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Look Before You Leap: Steps to Planning Your Website

Creating a website is something anyone can do! With programs like WordPress, Weebly and Wix that make setup and design simple, and a variety of packages offered through many different companies that make web hosting affordable, having your own website for your business, blog, or personal use is a 21st century dream that's never been more obtainable. But before you dive into domains or peruse plugins, it may help to have some sort of strategy. Planning out your website in advance will help you make better decisions overall. It will also save you time and maybe even some money as well.  By following these steps, you'll be well-organized and well-prepared to start your new web adventure.  

Decide on a Purpose: Before you get too far in the process, you should decide how you plan to use your site. An online store and a personal blog won't be used the same way and these differences can impact the amount of storage and bandwidth you'll need amongst other requirements. Therefore, you'll want to decide on a purpose before you decide on a hosting package. How you use your site may also influence your domain name. Your domain name should be relevant to what your website has to offer, so knowing the site's purpose first can prevent you from having a discrepancy, or from having to register for additional domains that better match your site's content later on.  

Figure Out Who's In Charge: Will you be hiring someone to design your site or will you be doing all the design work yourself? Will you be the one managing your updates or will that role fall to another? Who's going to be writing and uploading your blog posts? Who's paying attention to SEO? Deciding who's going to be hands-on running the show might determine your site's complexity as well as what programs and tools you implement. You can count on web designers to be familiar with WordPress as well as the variety of great plugins they have to offer, but if you plan to be solely responsible for all aspects of your site (at least for a little while) then you want to make decisions that make the most sense to you, regardless of what's considered best or most popular. What are you able to handle? What do you have time for? If WordPress feels a little over your head and you don't have time to learns all the ins and outs, a drag-and-drop website builder like Weebly may better fit your needs.   Know

Your Target Audience: Once you've picked a domain name, a hosting plan, and a program to design and manage your site, you'll be ready to start getting into the really fun stuff – picking a theme, selecting a color palate, creating copy and adding images. While these tasks may seem overwhelming at first, you'll find that they're a lot easier if you already have a target audience in mind. When you know who your website is for, you can cater all of your design choices towards them. This will help you build a strong relationship with your readers, clients or customers as well as start molding your personal or business brand. How old is your target audience? Are they male or female? Are they married or single? What is their education level? What is their income level? The more information you can gather about the type of audience you want to attract, the better. This may seem like a lot of unnecessary work up front, but by doing your homework now, you'll be saving yourself from redesign work or rebranding work later.  

Have a Goal In Mind Before you take time to build your website, it's important that you know your end-game. Your website's purpose defines what it is your site does, whether that's share recipes, sell furniture, recap your vacation, or provide information about your graphic design business, but your website's goal defines what you ultimately want to get out of it. Generally, you want your goal to be your readers, customers or clients completing an action. Examples of goals are buying a product, contacting you for a quote, subscribing to a newsletter, or sharing an article on social media. You may have lots of different actions on your website, but for web design, it's generally best to focus on just one or two major goals overall. By understanding your primary goal, you can design your website in such a way that every page, every link, every piece of information is a way to get your website viewers to meet that goal. It may help to think of your website as a funnel or a tunnel. A well-planned, well-designed website will lead readers, clients and customers to that goal, regardless of where they've landed on your site.  

Set Up a Structure Now you're ready to start planning out the structure of your website. You may want to begin by making a list of all the pages you'll need as well as an outline of the information that you'll want to include. Common website pages you may want to consider are: Home, Products, Services, Store, About, History, Bio, Resume, Frequently Asked Questions, Helpful Resources, Testimonials, Terms of Services, Blog, News, Make an Appointment, Contact, and Careers, however there are many others and no rules about what you can and cannot make a website page. You may choose to list all of your products under a single products page, or if you only offer a handful of products, you may want to give each product its own page. You also don't have to include every page in your main menu – some may appear in a separate menu in your website's footer, or they may only be accessed as a link through another page. You'll also want to include within your outline other important website components like contact forms, polls, forums, shopping carts, headers, footers, titles and subtitles. Not only will planning for these elements prevent you from forgetting anything, it may help you choose your theme and it will save you lots of time throughout the design process.


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