Website Planning Guidelines

02 August 2017

Originally published in 2009 as a page on our old website.

Here's a list of things to consider before you even think about commiting the first pixel to cyberspace:

What is the purpose of the website?

It sounds obvious, but a lot of people spend so much time agonising over every design detail that they lose track of what they want their website to do. If your website is supposed to inform people about your organisiation, then make sure that the information is clear, and that people can find it easily. If you are selling something, don't just show people the product, sell it: let people know why they should buy it and, again, make that information clear and easy to find. In particular you should:

  • Make your text clear and concise, and put the important information as high up in your pages as possible so that people can find it quickly.
  • Don't overload the user with too many links: categorise your pages and link accordingly.
  • Make people trust you. Include an "About Us" page and if possible, a bricks & mortar address. See this article on Web Credibility for more details

How will people find it?

This is another thing which you should start thinking about as soon as possible. If you have a large-ish advertising budget then you have nothing to worry about. However, if you want people to be able to find you via free search engine listings, your site will perform better if it has (among other things):

  • a clear link structure - each main category page should link to all the other main pages and each page within a category should link to other pages within the category.
  • links in HTML (i.e. no frames, no graphical buttons, and no flashy javascript navigation bar)
  • minimal HTML styling (this will constrain what you can do with the design, and it is better to hand-code pages rather than use an editor such as Dreamweaver. All of our websites are hand-coded.)
  • lots of good content. If you sell paintbrushes, write some articles about which type is best for what. If you sell property, write some articles about the areas you sell in.

Do you want the site to be accessible to all?

Internet users come in many shapes and sizes, and not all of them can view all websites. In particular, some users may find small text hard to read - you don't need to make all of your text large, but you should make sure the text is not coded in a way that will make it impossible for users to increase the text size via their browser settings. You may also want to consider text-only browser users (including blind internet users) - to cater for these users you need to make sure that all information is available as text in some form. For example, the name of your company should be clearly written somewhere on the page rather than just in a logo.

It's essential that your new web site will display well on the wide variety of devices used by your visitors, from small smartphone and tablet screens, to huge desktop monitors; and also that your site will function well using both mouse and touchcreen. This brings significant benefits beyond simply ensuring your visitors enjoy the experience of using your site, for example Google consider mobile support to be essesntial and store metrics based on what they find when scanning your site.

Do you want a product search feature?

There are various ways to create a search feature, but in general the easiest and best way to allow people to search your products is to have a product database. You need to think very carefully about how to categorise your products and how people will search for them. For example, in a property website, do you want people to be able to search by price and area alone, or do you want to give them more options (number of bedrooms, distance from the town centre, nearest school etc).

Do you want to be able to update the site yourself?

If you decide to go for a product database, then it goes without saying that you will want a secure online "admin suite" where you can update your products. But even if you don't have that, you may want to be able to update certain sections of the site yourself. For example, you could have a "latest news" page, which you could update easily whenever you want. Or you might want a database-driven links section in which you could create new categories and add new links.

Many modern website owners want the ability to edit all of the content of their website themselves, including blog/news articles and even the design template of the site. Such sites require a Content Management System (CMS), with off-the-shelf solutions available such as Google Sites or Wordpress. Almost all our recent projects are based on our own powerful bespoke E-CMS solution, which allows us to easilly extend and customise the system to suit your business needs.