Online Presence

A common mistake people make when they decide to create a Web site is that they jump in to the design process too soon. That can cause problems down the road. For example, if you plan to work with a designer, you need to be able to clearly communicate your needs and goals. Not doing so may cause you to have to pay for rework when the design doesn't really meet your needs. But in order to communicate your needs clearly, you have to have spent some time considering how you plan to conduct business online.

Here are 10 steps to take before you build your Web site to help you avoid such dilemmas:

1. Think about your primary objectives for the site and write them down. Do you want it to be a showcase for your products? Do you want to provide online customer service? What are you trying to achieve with your site? What is its purpose? These answers will drive decisions about the site's navigation and functionality.

2. Conduct a competitive analysis. Look to see what others in your industry are doing. What are they offering customers? Equally important, what are they not offering online? How can you differentiate yourself from what they are doing? What keywords are they using in their marketing? Which sites rank higher in the various search engine results? When you do thorough research, you will have greater insight into what you can do to succeed.

3. Gather the artifacts you will need for the site. This may include your logo, business description, and mission statement

4. Create a domain name, preferably one that relates to your business and describes what you do. Take time to create the domain name, it is an important element of your branding efforts and factors into how customers will find you.

5. Decide how visitors will get in touch with you. Do you need a toll-free phone number? Will you have people get in touch through a contact form on the site? Do you need a special email address and mailbox for those forms?

6. Decide on a color scheme and design preferences that will work well with your logo. (You will want to be sure to keep the colors consistent throughout the site.)

7. Pull together your graphics (ideally graphics or photos in a jpeg format which is easiest to resize so they will load faster on a page.) Make sure that each graphic you want to use has a text tag (Alt Tag) that describes that image so that the search engine spiders can find it.

8. Gather your content. This can be a big job. But at a minimum, you should outline the content areas you will feature on your site. Some aspects to consider including:

  • About Us-what your business is, what you do, and where you are located.
  • Newsletters-if you publish a printed newsletter, gather them in electronic format so you can post them on your site.
  • Calendar of events-this can be especially useful if you are a retailer with a schedule of promotional events.
  • Customer Testimonials-be sure to gain permission from your customers which allows you to use them on your site.
  • Copyrights and permissions for all content and images. You cannot simply copy and paste content or images from other sites, even if it is a manufacturer's site for products you sell. You MUST gain permission to use them.
  • Error page-in the event a broken link exists, this type of page can help direct users back to your home page so they don't get stranded or abandon your site.

9. Address the ecommerce aspects of your site. Decide which products you will sell and how many products to offer. Create product categories and unique descriptions for each product or product line. This information will enable you to evaluate various shopping cart features and decide which package will support you best.

10. Once you have all the items together, build a flowchart to map out all of the pages and how they link to each other. With this information, you can now select a hosting package. (You really can't know what you need in terms of hosting services until you have items assembled and flowchart created.)

With all of these materials-and your thoughts-organized, you are now prepared to meet with a Web designer to kick-off the design process. Or, if you will design the Web site yourself, you can now feel confident that you have the details you need to build a Web site that not only meets your business needs but, most important, meets the needs of site visitors.

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