So you think you’re ready to start building a website for your business. Maybe you’ve seen a few websites that you like, or you’ve found a template with the design elements you seek. Proper site planning involves a lot more than picking pretty colors or choosing a template and with a plan, it will go more smoothly.
Before you inadvertently set yourself up to fail, check out the following tips for building an effective site plan. This plan will start the design process off right — and help guide your site’s development.
Step 1: Plan out your pages.
Depending on the size and scope of your business, this stage of your site plan can be easy to complete or require several hours to flesh out. For example, if you’re a sole proprietor offering a single service (such as tax preparation or massage therapy), you may only need a few pages to convey all of the necessary information about your business. On the other hand, if you’re planning a major e-commerce site, the number of pages you’ll need to create will be much more extensive.
To get you started, consider the following list of typical pages that you may want to include on your website:
- Home page. This page represents your visitor’s first impression of your brand, so you’ll want to be sure it’s designed well and contains all of the necessary information to get visitors to take the next step and engage with your business.
- About page. “About me” pages are frequently the most accessed pages on websites, because potential customers want to know more about the people they’re doing business with. No matter what type of website you’re building, include an About page.
- Contact page. The Contact page is also vital, because it offers visitors options for getting in touch with you for more information. Include this page and plan to offer several different contact methods, including physical address (when appropriate), telephone number, email address, contact form, and social networking profiles.
- Product or service offering page. Your product page(s) provide the fundamental details about everything you’re selling. If your selection is limited, one page may suffice for this entire section. If you’re planning a larger site, plan for a single page for each product.
- FAQ or information page. One way to cut back on unnecessary customer queries is to post answers to the most frequently asked questions. FAQ or information pages are a great place to educate visitors about your business or products, and they often help to remove barriers that would otherwise prevent people from buying.
While these standard page types represent a good starting place for most businesses, you may also need to plan for account login pages, blog posts, order history sections, and more, depending on the specific needs of your company. One way to determine what other pages you may need is to look at your competitors’ websites. If all of them include a specific page type that you’re on the fence about, consider including it; there’s a good chance they’re using it because it serves a valuable purpose.
Step 2: Decide on an effective navigation structure.
Once you have an idea of all the different pages you’ll want to include in your new website, it’s time to start piecing them together into an effective navigation structure. It’s best to do this before you choose a website template for your new site, because it will allow you to pick a template that works for your needs, instead of hammering your content into a site design that doesn’t fit your desired navigation structure.
The first step in this process is to determine which items will appear as category headers on your main navigation bar. Nearly all website structures contain one main navigation section (whether it runs horizontally across the top of the site or vertically down the left sidebar) with drop-down sub-pages or sub-categories. And although your site may have secondary navigation bars or linked call-outs from the main page, the elements that form your main navigation bar should receive the most attention, as most visitors will use these links to navigate your site.
When planning your main navigation bar, follow these standard guidelines to make it as effective as possible:
- Number of items. Your main navigation bar should contain no more than 7 or 8 items. After this point, visitors’ attention begins to lag, causing them to miss important information on your site.
- SEO. Whenever possible, incorporate target keywords into your navigation structure for better search engine optimization.
- Navigation depth. Google prefers sites that have a “wide” navigation structure, not a “deep” alternative, so make sure that every page on your site can be reached within three clicks.
One of the easiest ways to build out your navigation bar is to write each of the pages you came up with in Step 1 onto a sticky note and organize them on a wall or other large surface. This allows you to visually create categories and manipulate layouts until you come up with a structure that makes sense for your business. Clearly, this might not be an option if you’re anticipating hundreds or thousands of pages — in these cases, consider scoping out your competitors to see what categories and sub-categories they use.
Step 3: Follow established design principles.
Although most people jump to design considerations first when planning a new website, it’s listed here as Step 3 for a reason: Until you know what information you want to present and how you want to present it, you won’t be able to choose a website design template that will work best for your business!
Now that you know how many pages, categories, and navigation bar items you want on your website, you can start looking for design templates that will allow you to present the information you’ve come up with in the most attractive way possible. As you go through different template options, consider the following established design principles to ensure your new site conveys the right message about you and your business:
- Avoid “over-designing.” Although you can add plenty of bells and whistles to any site, the most important thing you should consider is whether or not your chosen design interferes with the way your site’s message is conveyed. Whenever possible, stick with easy-to-read fonts, high-contrast text and background colors, and limited images that enhance (rather than overpower) your content.
- Use high-quality imagery. The days of dancing GIFs and pixelated images are over! At Homestead you can choose from over 1 million royalty-free stock photography images to include in your website – all for free. Or use your digital camera or cell phone camera to take powerful product photos. Think of the images on your site as an extension of your brand and make them as high in quality as possible.
- Pay attention to your color schemes. According to the tenets of color theory, different hues convey different emotions and psychological impacts. Choose colors carefully to ensure that your site gives off the right “feeling” to future visitors.
By taking the time to follow each of these steps in order, you’ll wind up with a website that not only looks good, but also works well from the perspective of both website visitors and search engine spiders