So, you want to start a website. First, ask yourself the single most important question. Why?

Why do you want a website? Do you need a website? Do your customers need you to have a website?

Defining Your Goal

If your answer to any of the above is “I’m not sure” then you should stop here. You should spend more time thinking about and trying to discover who exactly is your target audience, and what your website would provide them.

Remember, if you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail

Reverend H. K. Williams

The answer(s) may be simple or complex. It could be that you simply need a website that proves you exist and gives people a way to contact you. A phone number, an email, or a physical address. Or, it could be that you need an opportunity to fully explain the service(s) you are providing. You may need to start a sales funnel; that is, start a relationship with visitors to your site and try to convert them into customers. Your primary goal could be something like:

  • Generate more sales/revenue
  • Acquire leads for potential customers
  • Acquire subscribers/readers for a blog
  • Establish myself or my business as an expert in my field

Developing Structure and Content

Once you understand why you need your website you can begin looking at what exactly needs to be part of the website—always measured against working toward your primary goal(s).

So, you may be asking, how do I do that exactly?

Begin by answering the following questions about your business and customers to begin shaping what your website could be.

  • What problem does your website solve for visitors/customers?
  • What would your website ideally do for your business?
  • How would you define and measure the website’s success?
  • What are some “must-have” features?
  • How do you think visitors will use your site?
  • If you already have a site, how do visitors actually use your site?

The next thing you should do is look at what other people in similar situations are doing. If you are an online retailer, then look to other online retail sites. You will find that within industries there will be common elements. Within creative fields, a portfolio or samples of work are pretty much mandatory. For subscription-based or recurring payments services, clear rates and fees would be highly recommended. Try to find as many “competitors” as possible and compare. Make a list of common pages and types of content you find.

From there you should begin creating an outline of the content for your website. This could be as simple as writing an outline for a school paper, just start with headings. Compare your list with the list you made from your competitors. Revisit your list, asking yourself if each element or page is necessary.

Does each page contribute to reaching your primary goal?

Should you have something your competitors have, or would their site be better without it?

Something that will set your site apart from others will be your ability to critically examine what you are putting into your site. It is easy to get excited about giving visitors all the information they could possibly want. Remember, typically people don’t want to spend a great deal of time reading a company’s website. Depending on the industry, it may be better to entice visitors with just enough information that they want to call or email you to learn more or get a quote.

If you’re running an online store, however, there is a critical amount of information you must provide in order for a visitor to make a purchase on the spot.

For example, a fictional web-based service business may outline the needs of the site as follows:

  • Introduction: I need to describe what my business does and who it serves
  • Services: I need to describe how I structure my services
  • Service A: description of the service and the fee
  • Service B: description of the service and the fee
  • About the company: describe my experience and how I help people
  • Contact: Email form

An e-commerce site would look quite different, perhaps something like:

  • Home: full product catalogue
  • Product Categories: Category sub-sections for easy navigating
  • Refunds and Returns Policy
  • Contact

Though you are far from having a full website, the above is a critical first step. By starting with research, planning, and developing a logical structure for your content you are creating a plan to follow.

From here you can begin writing the content to fill out the sections you defined. Coming soon, I will discuss how to take the raw structure and content and develop it into an information architecture/sitemap that can directly be used in setting up your website.