The argument over whether your business needs a website has been settled. The question now is how best to go about creating it.
Plan your company website
There are four main steps involved when you create a website:
- Establish your website objectives. For instance: to find more customers, support existing customers or sell directly online.
- Plan the structure. Produce a site map describing what pages you need and how they should be laid out. Remember that your company's internal structure may mean little to your customers, so try and see things from their perspective. You may wish to create wireframe diagrams showing what will go where on key pages.
- Create the site. Build the pages and add appropriate text, images and other media.
- Publish your company website. Use a web hosting service to put your website where other people can find it.
You need to get several key elements right to make your site easy to use:
- Keep navigation bars and menus easy-to-understand.
- Put page elements in the same places across your site.
- Reduce clutter and focus on what visitors want.
- Make sure pages load quickly to reduce frustration.
- Create content appropriate for the audience.
Lots of research has been done into what affects website usability, and it can help to read up on the subject. Nielsen Norman Group's articles are a really good place to start.
Usability testing can help further by showing how people actually use your website in real-life situations. The design of key elements like order forms can have a huge affect on enquiries or sales.
With mobile internet use on the rise, it's becoming important to make sure your website displays well on mobile phones too.
There are three main ways to build a website:
1. Build a website from scratch
This means working with the computer code (also called HTML) that websites are built from. This gives you complete control over your website.
However, it requires significant technical knowledge. For this reason, building a site from scratch is really only a realistic option if you have an in-house web designer.
2. Create a website from templates
This is usually the fastest way to build a website: you pick a design from a range of templates and add your own images, text and other content. It's good if you lack technical know-how or have a limited budget.
Template-based systems are usually quite easy to use. They're often called 'site creators' or 'site builders'. A starter package from a web hosting company will cost from £10 a month. Many pieces of website building software also include templates to build a site.
3. Build your company website with professionals
With a budget of £1,000 or more, you can work with a web designer or agency. If you pick the right partner, you will create a highly professional website.
To end up with good results, you'll need to be involved at every stage of the process - from delivering a carefully considered brief to offering constructive feedback.
To reach as many potential customers as you can and meet legal requirements such as the Equality Act 2010, make your website accessible to the widest possible audience. For instance:
- Build your website so screen readers - software which reads out what's on the screen - can interpret it.
- Ensure information presented as video, audio or images can be accessed in other ways (as text, for instance).
If you're working with a web design agency, they should be aware of these guidelines. If you're relying on templates, try to find another website using the same system and run it through an online validation tool.
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