Before you design a website, you need to know what its purpose is. Why would you put time and money into a website if you don’t know what it’s for?
When your site visitors arrive you’ll have only a few moments of their time to let them know what your site is about, so be clear about it up front. The best time to decide what the site is for is before you start building it.
Writing a business plan for your site is not a bad idea, though you might not need to do much more than create a mission statement and a list of goals. What do you hope to accomplish by having the site on the web? What features should the site have in order to fulfill its potential?
If you already have a mission statement for your business you may want to post it on a separate “about us” page on the site, or you could integrate it into the text on the main page to clarify what your business, organization, or personal site is about. Either way, have a specific focus for the site, then build the site around your goals and objectives.
You are not building the site for yourself; keep that in mind. You’re building it for your potential visitors. Do you have ideas about who they will be? What will they be looking for? Who are you trying to attract? Knowing who you’re talking to will help you decide what kind of site you need.
Put yourself in the place of your ideal potential site visitor. What is this person looking for? What is this person like? What colors will appeal to this person? What features will make this person return to your site often?
You need to give people reasons to want to come back, so plan these features of your site in advance. You might want to offer interactive online post cards, a photo gallery with free images to share, frequently changing articles or stories, free e-book or software downloads, or consumer tips reflecting your area of expertise. Other ideas include an online store and shopping cart or a message board for community musings, though that last idea can be problematic if you don’t have enough site users.
By the time you finish planning your site, you should have a good idea of what it will be like and who it will serve, and how. Then it’s time to put your HTML skills to work and create the best site possible. Knowing where you’re going with this site is much more important that putting a half-finished idea online quickly, without having a plan.