This guide will show you the steps you should go through before, during, and after your website project. This is by no means a complete account, as I will try to be as industry-nonspecific as possible. Using these steps in your planning process will help to ensure your success online! Step 1 - Why Before you do anything, you'd better know why you need to be online. Are you planning a full e-commerce endeavor or just an online advertising brochure? The answer to this will determine the entire scope of your project and should be considered carefully. If you decide now and change your mind later, you'll have to begin the whole planning process again. Be informed and know what you plan to do.
Step 2 - Outline Now that you know why you're going online, you should begin a general outline and begin brainstorming ideas amongst your partners and affiliates. Set down a rough estimate of the number of pages the site will have, decide the basic style you'd like to achieve, and list every idea you have for the site (outlandish or ordinary). Step 3 - Rough Draft Take the list you created in Step 2 and refine it. Mark each item as being "necessary", "valuable", or as a "perk". If you don't know how an item qualifies, it's not "necessary" and therefore is one of the other two. Only items that you MUST have for the site to exist should be listed as necessary.
Items such as "logo", "brochure content," "contact info," etc. are considered "necessary." Items such as "email form," "graphical interface," and "product catalog" are "valuable." "Flash animation," "automated link-through-systems," and "really cool graphics" are "perks." Create three new lists, one for each category: necessary, valuable and perk. On a sticky note, write your proposed budget for this endeavor and paste it to the "necessary" list.
Now you have the basics and are ready to begin contacting designers. Step 4 - Begin Shopping If you have a small budget, your list of necessary items is fairly small, and you do not see anything on your list which appears complicated or unusual for a website, then just about any good and reputable designer will suffice. In this case, you should shop by price and service instead of portfolio and pizzazz.
If, however, you have a large budget, a complex list of items to accomplish, and you need experience over price, then you'd be better off looking for a large firm of designers who specialize in your type of site or market. In either case, you should ask up front (on the phone or in your first meeting) if they'll supply a rough site map and/or set of mockup designs for your proposed site. Usually a designer is more than happy to excite you with nifty pictures of your site-to-be. You need this, as this will give you an idea of where the designer wants to go with your site. If it isn't where you want to be, then you'd better get it clear now before you've written a single check for the designer's service! The sticky note with your budget figure is your guide to not going overboard. Know what you can afford and what you really need.
It's easy to go crazy with all of the nifty options and cool widgets, but ask yourself if they're necessary. If they are a good addition or perk, make a note of it. You may use it later during the website's long-term development. Step 5 - Domain Names Choosing a domain name is a very important step in getting yourself online. A domain name to your online presence is as important as a name for your business was when you first began.
Careful consideration and a lot of thought should be given to your choice of domain. www.yourbusiness.com is a good start. Go to http://www.
register.com or any other domain registration site that offers "whois" service (most of them do) and put in your desired domain name. Don't register it yet if it's available, just check. Many of these services also include a list of "suggested alternatives." Look through them; sometimes something you hadn't considered will pop up! Start a list of domain names you think would be appropriate.
Once you have six or eight of them, show them to your spouse, your friends, or anyone else who can give you a fresh perspective. Narrow the list down to two or three names. Mark them 1 (most wanted), 2 (next) and 3 (last).
Go online and find a good registrar. You should not pay more than $15 per year for the registration of a com, net or org name. If a service charges more than this, go somewhere else. I recommend www.IsThisDomainTaken.com, but you can use whom you'd like.
Register your domain. I suggest a year to get started. If you're still around this time next year, then go for a longer period. No use spending more than you have to right away! Step 6 - Initial Designs Unless your site is very simple and you were extremely prepared in the beginning (probably having done this before), you will have to have your site built in stages. Each stage should be thoroughly considered for every aspect of the site thus far. Check the navigability, the color scheme, the general look and feel, will it sell product or get customers interested, etc.
Be sure to spend a lot of time with your designer to discuss these attributes and what you like and dislike. Print the pages of the site out (at least the main page for each section, if it's large) and write and sketch on them to show changes to graphics, text, and whatever else. Write up a detailed list of changes you'd like to see made and present that to your designer.
Your designer will not be resentful of this-- don't worry about stepping on toes. This only makes his or her job easier! No matter how small, every site has at least three design stages: mockup, rough draft, and the final version. Each stage allows changes to be made (even the final one)! Don't let a designer fool you into thinking that you only get to change a site so many times. Until you're happy, the site isn't done no matter what they say. On the flip side of the coin, however, don't be nit-picky or wishy-washy. Know what you want and point it out the first time.
Don't change your mind halfway through and force the designer to scrap the whole thing. Likely, if the designer is smart, he or she will refund your deposit (minus a fee for time spent) and bid you farewell. Designers know that a wishy-washy client will never be happy and will do nothing but lose them money.
As a professional, a designer has better things to do with his or her time than waste it on a never-happy client. During this process, you should be considering the customer's point of view while visiting your soon-to-be-launched website. Will your customer want to come back? Will they be disappointed? What will they be expecting when they first type in that URL or click on that link? Your site needs a "draw" or a reason for being. Interesting content, prizes or coupons, and other items are good "draws." Content is best (a tutorial perhaps, or a continually changing tour of your factory?something) as it gives users a reason to show their friends, stay interested, and come back to double-check information they saw.
Step 7 - Begin Marketing The marketing of your site should begin as soon as you have an idea when it will be complete. When a finish date is set in concrete, then your marketing should begin in earnest. Change all of your printed materials, business cards, letterhead, phone listings, etc. to include your new domain name (URL).
Your company's new presence (www.yourcompany.com) should be as important as having your phone number listed. Consider giveaways or other interest-grabbers (freebies are always popular) and use them as a tool to launch your site (see Step 6 above). Promise a lottery, prize, coupons, or anything else that can only be had by visiting the website and entering the contest/printing the coupon.
Whatever this "getter" is, make sure it's good enough that people will be interested. Once they're on the site, they should have a reason to stay (see initial designs, Step 6). Step 8 - Hosting Now that your site is nearly complete, you'd better find a place to put it! Your choice is web host is very important to the long-term success of your site. You need to make sure of several things before you hand out any money for this service: 1) is the host reliable? 2) will this host be around next year?the year after? 3) how much are they charging? 4) what are the limitations of their service (bandwidth, email accounts, etc.
)? 5) will this host be flexible enough to keep up with the increasing demand of your site as it grows? 6) does the host offer several plans that can be easily upgraded to facilitate growth? 7) how quickly do they respond for customer service via email or the telephone? All of these questions are very important. In the past, before I began hosting my own sites and customers, I would find a lot of competition and narrow it down to one provider using only questions 5-7. Finding a flexible host who also offers great customer service is difficult to find.
Generally, if you send an email to your final prospects (after having narrowed the list using questions 1-4), the one who answers first is most likely your best bet. The one who takes longer than 24 hours to respond (including weekends!) should be removed from your list. At this point, you should have no more than one or two prospects. If you have more than one, the final question to ask is "who has the best facility, best hardware, and offers the best technical support?" Check their website or ask them via email what type of facility they are in, how many connections their server has to the outside world, and where the hosting company is located. If you are in the US and your prospective host is offshore, consider whether you want to take this risk.
Remember: other countries have different laws and you may not be protected from data theft or other potential problems. As a rule, two outside connections for a server or rack is the bare minimum. The more the merrier here! What kind of machine would they be hosting you on? Check the library or another source of up-to-date magazines and find out what the newest technologies are. Chances are you can take the names of the hardware (RAQ 4 for instance) and guess that a RAQ 3 was the last generation of that machine. The newer the better! The technical support should be equivalent to the server and the facility: more is better! Step 9 - Site Launch! Now that your website is complete and you have a host and domain name, you're ready to launch! If all of this happens earlier than your expected or announced date (which it should if all is well), then DO NOT launch your site before the announced time.
If you do it too early, you might give the impression that you're over-eager and desperate. Worse, people may believe that you pad all of your estimated dates too heavily and will have less trust in you. Keep in mind, though, that one day early is a far cry from a month early. A day will not hurt, a month could kill. Stick to your plan and don't jump ahead of yourself. Use the extra time to keep hyping your new release.
Use screenshots or video captures of the now-finished site to enhance the anticipation. When the time comes, fire away! Step 10 - Maintenance Once your site is open to the world, you will begin to deal with the day-to-day items of owning a website. Keeping your site up-to-date and well maintained requires time and effort. Eventually it will become a regular routine and only the details will be different each time.
It may sound mundane, but if done right, you will never lose interest in your website. You may need to contract a professional (generally the developer who created your site to begin with) to do your technical updates for you. Or you may wish to keep these updates yourself and learn a little about how a website is built from the inside out. Most likely, you'll hire a professional: and be smart to. Contracts can vary in scope and price.
Find the one that fits your needs best and use it. Always take full advantage of what you're being given in a contract. If it's a by-the-hour list (say four hours per month), then utilize all of that time the developer is giving you. Have your marketing department (or whoever fills this role) create new and interesting things to update the site with. Include changing information, tutorials, new features, and other enhancements.
Keep the site's focus at the forefront of your ideas, but continue to update and change things. If you create a site and leave it the way it is, changing it yearly or less, your visitor count will begin to drop, as people get wise to your lack of attendance. You change your other marketing regularly to keep them fresh, right? Do that with your website too! The advantage here is that a website is generally cheaper than another form of mass-media advertising, so changes can take place a lot more often. Step 11 - New Looks In general, a website should be completely re-vamped to receive an entirely new look or design at least once a year. This helps to keep the content fresh and forces your users to take notice once more.
Making an anniversary of it can be an added bonus with plenty of hype and circumstance to build it up feverishly. When a company moves into a new building, they usually make a big deal of the event. Why not with your website too? Several months before you wish to change, consult with your original designer or maintenance provider. Get a tentative quote on the time frame and cost of these changes. Step 12 - Success! By the time you're ready for Step 11, you should have an idea of how successful your site has become and projections of how successful it will be if it keeps to its current path.
Like most businesses, a website should start out small and become larger and larger as time passes. It should also become more and more popular. After the first year, begin to make more long-term goals and at minimum a yearly prospectus for your site.
Goals reaching out as far as three years are not outlandish, but make sure they're flexible enough (and are reviewed for relevancy enough) that they can be altered to meet new challenges or changing viewpoint. Your yearly prospectus should match your first year's goals in scope. If your goal is to have a certain number of visitors per week six months from now, then your prospectus should show how this is going to happen (and whether, realistically, it really can happen).
Above all, keep your focus! Know where you want to be, why you want to be there, and how it's going to happen. Your website and your business should share common threads throughout--including their goals. Keep on track and you'll have nothing but success!.
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