You want a new website – great! Your website is like your wardrobe, and needs to be refreshed and updated at intervals so you can present your best face to world. But before you whip out your credit card for your shiny new togs, you need to take a step back and make sure that you’re prepared for the process.

Website Project Planning Checklist

Below are ten things that you need to know before you start a website project to make sure that you get the site you need smoothly and painlessly.

  • Know your why. Why do you want a new site? What are you trying to achieve, and what is it that you want your new website to do? Your “why” will inform the entire project, whether you want to update your image and brand, drive more sales and leads, or just have a placeholder that says, “my business exists.” Don’t spend the time and money on a new site without knowing why you want it.
  • Know your audience.No, your audience is not “everyone.” You may have both a primary and secondary target audience, but you need to know who those people are before you start to design your project. Think of walking into a crowded room – if you try to stand in the doorway and talk to everyone, no one will listen to you. But if you go up and talk to one specific person, you suddenly have their attention.
  • Know your message. What is your unique value proposition? What makes you different? Why should visitors or customers come to you rather than your competition? This isn’t your tagline so much as it is the core message of your company or brand. Your website should have this front and center, so you need to know what it is before you begin.

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  • Know your brand’s visual identity. Do you have a cohesive, coherent brand identity? This is more than your logo. It’s the fonts you use, the images, the colors, everything visual that says, “you are now interacting with this business.” For your website project, elements of your visual identity that you can bring to the table include photos, brochures, marketing materials, and other visual assets. Know if you have them, and if you do, know where these files live and if they’re useable. You’ll make your life and the life of your designer immeasurably easier.
  • Know what you want your visitors to do. What do you want to happen with your website? Do you want to increase sales, increase visitors, or drive leads? How will you measure success for your site? What you want your visitors to do and how you’ll measure success determine the structure of your site, its calls to action, and how you guide visitors down the path you want them to take.
  • Know your budget. The first thing many small businesses ask is, “how much will it cost?” The answer is always “it depends on the scope of the project.” But it’s important to know that there are design and development costs, there are maintenance costs, and there can be branding and content costs if you need those as well. It costs more and takes longer than you think, and the cost will be driven by the complexity of the design, the requirements of content, and the usability of the interface. Also, make sure your budget includes maintenance. It’s not enough to build it and let it decay – you need to budget some cost and some time for keeping the site up to date.
  • Know your “administrivia.” These are the necessary, but less-exciting pieces that let your site actually run. Do you have a domain name and a host? How do you plan to maintain and support your site? Do you have someone internally or will you hire someone? These details are essential to launching your website and keeping it afloat.
  • Know your security and accessibility requirements. In a world where we barely go a couple of weeks without hearing about another big hack, it’s important that you know what level of security your site will need. Will you ask visitors to share personal or credit card information? If so, you’ll need stronger security. Similarly, accessibility requirements become increasingly stringent if you’re a church, nonprofit or government provider. You need to be sure that your site is accessible to people with disabilities, or you could be breaking the law.
  • Know how your website fits into your marketing plan. Your website is a marketing tool, so it should be integrated with your other marketing activities. Emails newsletters, social media accounts, and appointment calendars should link with your site, so you (and your visitors) have a one-stop shop for your marketing activities.

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  • Know your expectations for a designer or web team. This will color the quality of your interactions throughout the lifetime of the project. Do you want your designer to be a business partner, helping you with strategy and content, or do you just want someone to build out what you design? There is a difference between working with someone who just executes instructions (or someone’s teenage kid) and a genuine marketer. One will work from your instructions, and the other will work from your goals, making the process as simple and painless and possible.

Your website is, at its core, a statement of your legitimacy. When you meet someone and give them your business card, the first thing that they do is go to your website to see if you’re legitimate, if you’re someone they want to work with, and to estimate the probable quality of your work. You want your website to be a testament to your business, which is why you’re spending the time and money on a web design team. Your website isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, and so is a team that will make your site an asset and a true marketing tool.