Checklist for planning your new website

Summer is coming and you’re determined to get your new website live by the end of August. You might be wondering where to begin. Do you start Googling web designers in your area? Do you ask a friend who had his done recently? Or do you ask your neighbour’s daughter who is a “tech whiz” to do a site for you?

Answer? None of the above!

Preparing for a new website actually starts with you and you will save time and money if you do the necessary prep-work before ringing around looking for quotes or trying to fill out the Online Trading Voucher application from your LEO.

Here is a list of steps I recommend you take before lifting the phone or Googling “local web designer”:

  1. Prepare your content.

    By this I mean, think about what is going to be on your website. Is it a portfolio site to exhibit your photography or art works? If so, which works are you going to publish online? Or is the site going to explain your business and services? In which case, what do you want to say about your business so that you can achieve your goals? Do you want people to be able to contact you? Are you going to present yourself? Do you have products to sell and if so, have you got your product descriptions ready?

    It is very important to start working out what content will go on your site and where you think it might go. Your web designer will be able to advise you on layout, structure and the best User Interface Design - I do anyway - but you must have prepared your copy before you start working with your designer. Otherwise it is very difficult for them to design the site according to your needs and those of your site visitors.

    You may have content from an existing site, which is great. Don’t forget that blogs can be exported and imported into new sites, without having to re-type them. If you need help with copywriting, there are professionals available to help with that. Keyword research is whole other area of expertise, which I cover in another blog post.

  2. Testimonials

    While thinking of content, ask some of your clients, members or attendees (if you organise events) to provide you with a testimonial that you can include on your site. Testimonials are a great way to add credibility to your organisation and activities.

  3. Calls to Action

    For every page on your site, think about what action you want your site visitors to take once they have browsed the page. Do you want them to call you, email you, download a document, click on a link to another page on your site, leave your site, buy something? This is crucial to guiding your site visitors to where you want them to go or what you want them to do. Think about this for every page on your site. Even your 404 Error/Missing link page!

  4. Prepare your imagery

    This can be the biggest challenge for a lot of businesses and organisations looking to build a website. Ideally you have your own professional photography which is part of your overall brand guidelines. This really makes you stand out from your competitors in the marketplace. If you are a creative, using images of your work will also make your site more unique.

    Note: don’t worry about file sizes etc for your images. Your web designer will resize all images, if necessary, for the web.

    Prepare also your brand guidelines for your web-designer: your brand’s colour palette, typography, patterns and any other elements of your brand identity. By having these ready for your web designer, you can be sure your site will reflect your brand and your organisation’s values.

    If you do not have brand guidelines, it would be advisable to ask your web designer (if they do branding) or a graphic designer to help you with your branding.

  5. Think about functionalities

    Before you call your web designer, think about which functionalities you will need on your site. For example, will you be selling anything online? Will you be offering a free opt-in to site visitors? Will you need a scheduling tool for clients to book meetings with you via your website? Will you need password-protected pages or a Member Area? Will you have a newsletter sign-up form and where will that go? To MailChimp, Convertkit or a Google Sheets doc? Do you want your site to be connected to Google Analytics (this is a given, usually)? Do you want links to your social media accounts?

    Think about everything you would like your website to enable you to do - it can probably manage more of your business activities than you think. By having thought this through in advance, your web designer can design the best User Experience for your site visitors.

  6. Start a Pinterest Inspiration Board

    Your web designer will have super creative ideas for how your website will look, but you probably have your own ideas about what sort of look and feel you would like your site to have. It’s a great idea to start a Pinterest inspiration board where you can pin images of other sites, themes and designs that you might like to have on your site. This will be really helpful to your designer, to guide him or her in his/her design process. I always give my clients a short questionnaire to complete, with a section for “inspiring websites”, where my clients put the url of sites they like and a paragraph of texting explaining what it is they like about it.

  7. Think about your budget!

    I often get clients asking me ‘how much is a website?’ It’s a bit like asking a builder how much it costs to build a house. It all depends on your requirements - which is why it is good to go through the planning steps above. Also think about the value your website will bring to your business or organisation. Too often business owners baulk at the cost of their website, but they forget to take into consideration the return on their investment, in terms of exposure, professional image, lead generation etc.

  8. Allocate time in your diary

    Time to prepare your content, but then also time to review and discuss with your designer. Most web designers work with their clients within a certain timeframe, to avoid projects dragging on and on. You will be in regular contact with your designer during this period - so it is important to allocate time in your diary for the web design process. You will be asked for input, feedback and sometimes you will need to take concrete action on the site itself to get it live. For example, I build my clients sites using Squarespace, which involves an annual payment to Squarespace for the use of their Content Management System (which hosts and displays your site). I ask my clients to enter their own credit card details on the system to pay this annual subscription, so that I don’t have to handle their credit card details. If my client is not available to do this, then the site cannot go live. So, please allow some time for your input into the web design. It is a collaborative - and fun - process between you and your designer.

  9. Training and Maintenance

    I pride myself on building websites on a CMS that is easy to use for anyone with an interest in web-based technology. Many of my clients manage their own sites, once they have been trained by me on how to use the system. But some clients prefer to pay me an annual fee to make their updates and site changes. It just depends on who is available and the regularity of the site updates. Think about what you think would suit you best, once the site is live. Asking your designer to maintain the site in return for a monthly fee will certainly save you time and a bit of a learning curve. But then maybe you relish the opportunity to take control of your site as your business moves forward and you learn more about the power of your new online presence.

  10. Have Fun!

    Planning and creating a new website for your business is really exciting! It’s creative, inspiring and collaborative process. It is important you like your designer :) Trust and good communication is key, but so it is the ability to enjoy the process. I get such a kick out of a new site going live! It’s the birth of something beautiful, new and important; it will grow as your business or organisation grows and prospers and should be the bedrock of all your marketing and sales activities in this new digital age!