rank on SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). When a crawler scans your sitemap and encounters new pages, it indexes the new pages in the database.

So, when a query (keyword) comes to the search engine, it filters relevant results from the indexed pages and shows it on SERP. In order to get crawled, you can submit a request for indexation using Google Search Console or add new links in your sitemap. So when a crawler comes to your website, your new pages will be automatically crawled and indexed.

Webpage Wireframes

use wireframes when planning a websiteA wireframe is a rough, high-level skeleton of what is going to be on each page — text, images, videos, lists, buttons, headlines, etc.. All too often, it’s easy to get lost in the details when building any given page on your site, causing the overall effectiveness of the page to suffer. You can fix this by generally planning the flow of each page.

By planning each page before jumping into the details, you can more capably address the specific purpose of that page and how to accomplish it.

While there are very many handy wireframing tools on the web, a simple napkin sometimes serves better. Here’s why: they’re small and force you to keep it simple.

While wireframing, that one idea is key — keep it simple. Here’s a useful formula for starting a page wireframe:

[Present the problem] + [Describe how you solve it] + [Call to action]

From there, you can decide how you want to cover each of those bases, using all of the elements available to you (text, images, tables, videos, charts, etc.) without losing sight of the page’s purpose and getting lost in the details.

Content on the webpages

Here’s another useful formula:

plan your content when planning a websiteBad content = bad website

Your site can have a beautiful layout, clear navigation, and great speeds, great search ranking, all the rights stuff… but if your content sucks, so does your website. (And to be honest, if your content is bad, you won’t rank well either.)

Search engines give preference to websites with understandable, informative content. A user-friendly webpage with search engine optimized content can turn a normal website into one of the best performing websites, on those features alone.

The web has seen big websites managed by huge teams fall behind a smaller website managed by a single person simply because the content of the smaller website was superior to that of the Goliath.

So what makes content good?

First and most importantly: relevance. If you run a site selling TVs, a blog post about fuzzy slippers makes no sense. Not only would that confuse your users, but Google will notice that you seem to be all over the place and lower your ranking as well (although you may get a small boost in the fuzzy slipper category). You’re users (and search engines) are looking for a trove of relevant information to help them understand your offerings and to see that you know what you’re talking about. I could write a whole post about relevant content. And I will. So for now, let’s move on.

Other important features for your content are that it be unique (plagiarism-free), well structured (use headlines, bullets, and blockquotes), engaging (use color and imagery to liven things up), and useful. Useful is different from relevant in this case. Remember that site example of selling TVs? How many users would need to see a post on the pressure needed to press a remote control button or the ideal placement of a power button on a TV remote? Relevant? Yes. Useful? Not remotely.  😉

Let me take a moment to be very very clear about one of these details: plagiarism. Unique content is also one of the most important factors for your website. The content on your website, in no incident, should match with that of other websites. Search engines penalize websites for publishing content that is not genuine bringing down their sales considerably. And those who pilfer the words and images of other sites can open themselves up credibility and legal troubles. You can use plagiarism checking software or online tools to check for plagiarism before publishing it on the webpage.

Website Design

Everyone wants a site that looks good. It’s usually the first thing people are thinking of when they decide they need a site. It’s even in our language — when people are looking for a company to plan, build, and develop their website, what’s the most common go-to keyword? “Web design” (62,900 searches a month)!

Fun Fact: “website company”, “web developer”, web development company”, and “web site development” get searched on Google a combined average of 47,000 times, while “Website design” alone has over 65k searches every month. Add “web design” and it’s over 120,000 searches a month.

Here’s the funny thing: web design is easy. We now live in on a web where WordPress, Wix, Joomla, and myriad other free web development platforms offer inexpensive (or even free) web design templates. There are loads of beautiful sites out there.

The real trick to design on the web these days is being unique. With the rise of responsive web design and mobile screen support, site designs have become more and more homogeneous. The demands of mobile viewing screens and faster load times have forced web layouts into very common patterns, diminishing variety in web design.

But not to worry. A skilled web design company (hint hint!) has trained designers who know how to craft a unique experience within the demands of the mobile-ready web world.

Website Functionality and Systems

The functionality on your website should add value to your website. Yes, that seems like it should be obvious, but there’s a very very good reason I wrote it. Go peruse the web for 30 minutes and you’ll see why (not right now though, let’s stay focused). Popups, audio, video, colored fonts, even pictures… they’re good things when used wisely. But as technology makes it easier for site owners to leverage these little wonders, sometimes enthusiasm overcomes common sense. Here’s another useful rule: Use special features should be special. Try not to use more than one flashy element on a page.

E-Commerce Stores

If you are planning an e-commerce website, you should design the shopping cart smartly so that it becomes easier for your customers to add products to the cart and purchase them. Think about what features you need in a store. Do your products have variations, like colors and sizes? Do you offer customizations, like engraving? Do you want to send order tracking information automatically? Questions like these will help you decide which e-commerce solution you need (WooCommerce, Shopify, WP Easy Cart, etc.). Your web development company can help you make the right choice so that you don’t have to keep changing storefronts to find the right one.

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You should also look forward to implementing email replies and email notifications (especially in your e-commerce setup). Many studies have proven that websites that provide transaction details through emails are considered genuine by users as you provided them documented information.

SMS alerts and push notifications can also be implemented on the website to let people know about the latest developments on the website.

Serve Everyone: ADA Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t only affect your storefront, but factors into your website as well. Making sure your site is accessible to as many people as possible isn’t just smart business, but it can protect your company from a lawsuit. Sight challenged people of every variety are using the web in increasing numbers, meaning you have to make sure your site can be read, navigated and understood by reading machines, elderly eyes (use high contrast) and people with color vision deficiencies.

Select the Right Hosting Provider

Another very important decision when planning a website is choosing the appropriate hosting environment. We will provide a detailed post about that in the coming months, but I’ll provide a quick overview here. There are many different types of hosting. Many of the entry-level website solutions, such as Wix and WordPress.org, have hosting built-in to their monthly price. For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on what to bear in mind when looking for hosting when you are building your own site with platforms such as custom WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and other content management system (CMS) platforms.

The two most important things you’ll want to look for are security and speed. But other considerations, such as hosting admin options, backups, cost, and others can seriously impact your website if not chosen wisely. Here is an abridged list of what you need should look for in a hosting solution:

  • Security: Every hosting company will tell you they are secure. If that were true, hackers wouldn’t exist. Find a hosting company that works specifically for YOUR chosen website solution. For example, we offer fully managed hosting for WordPress sites, using servers tailored to the speed and security needs of WordPress websites. If you are using Drupal find a Drupal-specialized hosting company, and the same for Magento and other CMS systems.
  • Speed: Speed is not just about the speed of the server your site is running on. There’s a lot that goes into it. After all, there’s no point in driving a Formula 1 race car if you’re stuck in traffic (which exactly describes why many big-box hosting companies say they’re fast but aren’t — server load! If your host is running a super cheap deal, their servers will probably be overloaded and thus slow. Spend a little more for a better set up, and look for companies that provide a Content Delivery Network (CDN) which helps speed up sites dramatically.
  • Support: Websites are complex and computers aren’t as smart as we all wish they were, so you will end up talking to your hosting support team. Make sure you can call or at least live chat with them. Sending an email slows down response times, and makes complicated conversations and explanations take days. It’s a common joke: “Sir, can you please check to make sure your computer is plugged in…?” But it’s funny because it’s true. Now imagine that being the question on an email you just received after 24 hours when your site is down. Make sure you have quick access to a live person.
  • Daily Backups: We’ll keep this one simple by using another formula: Your human and thus make mistakes + 30k sites are hacked every day = don’t use a hosting solution that doesn’t provide daily backups or you will eventually regret it.
  • One-click Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS): We could call this security, part 2. Your site needs SSL, and many fully-managed hosting providers offer these. While you can set these up yourself with the help of your support team, they are a pain. Try to find a hosting provider who has a 1-click option. Please Note: Most sites will be ok using a free SSL/TLS, but it’s best to discuss the options with your web developer to make sure you choose the best option for your site.
  • These are the main concerns, but there are many many other considerations which we will cover next month in our upcoming post on “What to look for in a Hosting Company”

Using Google Analytics

Building your site will only be the beginning. You’ll want to know if anyone has visited, where they came from, how long they stayed, where did they go, and a lot of other things. When you have those details, you’ll want to begin working on things like site visibility on search engines (AKA search engine optimization — SEO) and content effectiveness (AKA conversion rate optimization — CRO). You won’t be able to do any of this effectively without site usage analytics. More specifically, Google Analytics.

Keeping a track of your users will help you make plans and implement them in a targeted manner. Implementing Google Analytics for your website lets you see the most viewed pages, most lead-generating pages, pages that have high bounce rates, etc.

Once you have the data, you can interpret it to increase your traffic, business, and views. Most people do not know that they can access and use Google Analytics data for the benefit of their website. Google has provided tutorials to read and understand how to interpret this data and have a targeted approach to potential customers. And it’s free! So make sure you acquire and embed your analytics code from google into your site before you launch.

Proofreading and Bug Tasting  😉

It is the most common and avoidable mistake on the web: not proofreading. When you’ve completed all that carefully crafted copy and put it into your carefully thought out page, go back and give it one more read. Don’t rely on the little red squiggly lines to tell you if you’ve made a mistake. For example, in the headline above: testing and tasting both pass the spell check, but we don’t sample bugs when preparing a website, we test for them and squish em.

After planning your website, you build. But before you take your website to live, you should test it thoroughly for bugs and issues. Bugs will happen, it’s normal, but your users won’t forgive you for it. Avoidable bugs cost website owners a lot of money in lost sales. Go experience your site, and try to use as many browsers to do it, because different browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox to name a few) see sites differently at times. Imagine hosting a dinner party at your home when a live roach crawls across the table. Yes, website bugs are like that. They make you look bad. You need to look for it and fix them before taking your site live. Check sections, subsections, links, videos, carousels and any other element that a user can interact with on the website. Ensure everything is in place and you are not facing any issues. Email and SMS alerts should also be checked. And when you’ve done all that, do it again at least two mobile devices (Android and iOS see sites differently too).

Most importantly, make sure your lines of communication are accurate and working well. Site forms work and send the correct information to the correct places with the correct formatting, contact information is accurate… If your site does everything right only to fail the sale then there’s no point in having a website!

Pro Tip: No matter how good you think your grammar is, we all need a second set of eyes sometimes. Use a proofing tool, like Grammarly, to double-check your writing. Not looking stupid is always helpful when trying to impress potential clients.

Once your site proofed and bugless, you can go live.

After the Dust Settles: Testing new features for improvement

As I mentioned before, once your website is working and launched, the real work begins. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), Content Marketing, A/B Testing, regular maintenance… to make your site a success you’ll need to keep working on it.

Your business can get a huge boost if you are online, but simply having a website will not magically build your business. This requires regular research and work to keep up with the rapidly changing technology and methods of the web. MacMillan Design can help you in every aspect of your website, from strategy and building to maintenance and growth. Click here when you’re ready to begin planning a website the right way, and let’s talk about how we can help grow your company online.