So you’ve decided to build a website for your business, nonprofit or maybe just for yourself. You’re excited to get started, so you’ve started looking for a web designer. This is a very exciting time, and you’re ready to make a name for yourself online. Congratulations!

You’re probably itching to hire someone to immediately get started building a beautiful, eye-catching website. Any good web designer will recommend taking a step back first, though. They’ll know that a pretty website only gets you so far, but a well-planned website can boost your business, enhance your message, and help you reach your goals.

A designer’s job goes beyond aesthetics – web design is about functionality, organization and user-friendliness. The most artistic design means nothing if your website provides no benefit to your users or to you. If a designer doesn’t ask you a lot of questions about you (or your organization), your goals, and your audience, run the other way. Like most websites on the Internet, yours will be added to a growing pile of purposeless and ineffective websites.

At Maine Websites, our first step is to enter a planning phase with our new client. Even if your site fits into one of our package deals, we’ll still have a lot of questions for you before we get started. No two websites are the same, and our goal is to build you a website that meets your goals.

We’ve outlined some of the major points we cover during the web design planning phase below. If you think you’re ready to start delving into the planning process, sign up for a free website planning guide and consultation with a web designer here.

Make your website stand out with just a little bit of planning

Step 1: Decide on the purpose of your website

There are a lot of reasons you might want a website. If you run a business, you might want your website to act as a 24/7 customer service agent, answering frequently asked questions, explaining your products and services, and providing your customers with information about your business. If you run a nonprofit, you might be hoping to gather donations, deliver news or a calendar of events, or bring in new members.

A site that is designed to convert website visits into sales is going to look very different than a website that is designed to provide support to current clients, so deciding why you need a website is one of the most important pieces of the web design puzzle.

You might need a website to:

  • Establish credentials or build your reputation
  • Generate leads
  • Sell products and services
  • Explain your products and services
  • Gather donations
  • Bring in new members
  • Deliver news or a calendar of events
  • Spread information on a specific topic or interest
  • Provide support for current clients
  • Provide answers to frequently asked questions

If you have more than one purpose, make sure you rank them by what is most important and choose the most essential one as your main purpose. A site with too many goals is just as aimless as a site without goals.

Step 2: Decide who your audience will be

This step is often overlooked, but it is incredibly important. Your target audience will greatly affect how your designer plans your site’s navigation, graphics, and colors. If your audience is young students, your website should look quite different than a website for retired veterans.

If you have an established organization, it might help to think about who you already serve, and build a profile from there. If not, do a little research into similar organizations and to whom they appeal.

What your audience profile might include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Marital status
  • Household income
  • Children/no children/ages of children
  • Education level
  • Job
  • Hobbies
  • Attitudes
  • Personality
  • Values

You can get very specific when you look at audience types. The more you know about your audience, the better your web designer will be able to appeal to them.

Step 3: Choose what actions you would like your website users to take

This one’s pretty straightforward, and it will probably coincide with your website purpose pretty well. For instance, if you want your site to generate leads, you might want your users to call you or fill out a contact form.

Your calls to action will dictate the structure of your site. When your web designer knows what you want your users to do, she can prominently display buttons you want your users to push and use your site design to direct them to the most important actions you need users to take.

You might want your users to:

  • Call you
  • Fill out a contact form
  • Sign up for your mailing list
  • Get a price quote
  • Search for information
  • Purchase a product
  • Sign up for a membership
  • Donate

A clear call to action can make a big difference in how well your site enhances your success.

Step 4: Decide what you think your customers will want to accomplish on your site

You might have to do a little hypothetical thinking to come up with this one. Think about your own behavior when you visit a website. Usually you have a task in mind, and if you can’t complete that task quickly and simply, you’ll probably move on to another site, right? There are plenty of other sites out there, and there’s no point wasting time on one that can’t get you what you need quickly.

Brainstorm a list of things your users might want, then a list of things they don’t want. For instance, a user might want to see your prices, but has no interest in reading about you and your background in business. Or a user might be interested in seeing photos of your product, and not be interested in all the technical information. This list will be very specific to your industry and customers, so take your time on it.

If you can provide your designer with this information, they can make sure your customers get what they need right away so they might stick around and complete the actions you’re hoping they’ll take to close the deal.

A little planning goes a long way in building your site. It helps your designer not only build you a beautiful website, but a website that fulfills your needs while providing value to your users. Because when it comes down to it, what’s the point in having a work of art if no one cares to look at it?

Ready to get started? Request a free consultation and website planning guide

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