Taking your business online? Start with a blank sheet!

by Donal O Nuallain
07 Mar 2017
1 minutes to read

When you’re building a new website or planning an upgrade to your existing website, there are some key steps you need to take to ensure you are building an effective, user-friendly online presence for your company.

Let’s take a look at the steps involved in planning your website.

Decide the purpose of your website

What are you trying to sell – is it a product or service?  This will determine the type, style and layout of your website.

If you are selling physical products online, a gallery area will be needed to display the products so strong and professional imagery will be a key component of your website.  The layout should draw people towards the purchasing area of the site. You will need to consider the shopping cart options, payment systems and fulfillment.  Customer service is important here, for example, if customers need to contact you to follow up on an order or enquire about a particular item.  Ensure social media and email/phone contact details are easily found.

If you are offering professional services, for example, a solicitor or accountancy practice, there needs to be a greater emphasis on written content – proof points for your service such as client testimonials.  Giving potential customers the opportunity to find out more, and contact you is essential, so contact details will need to be displayed prominently.

Think about your online customers

It all starts with your audience – what is your target market, who is your target customer and what you are trying to communicate to them?  Think about who will visit and use your website. If you already have a bricks and mortar business, have you asked your customer what they would value by dealing with you online e.g. click and collect; pre-ordering; making appointments online etc.  What is the most important information they need to know?  Think about how you can make this information easy to find.  If you are selling, think about your most popular products and how they can be presented attractively to potential purchasers.  This process is sometimes referred to as a Needs Analysis and is very useful in setting out the basic requirements of your website. Once completed, it will give you the foundation on which to design and build your website.

Research competitors

A great way of getting ahead of the game is to look at the competition – not only in Ireland but internationally.  Is there anything that you think is particularly effective about their website design? Are there aspects that don’t apply to your business, or ways in which you could improve and stand out in your category?

Go beyond your competitors and look at best-in-class websites, such as asos.com and amazon.com and research how they set out the journey from the homepage through to product lines and purchasing points.  Look also at their data capture points – when do they ask for email addresses? How do they learn more about their customers?

All of this research will help you pinpoint the style you want for your website.

Domain name

If it is a new website, choose a domain name that reflects your brand and is memorable for your customers.  Many customers find short domain names easier to remember, and you’ll find plenty of other tips here in choosing one that will work for you. Also, don’t forget to set up a business email address that matches your domain name to add a level of professionalism to your communications with customers. Even simple ones like hello@yourbusiness.ie or similar can help to build trust with your customers.

Wireframe design

The next stage in the process involves setting out the layout of your website.  Think of the wireframes as the foundations of the house.  At this point, it is about the flow, form and structure of the website.  Recent trends are for uncluttered, responsive design, where imagery and visuals are dominant.  Customers are looking for a website that is easy to navigate and not weighed down with too many downloads or too much text content.

Think about what journey you want your users to take so they can easily access the content they need.   Lay out how the website flows from the homepage into other sections, what options should be included in the top navigation bar and how many calls to actions are put on each page.

Getting the wireframes right makes it easier for you, or a web developer, to start developing the site.   There are plenty of design tools available to help you with this process.  For Mac users, www.sketch.com  is a good option, and for Microsoft users, try out tools like www.balsamiq.com.

Content inventory

Once the foundations are in place, it’s time to kit out the website.  Web content can include text, images, documents and applications.  A really useful way of pulling all of this together is to use a spreadsheet, which is also called a content inventory.  This sets out an itemised list of all the content on your site, along with a description and title tags.

Some tips for content include keeping your sentences short, use bulleted lists and allow plenty of space.  Graphics and visuals can be very powerful, so try to include these where possible. Websites such as www.pixabay.com have large libraries of free images and www.canva.com is a great tool that enables you to edit and work with images.

Branding and design

The final step in the design process is where you apply your unique brand to the website.  As well as the logo, font type and brand colours, it should follow your chosen communication style in the tone and style of language.  Every page should be consistently branded and this should all tie in with your other communication channels such as social media, email sign-offs and all offline printed materials. It’s useful to include your phone and email contact details on every page to make it easier for your customer – it’s surprising how many websites overlook this.

A well thought-out website will mean that you give your users a positive online experience and ultimately encourage repeat visitors.

Read our other guides to what a website can do for your business and how to set-up your online store to find out more about starting your online journey.