Designing an Effective Website
It's all in the Planning
by Jose' A. Benavides
The neighbor's 13 year old offers to develop a website for $30. He can mow a mean lawn, but something tells you that he's not an effective web developer. You want to develop a website for yourself, but how do you develop an effective site you the Internet presence you need? The following will show you how proper planning and development can give
Review What You Already Have
The first step is to review what you already have. Look over your current products and services. Create a list of what you currently offer your clients. Determine the target audience and create profiles for them. In these profiles state information such as their likes and wants concerning your industry and any other information pertinent to your business. This helps you in designing a site that is right for your audience.
Target the Site to the Client's Audience
Now you have the services and target audience. With this information in hand, write down a list of sections that the website will require. This is the start of your web architecture. Write down the titles of all sections and a brief description of the purpose and content of each section. This gives you a general outline of what your site will contain.
Determine the Technologies to be Used
From here we determine which technologies will be used in the web site. Which technologies will enable you to make the largest impact on potential clients? Don't try to throw in every bell and whistle you can find. You want to select only the technologies that are right for your specific site and style. Development costs can add up very quickly if you take advantage of every new service and technology available, so it may be better to just utilize the essential development tools. You can always add to your website at a later time.
Asses Your Project Realistically
Estimate at least a month of development time for a moderate site, and longer if you are using any unfamiliar technologies, or do not have much web development experience. If you don't have much development experience, you may want to consider hiring a professional web developer. A good web developer will probably cost you anywhere from $60 to $125 an hour.
Create a Site Diagram
Look at the list of sections and descriptions that you created earlier. Flesh them out and include which technologies will be used with each section. Create a flowchart for your website. Diagram how the site flows together. Include the main sections, their description, and how they connect to each other. When the diagram is finished you should be able to clearly see and understand your entire website architecture at a glance.
Consider Maintenance and Updating
With development, take into consideration maintenance and updating. Careful planning now can save hours of frustration later. Templates and Cascading Style Sheets are two methods of development which can greatly ease modification and maintenance. If you are unfamiliar with these, then I would recommend picking up a book on Dynamic HTML.
Develop the Navigation
Use your marketing materials and the web architecture diagram to begin to create the website design. Develop a navigation method that remains consistent throughout the page. The user should never become lost, and should always have access to the other main sections of the page. Make a couple of different design sketches. Use elements from your sketches to create the final layout sketch.
Final Layout and Continuity
Use the final layout sketch for development of the index page. The index page will be your main page and establish the look and feel for the site. Use a graphic program such as Adobe Photoshop to create it. Address download time in creation. Too many large graphics can slow the load time to a crawl. Use a compression program such as Adobe ImageReady to ensure faster load speeds. Don't worry about web layout restrictions at this point, just develop it as if it were a graphic. There are many ways to code your way around situations to make the finished piece look like the concept.
Use the architecture, technologies, and layout to develop your site fully. Ensure that you have continuity throughout the site. During development the web site should be stored locally and not on the web unless necessary.
Test every link and check all spelling before launch. It's easy to misspell a word when you are creating 50 pages of content. Ensure that all pages and graphics are working correctly. Test the site using multiple web browsers, resolutions and platforms.
Once the website checks out, it's ready for launch. Grab your favorite FTP client, and send that page up there! Congratulations, you now have an Internet presence.
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In his next article, Jose will give some advice on how to market your website effectively.
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