Setting Goals For Your Project
Setting goals is an essential step in creating an effective website. Your goals may be general (generating interest, selling more products, etc) or they may be very specific (increase online revenue by 20%, rank well for a specific search query, etc). No matter what your goals are, you'll want to keep those in mind throughout the entire process. Even if your goals change, they should be a guiding principle behind your decisions throughout the life of your website.
Setting A Website Timeline
This step seems obvious, but if you don't establish a target launch date and an appropriate timeline, your project may never come to fruition. When choosing a date, be sure to consider:
- Any strategic times that might serve as good launch targets for your project.
- Your available capacity to spend managing and guiding the project.
- If you consult with professionals, be aware that they may or may not be able to complete the project within your original timeline. You should be somewhat flexible when planning your timeline.
Who Is Your Audience?
It's important to consider your audience when approaching any online project.
- Are you serving a specific demographic - or a broad audience?
- What sort of accessibility concerns will you need to address (older computers & browsers, mobile devices, visitors with disabilities, etc)?
- What groups of users do you anticipate serving (potential customers, current customers, return customers, etc)? It's a good idea to create user profiles for each of your user groups to help envision the ideal user experience from their perspective.
This information will help to inform the design and development of your site and ensure that you effectively reach your maximum audience.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If you're considering SEO services to maximize your efforts, we recommend performing any necessary keyword research, competition research and strategy as early as possible in the process. Your SEO objectives may include keyword and content strategy that needs to be incorporated into your domain name, architecture, and content - any of which can be difficult to implement after the fact.
Choosing A Domain Name
Your domain name is extremely important for both brand recognition and search engine optimization. You want to choose a memorable, easy-to-type domain that speaks to what you do. If possible, your domain should contain relevant keywords that speak to your offerings and expertise. For more info on how to choose a domain name, see our guide to choosing and registering a domain.
Architecture & Functionality
Depending on the purpose your website will serve, you may need a few simple pages with mostly text, images, video and perhaps a contact form. If your site is more complex such as an e-commerce site, you will have far more to consider and outline. In either case, you will want to ensure that you earmark destinations for all of the content and functionality necessary for your site to operate effectively.
Consider each of your user groups and user profiles: how they will need to interact with the site? For example: what does a potential customer need to understand when they first visit your site? How might a returning customer access information regarding their previous transactions?
Types of web pages:
It's important to note that there are two distinct types of web pages: informational pages and interactive pages. Making this distinction will help you to outline detailed requirements for any designers, developers, and content creators that you may be working with.
Informational pages (or 'static' pages) are pages that have basic text and media content - without more interactive features such as forms.
Interactive pages (sometimes referred to as 'dynamic' pages) are sections of your website that offer an interactive experience based on a visitor's input. Dynamic pages often pull content from a database and present that information in different ways. For example, a blog, news page, or calendar might display content in both a list view and an individual article view. You might also have functionality such as search, filtering (the ability to narrow results based on pre-defined options), pagination (splitting a long list of content up into multiple pages), RSS feeds, or any number of other features. Other types of dynamic pages include (but are certainly not limited to) user account creation & log in, shopping cart & checkout, downloadable resources, forms & surveys, product customization previews, etc.
Website content is often much more complicated than it may seem at first. You must consider your audience, tone, content length and structure - all while highlighting the appropriate calls to action to allow your visitors to take the desired next steps. We highly recommend looking at other websites for examples of what to do (and what not to do for that matter).
When creating your initial content, the most important lesson we can impart when it comes to website content is: don't put it off until the last minute. Good content takes time and revision. A brilliantly designed and functional website isn't much good if your content is lacking.
It's also generally a good idea to have an ongoing content strategy. When done well, this can help engage and grow your audience while maintaining and growing relevance on search engines. In many cases, ongoing content takes the form of a blog, news articles, or resources. The most important consideration is to create content that is relevant to the purpose of your website and useful to your visitors.
Design & Development
If you're not a web designer or developer, we highly recommend hiring a professional to help guide you through the process. Your time is typically better spent focusing on your business.
If you are a designer or developer - or if you have a ton of free time and a strong desire to learn legions of information in a complex industry and rapidly changing industry - then take the information you've outlined and get to work!
If you're wisely choosing to work with professionals, you'll want to be sure to walk them through the goals, timeline, audiences, SEO objectives, architecture, functionality and content objectives as you've outlined them to ensure that they have a full understanding of the project and their deliverables. Most importantly, be sure that they understand your expectations. It's often helpful to site examples of competitors, functionality, layout and design.
If you're working with a web designer or developer, they will likely test your website thoroughly. However, this should not stop you from scouring through the website with a fine toothed comb to ensure that it looks and functions as expected. You will have to live with the site and address the usability concerns of your users, so be absolutely sure it fits your needs before launching the site.
In most cases, a website launch should be a quick flip of the switch and a glass of champagne. In order to make sure that your celebration doesn't turn south, you'll want to consider the following:
- If your domain's name server (NS) records need to be re-pointed to a different server:
- Be aware that the transition can take anywhere from 2-48 hours depending on the time-to-live (TTL) settings on the originating server. If possible, you may want to reduce your TTL settings on the originating server to 1-2 hours (expressed in seconds) before the transition. This will help to minimize the propagation time. During this transition you may experience some downtime.
- Also, this type of transition will affect all email accounts associated with your domain. If you're using an external email provider and the new server DNS has been pre-configured with the correct MX records, then any outage should be extremely short and your email will be back up and running before you know it. If you're using server-hosted email, you will need to recreate all of your email addresses on the new server and re-configure your mail clients accordingly. In this instance the down-time will be more substantial (this can be between 2-48 hours, but typically on the lower end).
- If only your domain's 'A' record needs to be redirected to the new server:
You won't need to worry about your email accounts as your MX records aren't being changed. However, the launch can take anywhere from 2-48 hours depending on the time-to-live (TTL) settings on the originating server. If possible, you may want to reduce your TTL settings on the originating server to 1-2 hours (expressed in seconds) before the transition. This will help to minimize the propagation time. During this transition you may experience some downtime.
- If your domain is already pointing to your new server:
Your launch should be nearly instantaneous. Aren't you lucky!
The internet sadly does not adhere to Ron Popeil's much adored philosophy 'set-it-and-forget-it.' Without proper promotion, your website is effectively invisible. So, what to do? There are varying levels of promotion that you should consider:
- Search engine submission
- Search engine optimization
- Email Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
- Search engine and online marketing
- Offline (real-world) marketing
Updates & Revisions
Your website is a living breathing entity. If you let it sit too long without new content - and the occasional design tweak or functionality upgrade, your presence will falter. Be sure to maintain an active content stream, engage users both on and off of your site (with the hopes of redirecting them back to your site), and refine your website periodically to maximize its effectiveness.