Apr 9, 2012

5 Things to Consider Before Starting Your New Website Project

So you’ve decided you need a new website, or your existing website needs a facelift?  Not so fast!  Before you choose a website developer and spend your money on a new website, there are several things you need to consider carefully in order to get the most out of your investment.  And there are some details that if they aren’t taken care of BEFORE you start building that website, could doom you to failure.

Make sure you know the following, and can communicate the answers to your developer, to get the best possible results.

1. What Are Your Goals?

This may seem like a straightforward question with a “well duh” answer… your goal is to have a good-looking website, right?  But WHY? Do you want to increase sales of a particular product? Are you dismayed that your competition always shows up in the search engine results ahead of you?  Maybe you need a tool to better serve your existing customers. Or you’re hoping to improve your brand’s reputation.  The more concrete goals you can define, (for example, you want to decrease the amount of time your representatives spend on the phone answering support questions), the better equipped your developer will be to deliver a concrete, and successful, solution for you. And not incidentally, the more likely you’ll get a higher return on investment and be happy a year after your new site’s launch.

domain record

Sample Domain Name Record: You'll notice that the domain name record for amazon.com lists Amazon.com, Inc as the Registrant and also includes it as Technical and Administrative Contact.

2. What Is the Status of Your Domain Name?

If this is your first website, you’ll need to register a brand new domain name.  Hopefully, you can secure www.yourcompanyname.com.  More likely, the most obvious domain name will be unavailable (good domain names are getting pretty scarce).  You’ll need to do some homework early on to find a domain name that fits.  Your web developer can help you with this (as long as you let them know you need help), or you can do some research on your own on a website like, domaintools.com. (If the term domain name has you scratching your head, learn Internet Lingo here.)

If you are embarking on a website redesign, you might be making a switch from your original developer. If this is the case, you’ll want to make sure that your domain name’s record lists you or someone at your company as a main Contact.  Moreover, you’ll want to make sure that your company is listed as the official Registrant, instead of the development company you previously engaged.  Sometimes unscrupulous developers will register your domain name under their own company ownership, and then use it as leverage to keep you from leaving. This situation can certainly be overcome, but it is a pain in the neck and takes time to resolve.  If the issue isn’t identified early in the development process, it has the potential of delaying the launch of your new website.

3. Who Is Your Competition?

It will be helpful for your website developer to know who your competition is both offline and online.  This gives them a jump-off point for research and baseline comparisons.  It makes sense: in order to make you stand out, they need to know who you need to stand out from.  Knowing your competition also allows you and your developer to differentiate you and your products and services very deliberately.

Additionally, your developers should be thinking about search engine optimization for your new site, and your online competition needs to be identified in order to begin research and effective planning.

4. What Is Your Overall Branding and Identity (and are you happy with it)?

You’ll clearly want your new website to be the best representation of your organization and its products or services as possible.  However, a designer can create incredibly beautiful designs, but they won’t match your vision unless you can successfully communicate your brand to them.

Do you have existing marketing materials? Show those to your new designer, and tell them what you like and don’t like about them.  Be as specific as possible. Does the logo need to be changed? Are the colors all wrong? Does the design style not match your company’s personality?

How would you describe your company? Write down words like “conservative,” “modern,” “friendly,” “cutting-edge,” or other descriptive words that you want potential customers to think of when they see your website and interact with your company.  Is there a disconnect between the way your company is currently viewed by customers and potential customers and the way you want to be perceived? Tell your designer about this challenge so he or she can address it.

What makes your company stand out? Sometimes called your unique selling proposition, your customers want to know why they should do business with you and not your competition.  Your designer will need to convey this clearly and effectively to help you convert potential customers.

The more information you can give at this stage (the beginning) the better… there is no such thing as information overload when you are conveying your brand image to a designer.

5.  Ongoing Marketing and Maintenance Budget

It is tempting (and common) to consider your website project as a one-time investment of time and money.  However, if your goals (remember we defined those above) include anything related to search engine optimization, building traffic, increasing sales, or increasing conversions, then you’ll need to consider ahead of time your plan for ongoing upkeep and marketing.

Search engines change their algorithms and rules on a regular basis, so if you are interested in keeping your site visible in the search engines you should expect to commit time and/or money to keeping your website at the top of the SERPs.  This is something you might want to task an employee (or yourself) with, or you could engage your developer’s services.

There are many things you can do to make sure your website remains attractive to both search engines and potential customers:

  • Keep content up-to-date by updating your website on a regular basis.
  • Consider a blog to help you build relevant, keyword-rich content on your website.
  • A/B Testing can help you continually refine your conversion results and test the effectiveness of your copy and calls-to-action.
  • Pay-Per-Click advertising with Google can help you drive pre-qualified traffic to your website.
  • Incorporate a social media strategy to maintain your brand presence elsewhere online and boost SEO.
  • Build inbound links.

Be sure to discuss your ongoing maintenance and marketing plans and develop a realistic budget with your developer before embarking on your website redesign project. This will help ensure your initial goals are met and that your initial development isn’t a wasted investment.

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