Developing the Perfect Web Site

Five years ago it was nice but not mandatory for owners of small to mid-size businesses to have a web site in order successfully market their company. Unless e-commerce was a potential source of revenue, you could choose if and when to join the Internet set. That is no longer true.

Today businesses of all sizes, including independent consultants, find it nearly impossible to remain competitive without a presence on the web. Potential clients ask for your web site address because it gives them a non-invasive way to learn more about you and your business. A well-designed and developed web site offers more than just products and services, it can be a great starting point to building your brand and developing a relationship with potential clients by giving insight into the organization, its core values and its personality. It’s not an issue of when to start on your web site, you already know that you need one now. The problem is how to get started.

Here are four steps that will help you evaluate what you need. Consider each before you begin interviewing web designers; professional marketing and design groups should ask you these same issues and offer to help you work through the process. If they don’t, if they go first to a package price, buyer beware. Your web site may not reflect your company brand and might not give your customers what they need from your site.

Step 1: Know how a web site will support your marketing plan
Put into writing your thoughts on company philosophy, all marketing efforts being used and other aspects of your company’s brand. Evaluate the image you currently are projecting and how it compares to your competitors. If you have a written marketing plan, share that with your designer. Know who the main user of your site will be and understand their web viewing needs.

Web sites should offer business solutions, so knowing where you are and where you want to go are critical to developing a successful site that supports your brand. Understanding your customers or the end user of your site and their expectations will determine key factors like color, style and font, images used, technology supported. Building a complex site for a lo-tech end user is a misuse of assets. Conversely you won’t be able to compete against hi-end sites if yours fails to perform at a similar level. Talk all of this through with your web and marketing teams.

Step 2: Determine your site’s value
Ranges are fine, but establish a value for the site. Notice I said value and not price—how important to your business will this web site become? Based on the research you did in Step 1, you can make a sound decision on the value your site will give to your customers and how it may directly affect sales results. This allows you to determine an appropriate investment levels so you can better evaluate the estimates you will be given for web development.

Step 3: Envision your web site at its best
Consider what your ultimate dream machine web site would look like and how it would operate. Evaluate all kinds of sites not just those of competitors; look for images, ease of use, content. Bring likes and dislikes to your design team. Decide if your site will be used to drive retail sales now or in the future and the designers can help determine how that might be accomplished.

By discussing where you want to be, a web designer can build your first site with long-range goals in mind. A costly mistake many people make is buying the least expensive package, using a templated and sometimes restricted design or getting the bare minimum site available. Usually those sites cannot be easily adapted and in order to grow the site you have to start fresh.

Step 4: Build each web page on paper first
I like to work with clients to think through, and put on paper, how every web page will work—content, function, navigation, images, links, databases. This allows us to estimate the cost of the site and it helps clients choose between must-haves, good-to-haves and great but not necessary pages and accessories. This is where you can really start to see the site developing.

Now it’s time to design
Using all the information gathered, your web design team will begin to create visual elements, write copy and formulate the form and function of your site. The look of your site, all the visual elements that will make it distinctly yours, begin now. Your research and time spent meeting with the design team will help give you the web site that effectively communicates with your customers, offers business solutions and supports your brand. The perfect web site!