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How to Plan a New Website: Four checklists of web essentials

What do you really need in order to set up a website for your business? Here are the basic building blocks as well as some important guidelines for what those blocks should and should not contain. They are broken up into four different checklists for clarity: Website building blocks, Blocks of what?, Play nice with others, and Golden rules. These checklists are a great starting place for the small business owner who wants to put their business online effectively and sustainably.

Note: Of course, these lists do not cover “all there is” on this topic and things do change over time. If you have a website, or if you are considering one, take a look at our blog for current tips, trends, and techniques that may improve the outcome of your site. The details and real-world execution of these lists can get a bit confusing and detailed so we will address these topics and more in later posts.

Our main business goal at CFA is to help our friends, like you, get online and keep current so you can compete more effectively than ever before. All the best!

Think about the basic framework and sustainability of your site. There are a limited number of essential parts to a good website. Each part has an important role to play.

Checklist 1 – Website building blocks

These are your basic building blocks for the framework and sustainability of your site.

  1. domain name (URL) – Domain name, URL, or web address… this is the named space for your website online. If you have not decided the name for your new business yet then you are really lucky! Find a great .com domain name that is not taken and derive your business name from that if possible. If you are in business already then try to reserve a domain name as close as possible to your business name.
  2. logo & tagline – These are how your ideal site visitor BEST recognizes you. Even the smallest business needs a strong personality to help people connect with your identity. The whole process of determining exactly what represents you is extremely important. 
  3. keywords & description – What makes it unique and attractive and valuable? These words are how your ideal site visitor KNOWS you and how they describe you to their friends. These words and phrases will also guide new ideal site visitors to your website from an online search. They crystallize the essence of your business.
  4. header – Your logo, tagline, and other header content makes your ideal site visitor feel comfortable and reinforces your overall vision and personality on every page.
  5. menu – Your main menu holds your main pages with every major topic about your business that your ideal site visitor usually wants to see. Sub-menus can add clarity and detail.
  6. main pages – Cover all the important topics and satisfy all the basic needs of your ideal site visitor on your “main” pages. These should have great content (see Checklist 2) and be similar in style and layout.
  7. sub-pages – Expand on the main page topic in more detail, sub-topic by sub-topic. Always show respect to your ideal site visitor by making pages that succinctly offer relevance and value.
  8. news & links – Illustrate your relationships as well as your awareness of trends in your industry and the market as a whole. This always requires regular updating and is often satisfied by an RSS feed or blog option.
  9. footer – Reinforce your image, boilerplate, and contact information as well as important security/privacy agreements, certifications, awards, credentials and/or memberships on every page.
  10. maintenance – Constant critical evaluation and upkeep is vital to looking vibrant, current, and relevant to your ideal site visitor. Things are constantly changing and the best advantage a small business has is their ability to quickly respond to their environment. (see Checklist 3)

So what needs to go in each of those basic building blocks? 

Checklist 2 – Blocks of what?

Most business and organizations should follow these essential rules that are based on the guidelines given by Google: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769

In addition to recommendations by Google at the above link, we recommend:

1. Great content

  • Know yourself and your core business and always write your content with your best customer in mind. Treat others as you would like to be treated as a customer.
  • Write out all your pages is very thorough outline format.
  • Efficiently give the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of your business. Preferably on the home page.
  • Show that you really know and can easily relate to your target audience.
  • Site visitors are looking for specific information and want to find it fast.
  • Know your best keywords and phrases that people may use to search for a business like yours. Use keywords often, but make sure all your site text is optimized for humans first.

2. Attractive and classic design, not distracting or busy

  • Communicate your business vision as effectively as possible using both text and images. Think efficiency. People want what they want when they want it and they don’t appreciate having to dig for information.
  • Have a look and feel that your target audience expects and has an appropriate reaction to. If you deal in beauty, make your site beautiful. If you deal with intellectual property, show that you are organized, calm, cool, and collected.
  • Creativity is important but is secondary to functionality. If a site visitor can’t find what they are looking for in a few clicks, they will likely leave and never come back. Make it easy for people to buy whatever you are selling.

3. Current but durable

  • Classic styles last longer and are more easily understood by a wider audience, so use standard layouts and navigation.
  • Use blogs and RSS feeds where appropriate to inject current events and news into your site.
  • Don’t follow short-term trends unless you have the resources to update your corporate image often, however if you have a business whose nature it is to follow trends then work with your web designer on a sustainable solution.

That was really hard work… is there more? Just a few more things… 

Checklist 3 – Play nice with others
Security and maintenance are extremely important. Remember:

1. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

  • Keep your anti-virus software current and only download essentials.
  • Be careful about sharing personal and business information online.
  • Only go through trusted routes for online payments etc.
  • Don’t sign up for most freebies… they can cost you a lot in the end. 

2. Know the your online playing field.

  • Who are the other teams? Who are the sponsors? Be aware of what current websites offer and what works for your business.
  • Who is in the audience? Know what your customers are experiencing online with your direct and indirect competitors.
  • Who are your competitors? Visit their websites often to know what they are doing. 

3. Look into online marketing.

  • Find out what online networking and advertising opportunities are available and participate in the ones best for your business.
  • Research what publications, bookmarking, and networking sites your customers utilize. Build, maintain, and share accounts there too.
  • Join appropriate groups that are related to your business and encourage them to link to your website from theirs.
  • Create a free blog if you do not already have one that is part of your website. Post often and have a reciprocal link with your website.

4. Check our CFA blog often for updates on tips and techniques for marketing your business online and more.

And finally… 

Checklist 4– Golden rules
Concepts to keep in mind during the whole process of building and maintaining your website:

  • Be critically confident in your corporate identity. Make sure your image is helpful to wherever you want to take your business. If it needs updating don’t try to avoid this important work… just make it happen! We can help.
  • Always think of your best customer with every decision that you make.
  • Constantly ask for and learn from all your feedback. See it through and implement the changes that make sense for your business in the long term.
  • Customers and potential customers come to your website looking for specific information. They want to find it fast and get on with their busy lives… honor their time if you want to keep them. Focus on them. Give them what they seek. Anticipate their future needs in reference to your business.
  • Opportunities and traps are everywhere. Just like in real life, you need to stay on top of trends, question everything, and surround yourself with smart, honest people who care about your business. Your challenges will change over time, sometimes dramatically, so get comfortable with technology… it’s your new friend and it can help!

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