Three questions to ask before you call your web designer

So you’ve decided to create a new Web site, or renovate your existing one. We all know that in Internet time, the best time to launch a new project is always last week, so it’s very tempting to plunge straight in, call your web designer, and fix up a meeting. But stop and reflect before you grab that phone. Here are three questions you should ask yourself first, whether you are creating the site yourself or paying a professional to do it for you. In the long run you’ll save yourself both time and money.

What is the site for?

Yes, this sounds like a dumb question. But you must have visited websites where even after viewing three or four pages, you couldn’t work out what the point was! If you aren’t clear about your goals, your visitors won’t be either. So the very first thing you should do is to define the purpose of your site. Try to distil out the essence of your site into a single short paragraph — or even a single sentence. If you can’t do this, your site will lack focus. For example, “The goal of this site is to generate leads for Product X”. Of course the site may have other, subsidiary objectives — if that’s the case note these down too, so that you can take them into account during the design process.

Who are you trying to reach?

Now you know what your site is for, imagine the people who will use it. Try to get inside their heads — how old are they? Are they male or female? What are their interests? What other sites do they visit? What do they want from you? Some people find it helpful to invent characters representing different types of visitor, and picture them using the site.

If you are revamping an existing site you already have some very valuable information about your customers in your server log files. Use a log analysis package to identify which are the most and least popular pages or sections of your site. The terms people entered into search engines to find you are a good indicator of their interests. And looking at the paths people take through your site can often indicate where navigation is confusing, or suggest areas that could be expanded.

Whatever the overall goal of your site, remember it must please the end users if it is to succeed — look at it from their point of view, and try to provide information and services of value to them.

How will you know you have succeeded?

It’s easy to say “The goal of my site is to sell more widgets”. Or “We want to increase page views and hence advertising revenue.” But how will you know when you have achieved your goal? Try to come up with some specific, measurable objectives related to your primary goal. For example, “We expect the new website to increase sales of widgets by 30% in the first 6 months”. This is important for at least two reasons:

  • It gives you a specific target to aim for. If everyone working on the project keeps this target in mind, it will focus their efforts on the tasks that need to be done to achieve it. And with proper planning, you can evaluate how the designer’s proposals will advance your goals. If that cool 500K Flash movie on the home page doesn’t contribute to a specific objective, then dump it!
  • It gives you something to measure results against. If after 6 months sales have only increased by 10%, what went wrong? Were your objectives realistic? What could you have done differently? Of course if sales increase by 60%, you can give yourself a well-earned pat on the back!

It needn’t take a long time to come up with answers to these questions. Doing this preliminary groundwork will help your web designer come up with an appropriate solution, and save you expensive consultancy time. And while this approach doesn’t guarantee success, it will greatly improve your chances of building a website that works.

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