Excellent, you have a great idea for a website- but what now? You need to come up with a plan to guide you along the way to making your idea a reality. You need to fill in certain blanks and make sure you have a very clear picture of your proposed website. Creating this documented plan, with all of the details flushed out, will enable you to discuss your ideas thoroughly with your team or web development company to get the best estimate for building your site.
As a Senior Software Engineer here at Segue, I go over the following questions with my clients when they bring up new ideas for websites. However, going through the process of answering these questions for yourself will get you through the process of planning quickly and help you make some quick decisions. It also gives you a starting point for discussing the costs of creating your website.
1. Do Your Research
First, do your research. You will likely have more questions to ask and answer for yourself than you realize. Has someone already created your website idea, or something similar? Is it operational? What is good or bad about the site? What sets your idea apart? If you think your idea is unique, and no one else has done it yet, that’s great. If you think you can improve on an existing idea, that can certainly work as well. Make sure to document your findings along the way: Who are your website’s potential competitors? How do your site’s services or products differ, and how are they competitive? If you are considering charging for your site content, you should compare other services and their associated fees (if any), and determine where your site’s services or products would fit in competitively.
2. Finalize the Data and Content Before You Start Development
Next, figure out what data and content will be on your site, and where that data will come from. Does it exist in databases, other sites, RSS feeds, Web Services, or elsewhere? If the data doesn’t exist in a digital format already, then you will have to find a way get into a usable and accessible format. If it does exist, do you have access to that information? Will that information be free? Is a subscription or purchase required to access the data? Determining the feasibility and logistics of getting your desired data is an important step. Data that is not readily available or that requires special services or application programming interfaces (APIs) to access can be daunting, but not insurmountable.
3. Determine Your Site’s Functionality – What Are You Doing With Your Content?
Third, what will your site do with the data and content? You might plan to just display data to the user, let them save and collect it, or allow them to manipulate it in some way. If you’re dealing with stock information, for example, you might want to let users collect articles. You can allow users to create and keep lists of stocks that they own, and attach articles and tips found on your site to specific stocks. You might also display a stock market ticker with the latest stock prices throughout the day. It’s important to delineate all the functionality that you want your site to provide to its users. This will be the meat of your site, and will likely be what sets it apart from its competitors.
Make a list of all the menu options, functions, and possible flow through the system that you want to present to your users. This will be the roadmap for developing your site. It will define the options and functions that must be developed to make your site work. Will there be parts of your site information and content that are free and accessible to all? Will some or all of your website require membership or a subscription?
4. Your Website’s Look and Feel is Critical
Consider what image you want to present or what impression the users should get when first entering your site and while navigating through it. Is it bright and cheerful, with lots of colors, as appropriate for renting sailboards at a couple of local beach locations for visitors to the island? Or is it primarily black and white, with some red and blue neon colors to highlight a few things, as common for a business stock trading web site? Think about what you want your site to look like and what you are willing to invest to accomplish this. There are many options, from using templates and existing photographs and icons that exist for nominal fees, to having custom branded logos, graphics and photos created by design and usability specialists. Most will consider something in between this, using some stock materials available affordably, and paying a premium for a logo, graphic, or photo that “defines” your site or company. But remember, having a cohesive design and pleasing overall aesthetic is important. If users do not like your site or find the aesthetics off putting, they may not stay long or return often.
5. Tips for Keeping Costs Low
Extensive design, custom graphics and layout can be costly, so using readily available templates, graphics, stock photos and icons can cut costs. However, they may not provide a unique impression to the visitors of the site. In regards to functionality, member vs. non-member areas on a site can add complexity and require custom development. Database or web service connectivity to provide data to the site will make it more maintainable, but the setup and development for such functionality will require web developers and may end up being prohibitively expensive.
Your best option is to have a well laid out, detailed plan to present to your team or web development company to get the best estimate for building the site. Websites can be developed with templates, WordPress, blog systems or other content management systems (CMS) for very affordable prices. Many of these offer the ability to take ready-made templates for whole sites and swap colors, graphics, logos and pictures to completely customize the look and feel to your liking. This can be done for a couple thousand dollars. Your average custom web site, built from scratch, will start at a minimum of ten thousand dollars. High-end custom sites with tons of functionality and data from various sources can take hundreds of thousands of dollars to create and a team of developers engaged over time to fine tune and maintain.