The time has come for me to put together a new website, so I thought I would jot down a few things I always keep in mind when undertaking such a project.
Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have given some solid, $5 wisdom,
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree
and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
It's of obvious and vital importance to ensure you adhere to a well conceived plan, based on thorough research before undertaking such a time-consuming project as a new website.
You want all elements to be in harmony so your first-time visitors immediately understand where they are and what they will find. If your site is a Store, you will want a front page with a lot of products and prices. If it's a Blog, have a prominent Title and Description.
Most of your first-time visitors will probably arrive via a Search Engine, so your Description should pack as much concise information about your site as possible, using powerful words that leave no doubt about who you, what you offer, and who you are trying to attract.
Who is your Audience?
A common problem we have all seen is a website that claims to be for one type of audience, yet the content seems to be for another audience entirely.
By Content, we may be referring to:
- Editorial Writings
- Bias, or Point of View
- Educational Level
Each element of your site must not only target your Audience, but must provide a consistent message throughout. And these rules apply whether your site has a limited or broad appeal. To build a regular readership your readers must be assured they will find more of what they want and expect upon arrival each time they visit.
Of course, this is not to suggest the impossibility of building a base of loyal followers who enjoy the expectation of the totally unexpected 😉
What's Your Name?
I like to keep names and addresses as simple and memorable as possible. Regardless of the level of complexity on the inside, it's important for the average person to be able to remember your site, and how to get there.
I find some really good sites via Search Engines, but unless I Bookmark/Favorite or create a Shortcut, a long, unwieldy URL"combined with a long and complicated name"makes it impossible for me to return without doing another Search.
Have all the information needed for an effortless revisit at the top of each page. My Site Names are simple and my URLs are short. And believe it or not, this research and preparation can be among the most most difficult and time-consuming activities before any work begins on the site itself.
Choosing just the "right" URL/Site Name can go a long way to make or break your success.
You've Got the Look!
It's important to create the right balance in the appearance of your site. You should look professional enough to elicit Trust, yet be personal enough to elicit those all-important "warm & fuzzy" emotions. This is one case in which opposites do not attract.
You don't want a site that makes you look like an attorney (unless you are an attorney, of course), and you don't want to look like some goofy kid"unless goofy kids are your intended audience. I've seen a lot of sites that look so amateur that I instantly distrust any information provided there. Regardless of how good the info may be, for better or worse, I usually move on pretty quickly.
It's not enough for people to trust you if they aren't comfortable enough with you to actually like you.
We've heard the old saying, "I don't care if they like me as long as they fear me." That may work for a boss or a dictator, but it never works for a website trying to build an audience.
Various studies have concluded that attractive kids in school get more attention from teachers who, in turn, give them better grades. Keep your site easy on the eyes while maintaining a clear path for your visitors to easily give you better grades, whether they be in the form of Comments, Referrals, or Orders.
It's Better to Tickle than to Tire
There is a famous line from the Bible about how people have itching ears. Never in history has that been more true than today.
2000 years ago it was a lot easier to hold the attention of an audience who were without any of the modern modes of communication or distracting entertainment. But in today's world of 500 channel satellite TV and enough websites to rival the National Debt, expectations are a lot higher"not to mention down-right jaded.
Your Content must be of high enough calibre (or low enough if yours is the Jack Ass crowd) to keep their interest beyond the Headline before boredom sets in.
Depending on your audience, you will want to focus on:
The best is a combination of the two, but balanced as appropriate. Even hard-core logical, unemotional engineers have emotions that can be tickled. I once told a story to an engineer who stared at me blankly and said, "That's hilarious." And he meant it.
Decisions and Definitions
I have created a goodly amount of websites over the years, and my methods for doing so come from my days in Sales. I always do my homework in advance:
- Who am I selling to?
- What am I selling? My Products, Ideas, Services?
- What Educational level am I targeting?
- What Cultural Bias will I most often encounter?
- How do I ensure I will be considered an Insider rather than a Fish Out of Water?
- Include Outside Advertising? Do Ads earn enough to be worth detracting from the User Experience?
- Do Colours, Backgrounds, Graphics enhance or detract from the User Experience?
- What is my method for Call to Action?
- Does my site require a Follow-up Plan?
There's no point in investing time, energy, and funds in great SEO unless your visitors are enticed to stay awhile upon arrival.
Building a new website is always a chore. But the time invested in Advanced Planning goes a long way to avoiding problems and fixes down the road"when you can least afford them.
What's your routine for starting a new website?
See also: How Web Site Requirements Keep Your Project From Exploding (Kimberly Krause Berg)