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SITE DESIGN PLANNING

What you need when planning your site design.
Too often, having a Web site built turns into a nightmare of additions here, tweaks there and the eventual rejection of work done so far. 
You can avoid this by planning the entire site before the developer writes the first line of HTML code. 

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WHAT YOU NEED WHEN
PLANNING YOUR SITE DESIGN

If you're ready to build your site but aren't going to do the work yourself, you'll need to hire a Web site developer. 


Too often, having a Web site built turns into a nightmare of additions here, tweaks there and the eventual rejection of work done so far. You and your developer go back to the drawing board feeling resentful and angry -- and you may feel a lot poorer. Even if an impasse is not reached, insufficient planning can cause mix-ups, duplicated work and a general feeling of "where are we?" 


You can avoid this by planning the entire site before the developer writes the first line of HTML code. There are countless factors to consider when planning a site, but the basic framework can be constructed from three components: site map, content list and checklist. 


Site map


Detail is the key. Give your developer complete and detailed information on what you wish your site to include. The developer will create a site map that should contain: 


A chart of every page. 


Apart from general content, this will list every component page, no matter how small, that will go into the site, including:

  • Form pages (online order, query, contact and subscription forms).
  • Thank-you pages leading from the form pages.
  • User agreements, such as disclaimer statements that may include your privacy policy.
  • Copyright statements, to discourage the copying of your content for commercial use. 
  • Details of exactly what each page will contain, such as: 
  • Opt-in forms for online newsletter sign-ups. 
  • Footer information -- this is a convenient place to put a physical address, e-mail address and copyright statement. 
  • Banners, for external and internal advertising. (Internal banners promote a particular page on your site.) 
  • Graphics, including photographs, charts and so on.
  • Text. 


Details of how navigation will be treated, including how each page is linked to the rest of the site, and what emphasis will be given to certain sections. Apart from navigation menus, include details of how else the pages will be linked.


Options include:

  • Hyperlinked text 
  • Internal banner systems. 


Once your developer sends you the site map, check to see if all the important functions (marketing, selling, query resolution, information) are addressed, then study it in combination with the four "customer experience" questions: 

  • What do I want my visitors to know on this page?
  • What do I want my visitors to feel right now?
  • What do I want my visitors to do at this point?
  • Where do I want my visitors to go next? 


If there are any areas where answers or intentions are not clear, discuss them with your developer and amend the site map. Don't sign off on it until you're completely happy. This should be the last chance for additions and changes; this protects the developer from having to produce extra work for the same fee and protects you from delays caused by last-minute changes. 


Content list


As soon as the site map is finalized, work with your developer to compile a list of every piece of content needed and who will supply it. The content list is not just for articles, press releases and so on; it is a complete list of every item needed, and should include: 

  • Main body text for each page.
  • Wording for navigation.
  • Articles.
  • Wording for fields and forms. 
  • Wording for thank-you, and other secondary pages.
  • Photographs.
  • Banners.
  • Graphics (apart from those included in the page templates).
  • Keywords and meta tag content.
  • User agreement.
  • Privacy statement.
  • Copyright statement.

Any other item indicated by the site map.


A "who will supply" column is important, as a void here will indicate the need to hire an outside writer to help complete the inventory. Copies of this list should be sent to each outside content supplier, with strict deadlines attached. Your developer should have all content by the time building starts on your site. Missing content can hold up the process. 


Checklist


Now that there's a detailed site map and a stack of content, ask your developer for a checklist of all tasks that need to be completed. It should be available to each person contributing to the construction of the site, and you are entitled to a daily progress report. 

  • Are deadlines being met?
  • Are any areas lagging behind? Why?

The answers not only form a basis for your developer's troubleshooting but also offer the assurance that you are aware of progress and problems. 


It's fairly common for Web projects to run overtime and exceed budget. By insisting on proper planning and reporting procedures, you can minimize this risk


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