"How to" TIPS for
Designing and Starting a New Website or Web Business

Basic checklist of tips for starting a web site or web business, in priority sequence -
Highlights of basic business, advertising and internet marketing principles to consider.

Brought to you by BG Design™ and WebSuccess, divisions of Buyers Group, est. 1985.

This 32 Item Checklist WILL help you design and promote a better site.

Do it RIGHT the first time! So many don't, and it costs them YEARS of frustration and failure! Success is about refining and integrating the business strategy, advertising principles, good promotion and good site design. Take a look at diagnosing why sites don't sell so yours WILL sell. ---- Now HERE IS THE CHECKLIST:

1) You can do a website cheaply. But you get what you pay for. It is better to design for reliability, update-ability, speed and maintainability, to be owned and portable to the host of your choice. To do it properly, depending on size and complexity of a moderate small business with about 4 to 20 people, a budget of at least $3000 and about 400 person-hours should be set aside for a website project with proper design, installation and initial promotion for a nice 10 to 16 page website with moderate functions and a few products. For functionality and databases and secure payment shopping carts and catalogues on a large website, the costs can easily run from $12,000 to $50,000 over a year or two.

Management should also allow their time to intimately manage and understand all the matters involved, studying this website. A better-developed site that meets higher standards costs about 20-30%% more, but is more reliable with less maintenance and other costs over time. If you really intend to grow, proper design is a very important matter. See Designing for Growth Refinement of the business and marketing strategy should result from management's study of and participation in the website design and promotion process.

2) As for any project, gathering of knowledge, checklists, standards and examples, then planning and setting out goals, requirements and tasks is done first. There are diverse opinions. Ignore most that promise cheap, quick and easy. Shortcuts can cause failure.

3) Most importantly understand that the internet is changing, becoming more cluttered and more competitive with rapidly rising promotion costs and increasing numbers of competitors. Superficially, to the untrained eye, unreliable small companies can appear large and sophisticated and take business away. Success requires staying ahead of all the competition. This takes money, resources, hard work, experts, time and promotion. Unless you are very lucky, you likely will have extreme difficulty on a budget of only a couple of thousand dollars.

4) The website's design, implementation and promotion are integral to the business: Strategy, positioning, differentiation, focus and unique selling proposition are terms you should thoroughly study and understand. Your strategy must not go head-to-head with endless "me too" competitors who drag down profitability. Competing widely across a nation without a competitive advantage is a formula for doom.

A goal of "throwing up a website" is a sign of bad management doomed to fail. Good management uses every step to hone the business focus, look and appeals.

5) It's time to talk to professional website designer-developers, not only your in-house person, and narrow it down to about three who have been in business at least 5 years with examples of successful clients and who exhibit broad professional knowledge, including of standards, content, promotion and an emphasis on designing for growth and for easy maintenance and transportability of the site. Expect top designers to be busy in demand and not be the cheapest. We recommend a designer from your area or at least your country who knows your culture thoroughly. Ask your web designer who they prefer for "Hosting" and for "Domain Registration" and "Graphics" designers or artists. Don't expect any to be perfect, but be sure who you choose as a hosting company is someone your web designer prefers.

6) Talk to your web designer about your online payment methods, options and systems, customer service support software and shopping carts if that might be needed. It may be time to shop for credit processing providers. Your designer can probably suggest who they have worked with as a merchant credit card processing company, or other back-end secure transaction processing. There are options for consumer financing that you should learn.

7) Web strategy first follows a good business strategy which best balances resources, strengths and weakness against market gaps and opportunities. But an internet web strategy also requires knowledge of how prospects and visitors find you, usually by search engines, directories, banners, forums, blogs, articles and advertising. You must also understand how your "promotion" strategy and web site personality and trade dress will be executed. This depends on your budget. If you can not spend at least a couple of thousand dollars over 6 months to a year for promotion and advertising, you likely will not succeed. Most of this should be on PPC, blogging and niche search-directories to build qualified website traffic.

8) Web site standards should be reviewed, with emphasis on marketing strategy and advertising principles integrated with proper site design. See Website design Priorities and Checklist. See also WebSuccess2020 standards.

9) When you are familiar with all that, the next step is to determine a web strategy compatible with the business strategy. First, thoroughly survey the internet competition and web marketplace compared to the general market. This is best done with big white cards on a big wall, with arrows and grouping boxes until you totally understand the players and flows between them, and then find the gaps. Read up on "Positioning", differentiation and finding niches. This step is a review to adjust the business strategy updated to reflect the web environment and strategy.

10) The above survey should include thorough research and tabulating of "keywords" and advertising used in categories similar to yours. Observe over months which paid ads stay and are running a long time, indicating they work. Note those. Begin your own list. You can see this process done correctly is a key to web success.

11) Now is the time to finalize some domain names if not all reserved. This can get expensive if not kept to a reasonable 2 to 10 names, including gateway sites. Now is time to select and choose a "Domain Name Registrar" and reserve the domain names, and to choose a "Hosting Company" who uses standardized software and methods. See How to Choose a Domain Name. Most businesses need to have one or more gateway sites which focus on a customer type and customer needs, by what are called "hooks" in marketing. Think of it as laying out more "trot lines" if you were river fishing.

12) We would not use a hosting company who charges high prices for programming (such as over $130 per hour on Java and PHP) and be cautious any who recommend their own "web site generator" or "website builder". Avoid being tied to one hosting company and avoid WYSIWYG page editors that can really mess up a well-coded site. See Dangers of Web Site Generators.

13) Your web designer should now ask you questions on your goals and priorities. This will also help you review and tweak your final web strategy. This helps the web designer better understand you goals to be reflected in the design.

14) Review the legal aspects and policies and terms, as well as privacy statements and disclosures. Avoid hype that could be considered misrepresentation.

15) Finalize Keywords and phrases for your site and pages, properly sprinkling them in the rough draft home page and one other page content within standards. Your designer should be able to place these strategically also for search engine robots. Emphasize your unique strengths. Create doubt about your competition. Most important for a new or smaller business is building credibility. Your web designer can help on this most important requirement for a web site. Keep in mind that most people prefer a specialist who knows their needs and culture, and who offers unique skills. Your business strategy will determine your pricing strategy as a part of your marketing strategy.

16) When keywords, goals, positioning and ad copy is mostly determined, it is time to upload and initially promote a rough mostly-text draft of your home page, including all your services, products and many keywords, with notation near the bottom that the site is undergoing updates. It is very important to begin this basic and hopefully not much changing page and domain as early as possible, for internet "propagation" which takes many months to a year. A very active promotion campaign should be started at this time, with submissions to all major web directories and search engines. However, the larger paid promotion campaign is reserved until the web site is improved and tweaked to match the most successful ad copy. Such ad copy is tested using PPC in major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, as well as observing what works for others. Remember to include suggestions of your web designer and web master in making improvements so you don't blow your budget. Changes that look the same to you can cost many times different due to technical aspects.

17) Talk to your web designer about pictures and images standards, formats and placements. The shape, size and quality of images, as well as their colors is very important. We can't over-emphasize color management and style and theme in developing an attractive web site. Do not set off on a new logo for your business without planning how this will fit into the color scheme. Involve your web designer in your logo development, and be sure you keep copies of the original layered photoshop or graphic designer's steps in a large format. Web colors do not look exactly like print colors. The web designer needs a large layered master logo and likewise on other site graphics if they get complex. Likewise for any Flash movies, you must acquire the entire working files, not just the final flash object, if you ever want to be able to modify it, otherwise your web developer can not work with it in any way.

18) Avoid the idea of more than one person or company doing the programming on the website. That creates version problems and bugs when one programmer does not know something has been changed. This applies also to "SEO" services. They should be approved by and go through your web designer. A good designer will take care of most of the promotion and SEO issues working with you on your advertising and content text and keywords. Search engine optimization should not be piecemeal. That is the heart of your content and site design.

19) Finalize the colors, logos and "trade dress", styles and "look" for the web after having a web designer and graphics artist sketch and mockup a few possible looks for your home page, roughly. Keep in mind this may all change as advertising copy testing shows you the key buyers want a different style, image or specialty of their vendor supplier (you).

20) With a final rough homepage and page or two to enable prospects' input on webforms, it is time to begin testing ad copy, likely using Google, Bing or Yahoo. This is the time to formulate 2 to 4 main "appeals" or "hooks", and begin sub-pages or gateways linking to the main homepage for further testing. Such ads should contain "qualifying" screening text. It is time to promote the home page with most of the product names and keywords therein. This should include a wide effort to directly use many kinds of promotion, including self-promotion. AVOID companies promising "top ranking" and "SEO Services". Most are scams and rip-offs and are unnecessary. Later on, your designer will suggest who and how to do SEO and internet promotion.

21) Set up and practice traffic monitoring and tracking analysis of Google and install a site stat counter. Site statistics and internal tracking are important to success Now is time to test both the ads and "look" of the site. When a good ad copy and headlines are found, then the site might be varied a bit to test "stickiness" and interest. You should know the typical "buying cycle" and types of buyers, such as engineers who are slow and analytical. Others may buy quickly on emotions. Don't confuse buyers with too many choices at one time. Keep it to about 5 or 6 choices at one time, with clear distinctions or categories.

22) After a couple of months of that, it is time for the best results to be selected, tabulated, analyzed and then critiqued by both your web designer and your marketing expert as well as a focus group, if possible. Schedule time of your web designer for major work to begin. This is the time for the Director of Marketing to review how either the business or the web site might be changed slightly to better align with each other within the overall business strategy.

23) RE-Finalize Keywords and phrases for your site and pages, properly sprinkling them in the content within standards. Don't over-use words key phrases, or search engines will penalize your site. Your designer should again be able to place these strategically also for search engine robots.

24) Web site design, content writing around such keywords, and final graphics tweaks should begin in earnest with a final survey of the competition and design standards for last minute adjustments. This is a good time to seriously design automation and integration, web forms, databases and desired functions, such as shopping carts and catalogues. Best design practices begin with the "output" desired and work backward. A web site designed for sales or fund raising must balance traffic generation with screening. A company capable of budgeting for promotion will have a very different design than a small company with a little budget who must rely mostly on organic rankings and self-promotion and sprinkling links around. A PPC campaign must focus on screening prospects before they click. This will include gateway and educational articles sites which may be in categories which are less expensive than their main business.

25) Finalize payment methods and order security certificate and payment processing service if you plan to accept credit cards online, unless your web designer has other alternatives, such as Paypal shopping cart. Be aware that owning a shopping cart system is a serious endeavor with security risks. Hackers love credit processing systems.

26) Consider drafting web page content, ad copy and layout sketches but then have a "content writer" go over your entire concept, offerings, strategy and ads to improve the wording or suggest even better alternatives. Professional ad copy writing is well worth the money also. Your web designer can suggest a content writer/editor or tweak your web content. Give your designer some leeway to tweak content.

27) Be very careful about colors on key logos, understanding print and web colors are not the same, and realize the whole site will reflect the logo and key trade dress. Be aware of size limitations. A big logo with much detail may look unrecognizable when compressed into the limited spaces of web page designs.

28) Avoid the temptation to use a lot of Flash, animation, video or slides which usually distract and slow the site down. Maintenance of Flash is a costly nightmare for changes, as are heavy use of "tables", unusual formats, blocks and columns. As for "marquees" and blinking, just DON'T. Don't allow anything that could irritate or distract a visitor from the key message. A simple "walk on", interview video or of the product in action can be effective, if short, less than one minute. Remember, load times are critical and become too long with flash and walk-ons.

29) On completion of the main web site and at least one gateway "hook" site, promotion by "Pay per Click" and renewed directand organic promotion and postings should be increased to maximum in your first major web advertising campaign.

30) Now is a good time to develop "teasers" and updating news, articles and interest and web or industry community information and/or blogs or forums, which may require promotion and much time and effort to upkeep. Eventually, forum users may help promote your site themselves.

31) Traffic and promotion should be intensely analyzed for about three months, surveying the market gaps and landscape against the original business strategy.

32) Then the final strategy tweaks and re-design(s) should be planned and started, going back to about step 7 above and restarting these items, skipping unnecessary steps. Web competition is so intense that only by planned and continual improvement can a company stay ahead. The key is improving the main business strategy to reflect the web market, and to execute all the congruent sub-strategies based on proper budgeting and oversight. You want the best match of your resources to the gaps in the market.


Note: For free but valuable information about web business and page design, look at our tips, guides and articles. We focus on how to get started correctly and how to Improvement, scientifically by testing.

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