As a small business operating in the digital age having a website may seem like a no-brainer but what it looks like and how it is used requires a bit more consideration. You’ve no doubt heard the saying “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” And that applies in equal measure to some of the decisions you have to make about your business website.
A good web designer will ask you a lot of questions, or at least they ought to if they are serious about giving you the right design for your business. However, there are some key questions that need answering if you are to end up in the right place;
What is the purpose of your website?
At first glance this may appear to be a daft question but it actually underpins many of the subsequent decisions that you will make further down the line regarding design and functionality.
Here are some of the reasons why people go to the trouble of setting up a website and any number of these will apply to you:
- To provide information – this ranges from basic contact information to organisation background. It can include content designed to help the customer find answers to their own questions such as a frequently asked questions or knowledge base page. Even if you don’t sell directly through your website you may still want to provide information on your range of products and services.
- To sell – E-commerce is the fastest growing retail market in Europe, with sales in the UK expected to reach £44.97bn in 2014 (Centre for Retail Research) it seems everyone is selling online from small one person operations to massive corporations. If you are planning to use your website to sell products or services or are likely to do so in the near future its worth factoring this in to your planning now so your designer can ensure the site can easily be upgraded with a suitable e-commerce platform further down the line.
- Showcase your work – Designers, photographers, architects, musicians, interior decorators, builders, you name it almost everyone has something they can show off to the world and a website is a great platform to get noticed.
- odern website designs can incorporate great looking portfolios that are easy to update. Whether it’s as simple as a few photos or a brief overview of a project it’s a great way to get your work out there.
- Collaboration and interaction – Community forums, bulletin boards, on-line polls and sharing are just some of the ways you can interact with your audience. Facebook is one of the most obvious examples of this kind of interaction but whatever your business you need to interact with your customers and online is one way you can do this.
Who is your target audience?
In one way this is an extension of the first question but in designing a successful site it is important to consider the people who will be using it.
It’s not just that it impacts your design choices. Factors such as technical ability of users, mobile device usage and even the customer’s first language will all influence not just the layout of the site but the also the content.
What functionality do you require?
Web technology advances at such a rapid rate that there is very little you cannot get your website to do if cost is no object and much you can do at little or no cost. However, rather than just pack your site full of features that people may not want or need it’s worth spending a little time considering the key functionality you require. For example do you want a latest news or blog page where you can have dynamic and frequently changing content or perhaps you would like to add your Facebook or Twitter feed to the site. Perhaps you want to have a members only area with protected content, get people to sign up for a newsletter or display a live feed of information from another source.
What look and feel do you want for your site?
The design choices you make can influence the perception your customers have of your business and can even influence buyer behaviour. You may have existing branding which the design needs to take into account and you definitely want to consider your target audience. For example a young target audience might respond better to a lively, dynamic design with bold colours and design concepts. And for a corporate market you might want a cleaner, more traditional design to convey a more credible professional image.
Even your choice of colours is critical not just for accessibility reasons but because much research has been carried out into the impact different colours can have on our psychological state. For example red is often associated with strength, energy, excitement and aggression whereas green is associated with harmony, balance and peace.
The way you opt to layout your site, your choice of imagery and the colours you select all work together to create an impression in the customers mind. Ask yourself some simple questions when considering your design such as “What are my brand values”, “what does my business stand for/represent” and “how do I want my customers to feel when they see my site”
This article is not intended to be an exhaustive list of factors you need to take into account when designing or commissioning a website. It does however help you start the process. If you have done any significant amount of business planning you may well have touched on some of these areas already and be well on the way to a successful design.