First Steps to Building Your Dream Website
So, your site is feeling pretty drab, and you’re ready to turn it into the website of your dreams. Great! Now comes the tricky part: where to begin with this dream website of yours. Although you’ve hired a company to do the heavy lifting, there’s still a bit of prep work that needs to be done before sitting down for your first formal meeting with your new web team.
If you want your web team to be successful, you’re going to have to get your vision down on metaphorical paper. This prep work is crucial to setting the grounds for a healthy relationship between you and the web team. They’re not magicians or mind readers after all. A little extra effort from you early on can truly set the tone for the project ahead.
The good news is, this sort of preparation doesn’t require any special tools or software. You just need your vision, a spreadsheet, and an internet connection. I personally recommend using Google Sheets so collaborators can make and see changes in real-time. This is especially useful in a time when the ability to meet face-to-face is still so limited.
Gather Crucial Logins
There are several sets of credentials you need to gather at the beginning of any web project, no matter how large or small. On the first page of your Google sheet, make note of the names and passwords for the following:
And, of course, credentials to log into the backend of your website. It’ll be a little tough for anyone to work on your site without at least that.
Additional credentials that may be important to keep handy for a full-on web redesign include:
- Social media accounts
- Email hosting (this may be the same as your website hosting)
- Google Analytics
- Additional third party software
If you have any branding outlines, now would be a great time to get those together, too. This also includes fonts, logos (EPS, SVG, or AI files preferred), and key graphics such as images or textures. I can assure you that your web team is going to LOVE you for getting these items together in advance. (That old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar forever holds true)
Audit Your Website
Once you have your credentials in order, it’s time to take a step back and look at what you are currently working with. On a separate tab of your spreadsheet, make a list of all the pages (names and links) on your current site. This list is what we call a sitemap.
In looking at everything at once, what do you see? Is there anything missing? Are there pages that you may be able to combine? Make note of these concerns in a new column, we’ll be coming back to that later. You’ll also want to make note of any pages that may need content (text, pictures, or both) that could use a facelift.
This is also a great time to begin putting together your wishlist. Think about common elements that most sites typically include:
- General contact forms
- Newsletter integration
- Landing pages
- Resources (PDFs, videos, presentations, etc)
- SEO keywords & optimization
And then think about more specialized items you may want to include or improve:
- Additional content
- Scheduling software
Lastly, be sure to include a list of things you DON’T like about your site. Maybe the backgrounds are too dark? Maybe your stock images feel too staged? Whatever your gripe, be sure to write it down. Specifics like “the yellow bar is too harsh” or “the font is too traditional” are going to be far more useful to your web team than vague statements like “I don’t like it,” or “because it’s ugly.” Provide substance behind your feedback.
Oh, and don’t sugarcoat the negative stuff if the team working on your site now is the same team that built it before. They’re professionals and know not to take those sort of comments personally. There’s also a chance your web team shares the same sentiments. This tends to be especially true if the site is more than 2 years old. Technology moves so fast, especially in the web design industry.
Research Your Competition
Chances are, you already know who your competition is. Now you need to take those names and list them, along with the URLs of their websites, on a new tab of your spreadsheet. Visit each of your competitor’s websites and list your likes and dislikes. Don’t just hone in on design elements, but also consider how the content is organized. Are there any elements they have that your site is missing? Be sure to note those as well.
If you’re really getting into the researching spirit, you may also want to look for competitors in similar demographics. If you run a roofing company in Indianapolis, for example, look at websites for roofing contractors in cities like Cincinnati, St. Louis, Des Moines, or even Louisville.
Think Outside The Box
If you really want your new website to stand out from the others, you need to look past the boundaries of your industry. Sticking with the roofing contractor, you’d want to research websites for companies in similar fields, such as plumbers, masons, or even electricians.
Sure, these sites probably aren’t going to have the exact elements necessary for your website, but they may give you more direction as far as styling and page layout. For even more inspiration, research brands that use similar branding elements such as color schemes. If your branding uses a lot of blue, try looking at Lowes, Disney, Facebook, or even NASA.
Is creative thinking not your forte? Try a quick Google Images search using keywords such as “blue logo” and see what comes up. You may be surprised by what you find.
Back To Your Wishlist
Remember when we were talking about those items you felt were missing on your current site? Now that you have a better feel for what’s going on around you, let’s get back the original objective: putting together the vision for your dream website.
After looking through all these other reference sites, did your wishlist grow? Were there items you thought you wanted before, but no longer make sense? Or are you now more confused about what you want than before you started? Any and all of these reactions are perfectly normal.
Thanks, Now I’m More Confused Than Ever
If this list-making has created more anxiety than relief, take a break and remember why you hired your web team in the first place. You hired them for the same reason people hire you- because you value their expert opinion. They, much like your clients, do not expect you to have all the answers, especially on day one.
What your web team wants (ok, needs) is to be able to think like you and your company. They want to understand your wants, needs, and concerns. And if you’re conflicted about a particular element, this vision sheet will help them guide you to the decision that will benefit you and your company the most. Don’t fear not knowing all the answers, but instead own it. Your web team is here to help and will appreciate the transparency.
Help Us Help You Build Your Dream Website
So sure, it is a little extra work and yes, you may even need to do a little searching outside your comfort zone. But by putting in this extra effort in the very beginning, you’re eliminating all that guesswork and the back and forth that goes with it. With a stronger understanding of what you want upfront, your web team is going to be able to come up with a plan that will embody your vision. All and all, you’ll be setting the foundation for a great project and possibly even a great relationship for years to come.
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