Where do you start?

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In its simplest form a website should be considered as an online brochure to display who you are and what you do. It should also contain contact information for you.

Before the age of the internet potential customers would have found you through the likes of the Yellow Pages. As the internet grew in popularity potential customers moved on to using search engines such as Google to find a potential business to engage with. Or if they knew your business name already they would check that you had a working website to confirm that you were still currently trading.

Websites then moved onwards rapidly by introducing technologies that allowed for online communication and interactivity. We now expect our websites to achieve incredible feats which means the underlying frameworks involved need to be both robust and flexible. This is why we now use content management systems (CMS) to develop websites as the starting point, as CMS already have a very strong framework that can be further customised to suit your needs.

The Starting Point

It's a daunting prospect starting off a website project from scratch. But like all big tasks the best way to handle it is to break it down into manageable blocks. I would advise that you think of it in terms of:

(Click on the titles to find out more.)

Based on my brief history paragraphs above, start with what information you would want displayed about your business if it was just an online brochure that you were preparing. Split the information into a basic set of pages (which you can expand upon in block 3), i.e:

  • Home page with a welcome paragraph or two stating who you are and what services you provide
  • About Us page - this would expand on the home page 'welcome' statement but may include more specific information which could be a brief history of your business, and a brief biography for some or all of your staff who may be dealing with clients
  • Services or products pages - If you offer a number of services or products then you may want them each to be on their own page so that you can explain all the key benefits of why the potential customer should engage / buy from you
  • Contact pages - in their most basic form the main contact page would contain a contact form for site users to send you a message. This contact form can if required be expanded out to collect as much information as ideally you would want (fyi: If you are collecting private information from people then you may need to register your business with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) as part of the Data Protection Act). There would also most likely be a Google map on either the contact form page, or on a 'Location' page.

If you find yourself unable to decide upon what / how much information to include then move on and return to it later after you've completed block 2.

Now that you've put together some basic notes, and started to break the information about your business into potential page content you can move on and see how others are doing it. So spend some time researching your competitors websites. Because websites are very subjective as to whose viewing them you can break down your competitors websites as follows:

  • look, feel, and ease of use - do any of the sites achieve all three of these successfully?
  • look - do any of the sites appeal to you, with the way they look?
  • feel - have any of the sites got it right when it comes to how you feel when you look at them? What I mean by this is for example if you go to the HMRC website its as you'd expect (i.e. relatively cold, and clinical). Whereas if you visit Ben & Jerry's ice cream website its also as you'd expect (i.e. bright, fun, and quirky)
  • ease of use - do the sites get it right with how they've presented information about themselves and displayed their services and products? Also is it really easy to find contact information for them?
  • Are there any elements from any of your competitors websites that you particularly like?

Now that you've seen what your competitors are doing are there any new elements or ways of presenting the information that you would like to use?

Through completing the above two blocks you will now be able to put together an initial set of requirements which should include information such:

  • A brief summary of what your business does, along with what you what function your website will be performing (e.g. a brochure site, an eCommerce site, a directory site, a membership site...)
  • Who would potentially be your target audience?
  • Who are your main competitor websites are, along with look, feel, and ease of use feedback for the sites
  • Are any other elements / functionality that you would be requiring? (e.g. a blog, a discussion forum, membership element to site)
  • Images for your website - do you have decent quality images that could be used on the site? Or will further pictures need to be taken or purchased from a stock photo library.