12 Things you need to think about before you start a website project
Are you thinking about getting a new website?
The very idea of talking to a web company about building a website can be a daunting one, especially if you haven’t ever built or maintained a one before.
All that techie jargon can make you feel way out of your depth.
I know this, because I used to sit in meetings as a client needing a new website, wondering how stupid people would think I was if I ask what CMS and wireframes were when everyone else already knew.*
Whether you are planning to design a new website yourself, or whether you want to hire someone else to do it for you, you’ll find the whole project much easier if you have really given some thought to some key questions before you get too far into the process.
So here's what you should think about before you start a new website project.
(If you hire someone to build a website for you, they should ask you similar questions too, and if they don’t, you might want to rethink working with them).
WHAT AND WHY // THE THINKING BEHIND YOUR SITE
Q1. Why do you want a new website?
Do you know what are not a good answers to this question?
“Because everyone says I need one”, or “because every business needs a website so I’d better get one.”
They are perfectly legitimate answers but you’re going to need to do more thinking than that.
Think about your business goals and how they might tie in to what you are looking for your website to do for you.
Don't rush this part.
Q2. What do you want the primary objective of your site to be?
Is it to be an online brochure? To generate leads? To make sales? Increase brand awareness? Increase customer engagement? Give information?
It might be all of the above, but it is important to narrow it down to just the most important one.
Once you know what the primary objective is, it makes all your decisions about your website - e.g. its contents, structure and design - that much easier. You just ask yourself which decision best serves your primary objective?
Q3. What would fantastic success look like for your site?
WHO // YOUR SITE VISITORS
Q4. Who is your target audience? What kind of people are you wanting to attract to your website?
You can think about this in terms of demographics (age/stage/income/location - e.g. university educated adults aged 25 - 30 living at home with their parents) or you can think about it in terms of their needs and how your product/service meets their needs (e.g. dog-owners who travel frequently and need reliable and medically-trained care for their dog while they are away).
The more specific you can be the better.
Q5. Why are they going to visit your site?
Think about what will drive them to look at your website when they could look at a competitor's site or trawl through Facebook.
Q6. What do you want them to do on your site?
Some examples include call to book a service, buy a product online, email a question, download information, learn more about your business, sign up for an email newsletter.
Q7. What impression do you want them to have after looking at your site?
Do you want them to think you look fun, professional, serious, competent, trustworthy? Something else?
If you're really not sure, it can be helpful as a starting point to examine your own impressions of websites that you visit. Then imagine you are an outsider looking at your own site and take it from there.
Q8. Are there other people in your industry who have websites you think are particularly effective? Why? What about things that are not working well?
It can be useful to think about what they are doing that works well, as well as to get pointers about what to avoid.
Q9. What about websites outside your industry that you really like? Any that you really dislike? Why?
Think about why that might be – it could be the look, the way it works, how easy or difficult it is to navigate...
THE PRACTICALITIES // GETTING REAL ABOUT IT
Q10. What’s your budget for the website?
Be realistic! And don't just factor in cost in dollar terms, think about how much time you will need to invest.
Q11. How much time are you willing (or able) to spend on your website once it is live?
Once again, it pays to be realistic.
Something that I see time and time again (especially when I look in the mirror!) is how easy it is to have good intentions about updating a website.
Good intentions are all very well until the commitments of day-to-day life crowd them. (I am guilty as charged!)
Q12. Do you have any deadlines or timings that you need to stick to?
The last reality check.
Unless you are super-organised and committed, you will probably find that a website project takes longer than you expect. Allow more time than you think.
If you have taken the time to really think these questions through then you'll be a really good position when the time comes to get started on your website project.
*And in case you are interested, CMS stands for content management system and predictably, it refers to the back end of your website where you can manage your website’s content.
Wireframes are outline sketches of what a web page might look like.