Planning a web site: Tips to a friend

Ran into a friend at the supermarket last night. He was headed out and I was headed in.

“Do you still do web sites?” he asked. We talked for a bit and he gave me a business card. I promised to email with some advice and we may get together to talk but it occurred to me that the email I sent him is general information, applicable to everyone. So I include it here. The names have been changed to keep it generic:

As you plan your web site, here’s some basic info to consider (some of which you may already have done):

I started to write this at the end of the email but it occurs to me it’s important and basic enough to move it to the top: What is the mission of the site? And very much related: How will you judge success or failure of the site? What do you offer that’s unique? How will you get the word out to drive traffic to your site?

This might seem obvious (mission: to make money; success judged on whether it makes money) but there’s usually more to it. Lots of business sites succeed based more on customer experience and full service than just the quality of the product. Think of’s ability to know pretty well what each customer wants. Think of’s way of letting you try on shoes with no risk.

So planning:

Make an outline. It doesn’t need to be fancy and it will not be complete (web sites are always changing and if they aren’t changing, they’re dying). But figure out what your basic pages will be to start and what features you’ll want to have. And as you do this, you will naturally get the pieces together:

Start gathering the parts of the site: text, logo, graphics, photos. In digital form, so you can email it to me or send on disk.

Start planning for commerce: Products, sales tax, shipping, etc. Will each product have its own page or put a few products on a page? Shipping charges are one of the most difficult things to figure out so start early. Paypal is a good way to test the waters of ecommerce and for some is a complete solution. Research Paypal and sign up for a merchant account.

Who is your audience and how will you get them to your site?

Right from the start, you need to plan how to get people to your web site. Here’s some basic advice on that: basics of search-engine optimization.

But you can’t depend entirely on Google or other search engines. So:

Your URL (universal resource locator: is the most important thing to tell people. Just as I told you yesterday: is how to get hold of me, find out about me, see my work, etc. My phone number, email, etc., is all there. Your URL should be as prominent as you can bear to make it on your packaging, business card, bumper stickers, whatever. Get it out there that this is your address. Call it branding if you want. There are people who see me on the street and say, “Jim Dugan Dot Com” as if it’s my name. Perfect.

Plan for keeping your site current. A site that doesn’t change regularly fails for a few reasons but most simply put: both Google and human beings like sites that are fresh and new, not static and stale. For organizations that have weekly staff meetings, I recommend that a standing agenda item be: What should we add/change on our web site this week? For individuals, I recommend a clipboard with pen on your fridge with the heading: Changes to Web Site.

Design ideas: I ask every new client to come to me with some sites he/she likes and/or would like to emulate. I do not copy other sites but I do like to have some idea what the client’s expectations are. Do you have logos, color schemes, etc. that are already starting to define corporate identity?

Not a complete list but a start.