Everyone knows time is money… this article intends to save you a little time, by preparing you for the types of questions you will be asked when you sit down with your web designer.
We will look at:
- Keywords – which words would you like to rank against when people enter a search on a search engine?
- Website structure – how many pages you would like and how do they all relate
- Content – what volume of text do you anticipate? How often will you need to update?
- Layout – fixed or fluid?
- Branding – do you have a brand? Are there any specific colour sets / text fonts that you would like to use? Favourite websites / features – have you seen anything on the internet that you like?
- Images – do you have your own or do you need stock photos?
- Special features – Are there any special features you would like to include? i.e. revolving images, flash banners, are any areas to be password protected?
If you plan for future clients to find you via search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo in the future, it is essential to think about keywords from the outset. Keywords are basically the words that you would like to associate with your company and in turn rank for when people type them into search engines.
It’s important however to be realistic when choosing your keywords, if there are twenty long standing competitors that currently rank for a certain search term, then you are unlikely to rank higher than them in the immediate future. You should spend some time researching which keywords are popular, and which you have a chance at competing for to begin with (try these tools).
A sensible approach is to target both popular keywords (for the longer term) and also ‘long tail’ keywords (for the short term). Long tail keywords are less commonly searched for, but easier to rank against. For example ‘Website Design Tynemouth’ is much more realistic search term to aim for than ‘Web Design Newcastle’ in the beginning of a web campaign. It is much better to appear on the first page for a less common (but searched for) term, than on the twentieth page for a common term.
When designing a website, it is important to have an understanding of the amount of pages that a site is likely to have and the intended method for navigating through them. If you can have a rough idea as to your websites likely structure, then your designer can allow the necessary amount of space in the initial layout to accommodate a suitable menu system.
For example, you might have a flat menu structure with all pages accessible from the main navigation menu [no dropdown menu] (figure 1) or you might have a more complex tree structure where a number of pages are only accessible from their parent pages [or via a dropdown menu] (figure 2).
On a similar note, it is also useful as a designer to have an idea of the volume of text that you need to accommodate on any one page, and how the text is to behave when a user resizes the window (see layout).
It is useful to spend some time thinking about what you would like to say and if you have time make a draft of the content for each page. Remember to choose 4 or 5 keywords for each page and to include them in the page title, and as frequently as possible throughout the copy of a page (don’t stuff keywords, it is more important to use good English and make sure the words flow naturally).
At this stage it is also worth thinking about how frequently you are likely to want to change your content in the future, or add more pages. It may be more economic in the long term to enquire about setting your site up as a blog site or content managed site (see this article).
There are two major types of layout to consider when deciding on a website. These are fixed (set canvas size) or fluid (content stretches to fit window) layouts.
Fixed size layout
This style of site is based on a fixed canvas size (i.e. 1000px wide) and the canvas is generally aligned to the left side or the centre (this site is 1000px centre aligned). All elements on the page will stay exactly where they are no matter how the screen is altered.
How this site is displayed depends entirely on the ‘screen resolution’ of the users’ browser. The two most common screen resolutions at the time of writing this article are 1024x768px and 1280x1024px, therefore a 1000px wide website will display easily on these screens. The problem lies with more obscure screen sizes (like 800x600px or 1680x1400px), if the canvas is too large for the browser additional scroll bars will be added, and conversely if the browser window is too large the site will float in the centre (or left).
Fluid website layout
The term fluid implies that the content on the page will ‘adapt’ to the screen size, and again if someone resizes the page. There are various types of fluid layout, such as 1,2 or 3 column fluid or you might choose to have some parts fixed and some parts fluid. I recommend viewing this site (http://www.dynamicdrive.com/style/layouts/category/C13/) for more ideas on fluid web design.
Generally speaking, I would recommend a fixed layout if you intend to use lots of images / fixed amount of text and are concerned about the sites appearance on all browsers. Fluid sites are better utilised for more textual based content.
If you have a brand already developed, this can easily be used as a starting point in designing your website. If you don’t have one developed already (see article), then try to consider which colours you feel would portray your company in a professional manner. You should also research what type of fonts you might consider suitable (serif or sans serif, handwriting, chunky or slim).
It is also useful to spend a few hours browsing the internet to find any sites that you like the look of, both visually and functionally. This type of information will ensure a more positive initial design meeting and give you a basis for discussion when you meet with your web designer.
A picture paints a thousand words…
The choice and layout of imagery on a website is essential. If a page contains too much text, the user will simply get bored and go elsewhere. This is why it is so important to choose appropriate, high quality images to break up the text on your site.
You might consider using your own images on the site which is entirely fine in many cases, however I would strongly recommend browsing through a stock image website (www.shutterstock.com) and compare your images with the ones you find. In many instances you will find the stock images more striking and vibrant in their colour range and are available at relatively low costs (for example you can purchase 12 images on the shutterstock website for approximately £30).
In any event, it is always useful to have in mind which photos you would like to use, prior to meeting a designer (if selecting from a stock image website, try and note down the image ID numbers).
Finally, if there are any special features that you would like to include on your site, be sure to note down some examples to show at the initial meeting. These might be flash games or banners, images galleries, special animations, interactive menus, password protected areas or even something bespoke like an ordering system.
Generally speaking, if you have seen it done somewhere on the internet, then there is always a way to include it on your own site.
I hope this article has got your creative mind turning over in advance of seeking out a web designer. Hopefully your first meeting will be a lot more productive, now that you know the types of questions you are likely to be asked.