A website is an essential part of any company marketing tool set. If you want to look credible and established in this day and age, a website is a must have, rather than simply a nice bolt on. But if you’ve never had to design a website before, how can you ensure your web project gets going on the right footing? After all, there’s a confusing array of options and you can easily get this wrong, wasting lots of time and money.
Before you get going on your web design project, here are the 10 essential questions you should ask yourself in order to write a good brief. Hiring a web design company is the same as hiring any professional designer, the better the brief you create, the more likely you are to get a finished product you are happy with.
1. What specific objectives do you have for your site? Do you want to sell products, generate sales leads, or simply create an online presence for your business and brand?
It is essential that you know exactly what you want to achieve with your site. The difference in functionality, design and cost between a brochure site and an e-commerce site can be enormous. Think carefully about what your objectives are and how you will measure whether your website meets these goals. Your design agency will need your brief to be clear on this.
Tip: think long term. Will your objectives change in the future? If so you might want to build some flexibility into your site.
2. Do your objectives for the website link to your overall business and marketing plan? i.e. will a website support your business goals?
Any marketing programme needs to be linked to your business goals in order to be worthwhile. This may seem like an obvious point, but it’s surprising how many people jump into building a website, without understanding the wider context or opportunities available to the business.
If you haven’t written a business plan or marketing plan yet, then I strongly recommend doing this first. Putting your ideas on paper and spelling out how everything will work (from banking, to premises, marketing, insurance and more) will help you to decide how important your website is to your broader business activity. It will also help you to create a realistic budget for your project.
Tip: Try to keep your business objectives SMART – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time bound.
3. Have you reviewed the websites you like and dislike and listed the reasons why?
The best place to look for inspiration in web design is obviously the internet. There are millions upon millions of sites online, with many more being added each and every day. If you take the time to look closely you will easily be able to pick out the styles and functionality you like and importantly, what you don’t like. These ideas should form part of the brief you deliver to your design agency.
Which sites should you look at?
The first step is to look at your main competitors and to critique their sites. Next, look at the broader industry / profession in which you operate and finally inspirational websites. Far example, if you’re an architects practice, look at other architects first, then consider design or construction company sites, before a general trawl of the internet.
Tip: Try to keep in mind that you’re only looking for ideas and not a template to copy.
4. Do you know what content you want to include on your site?
You need to think about both the text and images you want on your website. Not only what you want to include, but how you will create it. For example, do you have photos and images already, or will you need to take some new photos, or write some text. Will you need a professional copy writer to help put this together, or edit your writing?
Also have a think about whether you want to change and update your content regularly, or if it will remain fairly static? If you want to be flexible then you’ll need a content management system (CMS) running at the back end of your site. These range in price from cheap to vastly expensive, depending on the degree of complexity involved with your site. There are also some open source (i.e. free) CMS programmes, but your designer will need to set them up to work on your site.
Tip: Think carefully here as the content and the way it is managed will have a dramatic impact on the cost of building and maintaining your website.
5. How will you manage the site once it has been launched?
Building your site is only the first step in successful website marketing. Once launched, you’ll need to maintain it to get the most value for your outlay. You should think about content updates, hosting, domain name registration, security updates, managing interactions with browsers (blogs, contact forms, forums) and more.
Do you have the skills and time internally to manage this, or will your web design agency be responsible? IF so what ongoing charges will be incurred? If you are going to manage this in-house, do you need to train up a member of staff? If so what costs are associated with this? Can your design agency train your staff, or will they provide a maintenance pack / instruction manual to help?
Tip: Choose your web design company carefully if you need ongoing support. If you choose a cheap, small agency, they may not have the capacity to provide ongoing support.
6. How do you want to interact with your browsers / readers?
There are various options for interacting with your readers, from simple email contact forms, to blogs and forums. Each comes with its own pros and cons. For example, a blog is interactive and great for gaining traction in the search engines; however it needs to be updated regularly with relevant content if you are to look professional. A simple contact form is the easiest and lowest maintenance option.
Tip: think about the experience your browsers are looking for. If it’s technical support then potentially a forum is the most appropriate. However if it is a simple question, then an email form is much easier to manage.
7. How will you attract visitors to your site?
There are lots of options for attracting visitors. Think about search engine optimisation (SEO) and ask any design agency you approach what their expertise is in this regard. Other options include paid for search / pay per click campaigns, e-book give-aways, interactive content such as blogs and forums, and crucially offline promotions i.e. where can you promote your domain name, for example on your business cards or in press releases.
Tip: there are literally hundreds of books, videos, courses and programmes you can buy to learn more about generating traffic for your website, but your agency’s experience will also be extremely valuable.
8. What are the wants and needs of your target audience?
Your website will not be much use if you haven’t considered the needs and wants of your target audience. For example, do they typically have a broadband connection or dial-up? Which browsers do they use, Internet Explorer, Safari, FireFox or others? Will some access your site via a mobile phone, iphone or a PDA? How technologically advanced are they? Are they happy to enter their credit card details online, or should you need to use a more trusted e-commerce solution, such as PayPal? Are you promoting a useful resource, likely to attract repeat visitors?
Tip: As with any marketing communications programme, this will be most effective of you consider your customers wants and needs early on in the web design process.
9. What security and accessibility standards do you need to consider?
There are various security considerations to bear in mind when you develop a site. In addition there are laws that mean you have to make your site accessible to people with disabilities. For example in the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act requires websites to be useable for people with bad eye sight. There are ways to overcome this, for example a web browser with sight difficulties may use a text reader which literally reads out the content of a website. Therefore you need to ensure any images are appropriately labelled.
Tip: talk to your web design agency about accessibility and security. It’s likely you will not need the same level of detail here as say a government department, so don’t over do it or be sold too much.
10. And finally, what budget do you have for this project?
If you have lots of money, then you can be more flexible in choosing your design agency. Often the most impressive results are achieved when hiring a specialised web design company. For those of you with a more limited budget, consider an off the shelf package from companies such as Mr Site
Of course, you can also go the self build route, using Microsoft FrontPage, or by taking a web design course. Alternatively you could use one of the popular blogging packages such as WordPress
Tip: you can build a great site with a limited budget, but it will take you a lot more time. Ask yourself whether you have more time or more money when making your decision. You should also consider the importance of securing a good domain name, something which is increasingly difficult to achieve.