Building a useful website that serves your needs and the needs of your target audience requires planning ahead. Some of the tasks to be done and decisions to be made include:
All those things play a role in the success of a webste. As you can see, there's a lot to consider. If you just start building without any kind of plan in mind there's a good chance you could find yourself boxed into a corner, and a lot of work that you've done will have to be redone.
- Define your purpose for having a website.
- Define your goals for your website.
- Conduct keyword research.
- Determine your ideal target audience.
- Determine your content categories.
- Design the site structure and navigation.
- Sketchout designs until you come up with one you like.
- Decide on a fixed width or liquid design.
- Create the graphics needed to achieve your design.
- Decide if any scripting or databases will be needed?
- Create the actual content.
- Write the HTML and CSS coding and optimizing it for search engines.
- Choose a reliable website host.
- Plan out a linking and promotional strategy.
Having painted a rather large picture, let me also add that none of it is that difficult. Anyone of reasonable intelligence can do all that on their own, so there's no need to feel intimidated. You just need to take it one step at a time. Any large task is made much easy by breaking it down into smaller, easily manageable steps.
You may surprise yourself, you may already know many of the answers to those questions. Let's take a look at each one separately.
Hiring out website design or any of the associated chores can be relatively inexpensive or it can be very expensive, depending on your needs and who you are dealing with.
- Define Your Website's Purpose
Your website must serve your target audience in some way or it will fail. Every individual surfing the web wants to know what's in it for them when they land on your website. Most couldn't care less about what you want. Who will your website serve? How will it serve them?
- Define Your Goals
If you don't define your goals for having a website then you won't even know what you're working toward, much less how to get there. Is your goal to make money? ...to brand your name or business? ...to capture leads? ...to inform? ...to recruit employees or business partners? ...to supplement a dirt world business? ...or ???
- Keyword Research
This is where most businesses and individuals stumble right out of the gate. They don't do the necessary keyword research to determine the most important keywords and key phrases to target. We always think we know, but we're often wrong, and we always overlook a great deal high quality keywords we should be targeting.
You must know the exact search terms people are using that relate to your content in order to target your audience and have your website rank well in the search engines for the right keywords.
To illustrate this point, I recently did some fresh keyword research for this site. I already had a first page ranking for a term that included "web site" as part of the keyword phrase, but fresh research told me only about 15,000 people search for that term each month, while about 135,000 people closed the gap and used "website" as one word. It never occurred to me that more people consider "website" one word rather than two.
I quickly changed some of my search engine optimization tactics when I saw that bombshell. I'd rather rank highly for a search term that has 135,000 searches per month than one that has 15,000.
That's what keyword research will tell you. If you don't know how to do keyword research, check out my SEO for YOU ebook.
- Determine Your Ideal Target Audience
This is different from keyword research because it helps you get into the mindset of your target audience. The better you understand what motivates them and how they think, the more you can tailor your content and products to suit them, which usually results in more visitors, more repeat visitors, more subscribers to your newsletter if you publish one, and more sales.
One of the best ways to do this is to this is to take a survey of your website visitors. Offer them a reward of some kind, a special report or ebook on a topic of interest to them usually works well, to get their opinion and feedback. Of course, if you're just starting out you can't do that becaues you don't have a website or visitors yet.
Sometimes you have make educated guesses at first. To get educated, go to forums related to your planned topic and see what the concerns, needs, ideas, and related topics are that seem hot. You can also post questions in the forum. You can gain a lot of insight this way, use it to reason out who your ideal customer would be.
To find forums on your topic, go to a search and enter: forum +"your topic" ...just change "your topic" to whatever your site topic is. If it's more than one word include it in quotation marks as shown. If it's only one word the quotation marks aren't needed.
- Determine Your Content Categories
This is another one of those things where we think we know best, but keyword research can teach us new lessons. It also is important to have an understanding of search engine optimization before you determine your content categories. In fact, studying search engine optimization before you make your first web page is probably the single smartest thing you can do.
If you don't get the fundamentals of true search engine optmization right from the beginning, you're really impairing your web site's search rankings from the onset.
Good search engine rankings are tough enough to get, starting off with a disadvantage only makes it more difficult. My SEO for YOU ebook will get you off to a good start—unless you think you know all about search engine optimization already.
Speaking in very general terms, you want to divide your content into tightly focused categories.
- Design the Site Structure and Navigation
The structure of your website is largely determined by the content categories you choose. I recommend drawing out on paper how your site will be set up. By visualizing the structure and planning the navigation you can identify potential problems before you waste any time building the problems into the site.
- Sketch Out Designs
Do you want a two column web site? Three columns? One centered column? Do you want a large header area? What color scheme do you want? Do you want vertical navigation in the sidebar or horizontal navigation across the top? Will you promote products on the front page? Will you include a section for announcing the latest news and site additions?
These are just some of the considerations you might want to ponder. Another option is to shop template sites and build your site using a template someone else designed.
- Fixed Width or Liquid Design
A fixed width design has a width that never changes no matter what the window size or screen resolution is of the viewing computer. This offers the most predictable results, but sometimes results in a site having a horizontal scrollbar across the bottom. That can be annoying to visitors if they have scroll back and forth to view the content.
Liquid design adjusts itself to fit the window and screen resolution of the viewing computer. The only real problem with this is that not everyone has their browser size maximized when they surf. Some liquid designs can degrade awkwardly if a user has the browser set too small.
Using fixed width or liquid design is really a matter of personal preference, one isn't necessarily better than the other. Most of my sites are liquid design, but this one happens to be fixed width.
If you have a graphics editor and know how to use it, you'll probably want the satisfaction of designing your own graphics. If not, your options are to hire someone to make the graphics you need, use clipart, find a graphics site to download graphics from, use a design that doesn't use graphics, use a pre-made template, or learn to create your own graphics.
There is usually a steep learning curve to making your own graphics, so your timeline may rule this option out. It's always better to use graphics that look professional, and it's always better to have your site look unique. If you can't make your own, an option that is often low cost is to hire a college student that's taking a graphics class, or to post a job for bid at sites like elance.com or rentacoder.com.
- Scripting or Databases
Most sites don't require custom scripting. You can find "off the shelf" scripts that do almost anything you need. If you don't know how to install scripts you may have to hire it done.
Databases may be necessary with some scripts or for other purposes. If you don't know how to work with databases you'll have to hire this out too. Another budget concern. Hiring installation and set up is usually affordable, but customization can be expensive, so make sure you really have a need for scripting or databases, and make sure you do your homework and comparison shop.
- Content Creation
This is probably my favorite part of building a website. It may not be your cup of tea though. Content creation is also something you can hire out if you don't want to create your own. If you do, be sure to run the content through copyscape.com to ensure it's original content and not something the person you hire stole from another web site.
Be sure to let whomever you hire know that you will run all submissions through copyscape. That way if you run into a content thief they'll usually back out rather than being exposed as a thief, saving you time, energy, and money.
Whether you write your content or you hire it out, the content should original. Duplicate content doesn't rank well in search engines, and some even penalize your page if it mostly duplicate content. Besides that, visitors are always looking for unique perspectives. They're not interested in reading the same thing at site after site. Be yourself, give them what they really want, your own ideas and take on things.
- HTML and CSS Coding
This is again something you can hire out or do yourself. It's also another area where knowing search engine optimization techniques and strategies can really pay off.
I offer all kinds of free HTML and CSS tutorials and a print book titled Web Site Design Made Easy that will teach you all you need to know about website design—in plain English! It's used as the teaching text at hundreds of colleges and high schools, but it's written so that you don't have to attend classes to reap the full benefits of it. I also have a member site with nearly 100 web design tutorials, plus web design questions and answers, and I publish a newsletter about website design and life.
HTLM and CSS is something you can easily learn to do for yourself, saving hundreds of even thousands of dollars. Even if you hire it out, you should learn the basics so you can "talk the talk" with a prospective designer. The less you know the easier it is to be sold things you don't need, thus jacking up your final cost.
- Choosing a Web Host
Reliability is the number one issue, the quality of tech support is number two, and what you get for your money is number three. Most people can choose the lowest cost plan available in the beginning. If you're envisioning massive traffic and eating up lots of disk space and bandwidth, you're probably way too optimistic. It's takes time. You can always upgrade to a more expensive plan later. Many, if not most, people overbuy in the beginning.
Forget about free hosting services unless you're only making a hobby site and search engine rankings and the amount of traffic you get doesn't matter to you. Otherwise, you'll need your own domain name and quality web hosting. You can browse my HTML FAQ page for more information about selecting a domain name and web host.
- Linking and Promotional Strategies
When you're starting a new web site, you're going to have to spend a good deal of time submitting your site to search engines, building backlinks, and finding ways to get the word out. There are a lot of ways to go about this, some better than others. If you don't do this esssential work, the chances of your site "being discovered" are dim.
I have an ebook planned on this topic. This is a very large site so I can't say I'll remember to come back and edit this page in a timely manner, so be sure to check my products page to see if it's currently available. You could also subscribe to my newsletter as I announce all my new products there.
Besides submitting your site to search engines and directories, you can exchange links with other sites, visit forums and blogs and make comments and include a link to your site in your signature file, issue a press release, buy advertising, and use many other free and paid methods of getting publicity.
I do everything myself. I have several other websites too, so it's not as daunting as it may appear. The first time is the hardest because just about everything is new to you, but as you go through the process it becomes comfortable, and after a while it becomes routine.
Want High Search Engine Rankings?
If you want your web site to rank high in the search engines . . . what are you going to do to get it there? Check out my search engine optmization guide, SEO for YOU: Search Engine Optimization for Ordinary Everyday People!
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