Planning your website
What must your website deliver for you?
Defining the objectives of your website is vital. If you are a startup, ideally you should have some preliminary ideas before you talk to a web design house; if you are re-working or completely redesigning your website then you probably have some idea of what went right, what went wrong and where it should go in the future.
A website is not a special case of business endeavour and is subject to the same financial criteria and resource planning as, say, a shop. Indeed a good way of looking at the issues is to consider the steps you would go through and the resources you need to open a shop against those for creating a website.
The following are typical objectives for a website:
- Brochure - showing what you do: goods and services
- Commerce - selling goods or services
- CRM - keeping the customer happy, encouraging return visits
- Decision support - helping the prospect decide what to buy (this can be for both online and offline sales)
- Product support - increase effectiveness and reduce costs of supporting your wares and services
- Extranet - ring-fenced area for resellers, partners, etc to transact business or run a virtual office
- Intranets - typically remote working on centrally-held files or updating timesheets of staff working away
- Reference - provision of (usually) non-commercial data like technical specifications, statistics or reports
- A combination of the above.
Within each of the above items there is usually a set of sub-objectives.
The budget has to cover (at the very least):
- Planning - setting out requirements and perhaps a specification
- Implementation - including databases, associated support software, integration with existing systems
- Testing - both functional and cross-platform compatibility
- Launch - deployment of component parts, website configuration
- Operational costs - hosting, marketing, CRM, secure certificate
- Website content management - in-house, out-of-house.
Frequently thought is only given to the design element, but some websites may require web forms, databases, and perhaps integration with an existing sales order processing system. Some calculation has to be done on the likely returns on investment for a commercial website to keep the expenditure appropriate.
Website design has a lot of constraints - notably the shape, size, resolution and colour capabilities of the viewing system - everything from 4K/UHD/HD TVs to mobile phones. The accurate placement of design elements that print media allow is not available on web pages and indeed is not appropriate.
The following list indicates most of the major design considerations:
- Target market - what devices will they be using?
- Base layout - is there an existing corporate livery to follow?
- Content - how often does it change? How will it be managed? Is it date dependent?
- Databases - do you have corporate data or reports that need to be presented?
- Multimedia - is it appropriate?
- Accessibility - what's appropriate to your market and your legal obligations
- Interactivity - this frequently requires database support to remember visitor details
- Search/drill down facilities
- Multiple languages - French, German, Italian, Spanish, Scandinavian, Arabic, Russian, Japanese - to name but a few
- Locales supported (eg if you've chosen English, is that British, US, Australian or other?)
- Security - particularly for commerce
- Visitor experience - speed, ease of navigation
- Newsletters - collecting addresses, not spamming people
- Forums - creating a community and a reason to revisit.
There are specific issues with commerce that can cause problems. Apart from selling something downloadable like software or reports (which are infinitely available) any other system has to take account of stock either in-house or from a wholesaler. Even selling software presents its own issues because a number of people making a simultaneous download of a 25Mb app may have a serious impact on the performance of the server, not just for the visitors doing the downloads, but also for any others visiting the website.
Some of the issues are:
- Shopping systems - product management, price list management, baskets, special offers, affiliate schemes
- Payment handling - credit card, payment service provider, credit transfer and whether manual or automatic
- Credit card transactions - merchant ID, AVS (address verification system)
- Secure certificates
- Drop shipping - shipping directly from a wholesaler
- Integration with your existing sales order processing system
- Serial number management (software sales only)
- VAT processing - place of supply, place of delivery considerations, EU issues
Legislation is starting to catch up with Internet trading and so this is a moving target. At present there are three main sets of legislation that affect UK based websites:
- Disability Discrimination
- Distance Selling Regulations
- Data Protection
The terms and conditions of trade should also be specific about the jurisdiction in force eg England & Wales or Scotland.
Marketing and promotion
Some enterprises lend themselves more readily to search engine promotion than others: ceramic tiles are very difficult to promote because of the wide use of both the words ceramic and tile; a website selling Bewick wood engravings is going to be much easier to promote, not least because there's a proper noun in there.
Some important considerations are:
- When a visitor arrives at your website, can they tell what you do, what you sell?
- Getting useful traffic to your website - as opposed to inappropriate leads that waste your resources
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) - particularly how far to pursue it
- Social media - which, if any, of the following are useful for you: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn?
- Offline promotion - sometimes more important than online promotion
- Company livery should incorporate the website and email addresses - unbelievably frequently omitted
Operational planning issues
Where are you going to host your website? The USA can be apparently cheap but if your market is mostly based in the Europe or Australia it takes longer to get pages, images, etc down submarine cables to your visitors and this can have a perceptible effect on website performance. Studies have shown that this affects sales.
If it's likely that your website traffic will have large peaks (hundreds of thousands or millions of pages per hour) followed by quiescent periods, then you should consider a scalable solution in the 'cloud'.
Once the website is up and running there will be costs involved in promoting and maintaining it. Out-of-date websites are a turn-off for visitors and are therefore counterproductive.
Keeping the content of your website fresh may turn into something akin to magazine production where there is a need for continuous input. This requires the content management to be someone's responsibility on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis as appropriate. In other cases it may just be a question of keeping course data or an events list up-to-date.
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