Knowing what you want is the only way to find out what you need. So before you begin thinking about the practical aspects of creating a website, there are some important fundamental questions you need to ask yourself first, such as: what do you want to achieve with the website, who is the target group, how do you best communicate with that group, what information should be included, how should that information be structured, etc.
The fact is, the better you have planned and prepared, the easier it is to make wise decisions about technological and design issues, such as choosing the best navigational path through your website or choosing the right hosting package. And if you involve professional website developers, you can save a lot of time (and money) by having everything ready for them.
First, you need to identify the main goals of your website and the strategy that can best achieve those goals. For instance, you can start with the following questions:
- What do you hope to achieve?
- Who is your target group?
- What category, if any, does your website fall under: e-trade, information, education, social networks, etc.?
- How visually eye-catching does the website need to be in order to be effective?
- What tone do you want your content to have – e.g. serious, funny, complex or simple?
- Do you want to sell something?
- Are there any conventions or practices the website should follow?
- What overall image of your company or organisation do you wish to portray?
- What media are best suited to convey the information; are audio or live images needed, for instance?
Website content and structure
After establishing the basic goals for your website, you now need to consider what content (text, images, etc.) needs to be organised and structured. These considerations will naturally at some point have to take account of the types of web technology you want to use. But to begin with, it is a good idea to try to find websites with the same goals as yours, to see how they have designed and organised their content. What have they done well and what can be improved?
Probably the most important aspect of the website’s construction is how you divide the content into logical sections (main areas, pages, headers, subareas, etc.). As a general rule, your message should be short and simple. That is one reason why you need to create a clear hierarchy for the website and divide the content into smaller units. It is a good idea to make a graphic overview of the webpage. That can help you visualise a logical hierarchy and see how easy the information is to access. It will also help others to understand how your website is structured.
Navigation and user-friendliness
A modern website can contain a wide spectrum of functionality. Just think of Facebook, Google Maps and YouTube. As the complexity of the website increases, so too does the importance of user-friendliness. In other words, it calls for greater attention to how easy the website is to use. An important aspect of user-friendliness is that users can find what they are looking for – fast. Logical, practical and sensible navigation is critical for the success of your website.
Therefore, it must allow clear and consistent navigation and should include search tools if you have a large website with fora, blogs etc. Avoid at all costs having visitors think: “Okay, so what do I do now?” On each page, you should use ample headers, sub-headers, lists, bullet points, short sections, etc. And include plenty of context-based links (links in the text) to other pages on your website.
Write for the Internet
Remember that the Internet is different from other (e.g. printed) media. The different underlying pages should stand alone to the extent possible, as users do not necessarily read the website from end to end, as they might with a printed brochure. And, generally, people are more impatient when reading online! That is why one of the important parts of writing for the Internet is breaking down texts in to smaller, more palatable morsels. Also remember to consider using other presentation media – illustrations, pictures, animation, audio or video. If there are long, compact texts that you need to have on your website, give the user the opportunity to download a printer-friendly version of the documents (PDF, DOC, RTF).
Write for search engines
Another important consideration when writing for the Internet concerns, first and foremost, your site’s homepage. The homepage is the entrance to your website – the page that displays automatically when people visit. This page is important because it can be used to help people who are trying to find your website using search engines. Search engines namely use the content of your homepage to determine what your website is about and use this information to match it with search words. Therefore, it is worth considering what search words are typically used by a person trying to find a website that looks like yours – and making sure to use those words in the text of your homepage.
Design and technological considerations
The overall expression of your website is extremely important. Before they read a single line, your visitors form an impression about your company based on how they interpret the visual aspects of your website design – colours, shapes, density, hardness, softness, movement, calm, noise, images, etc. Note that the design considerations come into the picture only now; the content and structure considerations always come first, because you cannot design until you know what it is you are designing.
When structuring and designing your website, you will need to consider how you will maintain it. Depending on the type of website, it may be necessary to update it daily – and under no circumstances should you think that you never or almost never need to update. You do! A website should have a structure that reflects the level of expertise of the person responsible for maintenance. If you use a website specialist, make sure that he or she knows your maintenance strategy, so it is taken into account. You should also consider safeguarding the future of your website by making sure that you incorporate opportunities for expansion. You will not want to rebuild your website from scratch every time you get a new idea.