In the beginning, there’s a plan.
Now that you’ve made the decision to put a shiny new business Web site among the tens of millions of others on the internet, you’re no doubt in a hurry to see the face of your company looking back from the screen – slick, professional, inviting, with eye-catching graphics and exciting text that just begs new customers to check you out.
But right now it’s important to take a breath, clear your mind and plan, plan, plan. A well-thought-out blueprint will guide all the other decisions you’ll make in the next 10 steps.
It can also help you avoid spending more than you need. Skimp on planning, and you’ll have problems down the road.
In this step we’ll cover:
- Defining your Customers and Mission
- Choosing and Buying your Domain Name
- Text, Images and other Graphic Elements
- Budgets, and Who Does What
Now let’s get going.
Defining your Customers and Mission
You may think this goes against common sense, but the essence of your Web site isn’t really about you. What? It’s true. Sure, it presents your business face to the world and you’ll carefully make choices later on to put that together.
But your Web site is a specialized tool, one that enables you to reach countless new customers and, if it’s a retail site, sell to them and process their purchases.
Here, your primary purpose is to know your customers so well that you answer any questions they might have before they ask, then make it easy for them to buy what you’re selling.
This bedrock principle applies whether you’re creating a one- or two-page site that simply tells who you are and where you can be reached by e-mail, snail mail and phone; or a fully functioning retail site with hundreds, even thousands, of pages and a “shopping cart” that let’s your buyers collect products and pay for them, comfortable that their financial and other personal data are secure.
Exactly who are they and what do you know about them, what they want, what they need, what they don’t know they need, what gives them the willies on the Web?
- How old are they? Are they men, women, kids?
- What do they expect when they come to a company like yours?
- How smart are they and what specific talents or skills do they have?
- Where do they live? What are those places like?
- Are they Web savvy or are they just beginning to use it? In either case, what are their concerns about doing business on the Web – what scares them off?
Answer those questions, and any others that suit the specific customer you’ve now identified, and you’ll know how to go forward in writing your raison d’être, your reason for being – your mission.
You’ll tell them why you’re qualified to do what you do, and why your company is unique and better than the competition. You’ll tell them exactly how you’ll serve their needs right here, right now, on your Web site. You’ll sell your company as one that knows they, too are unique, and that you’ve tailored your goods, services and shopping experience to these special people.
Now, draw a simple diagram of your Web site, starting with the home page and proceeding – as your customer would – from page to page to page. Keep it simple – more detail comes later.
Choosing and Buying your Domain Name
To be the master of your domain, your first have to give it a name.
This is simple – if your company name is Passionate Pigfeet, you’d likely choose www.passionatepigfeet.com. But there could be a snag.
However unlikely, someone might already own the domain name www.passionatepigfeet.com. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a Web site by that name; some people buy up endless variations on domain names hoping to cash in later when somebody wants to use one of them.
But your domain provider’s Web site will have a simple method to check almost instantly. Web hosts – those with the computing power to “host” your site and all its inner working on the Web – commonly offer domain names as part of their basic package.
To find one that meets your needs and budget, search online for “domain hosts.” Or start with one of these:
Text, Images and other Graphic Elements
You might as well get going now on writing copy – the text – for your Web site, and how you intend to use images.
If your writing skills are sharp, follow your diagram of Web pages and decide what you want to say on each. This is a rough draft, so don’t sweat over it too long.
Writing effective Web copy is a special skill, and you need to edit and rewrite your draft along some specific guidelines. The broader ones:
- Don’t make your Web site look or read like an ad. You may be planning to attract and sell online space to advertisers, and you’ll confuse visitors if your content looks like ad material.
- If you refer to your company as “we” in your copy, be sure to address your customer as “you.” Engage them in this personal experience.
- Keep it simple and kill jargon. The point here isn’t to show your mastery of insiders’ language, but to make your customers feel welcome, at home and included.
- Write like you’re talking face-to-face, using contractions if it sounds natural. Don’t write: “If you happen to encounter anything that raises questions, we are prepared to address them.” Do write: “Questions? We’re here to answer them.”
As a start, look to these resources for more detailed guidance:
You’re not done until you spell-check your copy, then print it out and proofread, proofread again, and do it a few more times. Bad grammar, misspellings – especially proper names – and other basic errors will make you look like an amateur, not the world-beating pro you really are.
Invite others to read over your text and point out errors, or hire a freelance copy editor. You’ll find them all over the Web, but check their references. It won’t cost much and will be money well spent.
If you don’t think you can handle the copywriting yourself, you’re probably right. Hire a professional with Web experience. There are thousands of freelance writers online offering to do the job at wide range of prices.
Graphics Content: Your only task now is to decide what photos, charts and graphs, illustrations and other visuals you need to help tell your message and show who you are.
Note what they are on each of your Web page diagrams, but not necessarily where they’ll go. We’ll get to that later. And keep these rules in mind:
- Use only as many images or other graphics as you need to bolster your text and make your pages attractive. Here, as in nearly anything on the Web, less is more. Don’t visually assault your visitors.
- Good pictures can speak a thousand words. If a photo or other image will save a lot of explaining, use it instead of text.
- If your purpose is just to put candid snapshots on the Web, your visitors will understand why they’re not slick, crisp and professionally done. For everything else, be sure your photos and graphics are all three.
Budgets, and Who Does What
Setting smart budgets saves money – period. Get your planning done now, and you won’t waste precious cash on things you don’t and won’t need. Set your Web site budget so you can comfortably handle the costs with available resources.
One of the great things about Web sites is their changeability. You can add bells, whistles, services and other enhancements later, as you need them and have more cash to spend.
It’s impossible to tell you exactly how to divide the pot in building a Web site. There are many factors in endless combinations, and countless ways to handle them. But think about these things and you’ll be in great shape to work out the details:
- How many products or services are you selling?
- If you’re a retail operation, how will you securely process orders?
- Do you need professionals for writing, editing, photography, Web design, even budgeting?
- How many marketing functions do you want? Newsletters? Surveys? Blogs?
- How much can you spend on hosting, your domain name, your Web design package?
- Does a free, all-in-one Web site service like Microsoft Office Live cover you, or do you need more flexibility, an e-tail “shopping cart,” an original look, detailed analytics?
When it comes time to shop for these things, let your budget dictate your choices. As revenue starts coming in the door and you grow, your business Web site can grow, too, in scope, sophistication and ambition.
That’s the plan, right?