Effective web site design starts with a plan that identifies why you need a web site and what you want to accomplish with it. You need a clear understanding of your goals and you need to be able to articulate them clearly to your web site designer.
Start by asking yourself or your team these questions, give the answers serious consideration and you will be on your way to achieving what many companies never do; an effective web site design. There are no 'correct' answers. Your web site will be as individual as your company is.
Why do YOU have a web site?
The answer to this question is absolutely crucial and while the focus of your web site may change over time it must always reflect who you are and what you are doing in your business.
If all you need is a spot where clients can find pertinent company information such as contact info and product lines then your web site design can be fairly static and likely inexpensive, relative of course to the volume of content on it. It is unlikely that this type of site would require a lot of updating.
If on the other hand you expect your clients and/or staff to be able to use the web site to stay abreast of changes or news then you will need to commit a budget for ongoing maintenance and updates. Depending on the volume of these changes, this could end up being substantially more than the original website design.
Make this decision carefully, there are many things your web site designer can do to lessen the cost of future updates. More importantly, make sure that this is necessary. It's all find and good to have a "What's New" page but if nothing is ever new, or you have no committed, repeat audience, there is no point in including the page in the first place.
Know your audience and give them no more or no less than what they are looking for.
Do we want to sell products or services on our web site?
Not all products lend themselves well to a fully e-commerce sale and not all websites need to be e-commerce enabled. Knowing which part of the sales cycle your web site will fit into will help you identify the type and volume of content required on it. It will also determine to a great extent the effort you need to put into attracting your target audience and dictate the frequency of web updates if they are required.
Who is our target audience
Without blowing the budget on demographic studies you should still be able to identify fairly easily who your target audience is. This can dictate how you are going to reach them and what type of experience they will expect on arriving at your website. If you are selling graphics and multimedia products, your website will need to be lively, colourful and contemporary above all else.
If on the other hand you are selling brand name products, you will want to convey this message quickly and provide a fast, informative interface allowing them to find and purchase their product without a lot of bells and whistles. If you are providing a web interface to a known group and not expecting any 'drop in' sales you would take a much different approach than if you are hoping to attract and sell to the general public. The KISS acronym applies fully here. Give them what they want with a minimum of fuss or waiting.
How will we bring traffic to our web site?
This is probably second in importance only to "Why do YOU have a Website?". If you plan on telling your visitors about your website via business cards, letters, catalogs or media, and you are happy with this approach then your options are wide open when it comes to design. If however you hope to attract new business, that you cannot reach with these methods, then your website design must be Search Engine Friendly above all else.
Search engine friendly websites are predominantly textual rather than graphical, easy to navigate, well labelled and heavy on product or service detail. The more successfully optimized web sites are product and service centric, rather than 'company based'.
Every aspect of your design must reflect and highlight your product, your service or the customer needs that they fulfill. Phrases such as "Welcome to our website" have no business on a page designed to bring traffic. There are no "search engine secrets" or "tricks" to get you into the top 10 but there are a myriad of opportunities to give the search engines what they want and several more ways of ensuring that you never do. Easily 80% of traffic to NTech websites come from the search engines.
Who is more important, repeat visitors or new visitors
If you want visitors to come back, you need to give them a reason. Whether it be current events, special offers or something humourous, you will need to make your website a destination. This can take a lot of work and is probably best handled by in-house staff to reduce costs.
This does not mean re-designing your website or updating the "look". While there may be good arguments for doing so periodically, if all that changes is the "look" and it is basically the same old content then it will have little sustained effect on traffic.
If your product is in demand, your pricing is reasonable and you have the infrastructure to deliver then new visitors are your primary target and you need to concentrate a great deal of effort to optimally positioning your web site in the major search engines and directories. You may also consider Pay Per Click advertising if the sales close rate and profit margin warrant the expense.
Keep in mind, for a new visitor, everything about your website is new, and as long as you don't promise anything new the next time they visit they will probably be just as happy to find the web design and navigation just as they left it should they come back. The absolute worst thing you can show a new visitor is a NEWS page with content that is 6 months old. You might as well just stamp CLOSED across the entire web site.
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