Website Planning Tools - Online Business Articles

We have covered website planning with our step by step guide and provided a website planning checklist previously so next we are going to provide some tools to help complete your website planning.

Not everyone is a techy. That is fine. Old fashioned pen and paper and a binder can be used to complete your website planning tasks too. Actually, a binder complete with tabs with of all your information might be easier to work with instead of a bunch of windows open on your computer screen. Use these tools in whatever way works best for you.

Website Planning Tools

Purpose and Goals of Website

Defining the purpose and goals is an important step in the website planning process. Don’t just write them down and put them away, put them right in front of you to keep the rest of the planning and development of your project on track.

Purpose of the Website or Blog

Creating a list (or lists as the case maybe) of the purpose(s) of creating the site will define many things later in the planning process, what you need to do to accomplish that purpose (technologies required, marketing required, hosting required, and budget required).

With the purpose written across the top, leave room for the following:

  • What is needed to accomplish this purpose.
  • Columns to check off whether you can do this yourself or this task needed to be hired out. Be true to yourself. You can not do everything yourself and run a business well. You are good at particular things. You can pick up how to do certain things easier than others. Would your time be better spent producing product, providing service or muddling through something you have no interest in doing well?
  • You could also include a budget column in preparation for your final budget as you explore what is required to meet this purpose.

Website Goals Tools

Displaying your goals where you can see them every day for encouragement and a reminder to stay focused is the best route. Writing them down somewhere is great but if you put that list away somewhere you tend to forget about them. So here are some ideas for keeping your website goals right in front of you:

  • Index cards taped/stuck some where on your wall. How about your bulletin board around the perimeter? or across the top of it?
  • On your white board/chalk board down the side where they won’t be covered or wiped out.
  • Business card size notes in your wallet in one of the credit card slots (right next to the debit card or your favourite credit card would be good so you see it each time you reach for the card to spend some money that maybe you shouldn’t be spending). Rotate them daily/weekly.
  • Set up a reminder each day on your favourite PDA, phone or what ever device you use daily.
  • PostIt notes on your computer screen. Maybe a different colour than the rest so they stand out.

Target Audience Research

There are a few online tools to research your target audience:

  • Google Trends shows the trending topics during a specific space of time. The results can be targetted to a specific country if you wish to market just to those in a specific country.

    This tool will also give you an indication of the searches your target audience do. Helpful information for the search engine optimization part of your website development

  • You might find that the Google Insights for Search another helpful tool for determining what people are searching for by category, season, geographical area and search patterns.

Some other ideas of what you can do to collect information about your target audience include:

  • Set up on online survey. This isn’t a suggestion to spam everyone you know in your email address book with the link to your survey but to find people you know and do not know well that would understand your proposed business/theme somewhat and who can give you valuable feedback on your idea.
  • Study what your competitors are doing right and wrong.
  • Survey the going price for your proposed product or service. Is this going to be enough to make a living at if that is your goal? Do you need to target a higher end sector of the market?
  • Go to your local library or business center to see what statistics they have. Using only online information can be misleading. Unless you are a smart surfer, the search engines are starting to show you what they think you want to see (a whole other topic for another day).

Your target audience research will also give you some valuable information for the search engine optimization part of your project.

Website Technologies and Web Hosting

Through the previous steps you have information on what technologies your new website or blog will be needing. Keeping in mind that right now you might be starting out small (as far as number of pages required, web hosting storage space required and expected traffic go) be sure to select a web hosting package that you can upgrade later as the need arises without having to pack up and leave. It makes life much easier to know that you can expand without the worry of backing up everything, spending time finding a new host and reinstalling the site elsewhere in a short period of time.

Thinking the best tool for keeping track of which web hosting companies you wish to consider is a spreadsheet with features listed down the left and company names across the top. You can put an X or colour the cell under the web host’s name and beside the feature when the package includes the feature you want. From there, it should be easier to keep track who has what and which web host(s) you wish to eliminate from your short list. Don’t let price be the determining factor. There is a reason the cheapest offer is the cheapest. Dig into why.

Web Hosting Review Sites

It is a bit hard to find a web hosting review site that gives a true review of the web hosting companies listed. A lot of them have affiliate links (they get paid a commission when you click their link and sign up) to each of the hosting companies listed. Read a few to see who you want to put on your short list to consider.

Webmaster Forum Web Hosting Discussion Sections

Webmaster focused forums usually have a web hosting section where people ask about which web hosting company would suit their needs. Look for the threads where people put some thought into their reply by giving reasons (beyond soinso is great!) for their recommendations.

Ask Your Friends and Aquaintances

Ask anyone you know or within your social networking circles who they use and how it is working out for them with that particular firm.

Internet Provider Business Packages

Some internet providers offer business packages including your internet, phone and web hosting. While this might look good on the surface, our experience is that these web hosting packages are not anywhere near as good or offer as many features as even the cheaper independant web hosting firms. We are firm believers that keeping everything separate (domain name registration, web hosting and web design) is better in the long run. See our Website Ownership Philosophy statement for why we believe this.

Website Site Map

The website site map at the website planning stage is a diagram of how all the pages within your website or blog are interconnected. Basically the path the visitor will take to get to their target page.

There is an old thinking that no more than 2 clicks to get to a page. This does make sense, the shortest routine between two points. But maybe this is not possible with the type of website/blog you are building. For example, an ecommerce site can get to be pretty big eventually. The key is to plan your internal linking (links within your own site) and navigation well to minimize user annoyance. Also keep in mind, the search engine bots only have an alotted abount of time to visit your site to checkout what pages you have. Like people, if you make it too difficult to find pages on the website the pages are not going to get indexed (filed in their databases) in the search engines.

Using Card Sorting for Site Map Planning

With card sorting you write the topic of each page on an index card first. Once you have done that you layout the cards on a table (or floor) in the order you plan to have the navigation work. You can have a buddy or two look at the layout to see if it makes sense to someone unfamiliar with the site.

These cards can also be recycled for your notes on what to write about for each page.

Using a Spreadsheet for Site Map Planning

Open up an empty spreadsheet then add the pages in hierarchcal order. Indenting each sub page title makes it easier to see the page names under the main topic. You could also number the main pages 1, 2, 3 and then insert lines in between the main page names for the sub pages. The sub pages would begin with the main page number and then a sequence number. Something like 1-1, 1-2, etc..

This spreadsheet can be recycled later by adding columns for the web page file name and the proper final search engine friendly title that will be used.

Using a White Board/Chalkboard/Bulletin Board for Site Map Planning

If you are the visual type of person, a white board or chalkboard with the page theme noted could be used complete with lines to show how the pages will be linked together.

A bulletin board could be used for your index cards (explained above) as a permanent record of your final decision as to the site architecture.

Site Map Software

There is computer software available to create a site map. It would work much like drawing everything out on paper, a white board or chalkboard. The software will also let you include the links indicating how each page is linked.

If you are a website owner or blogger who is just starting out a mind mapping software package would work also.

When looking for site map software make sure the software you found isn’t really for a Sitemap (notice how they are spelt). A Sitemap is totally different than the site map we are creating at this point. You want a piece of software that draws a map for you, not the type that creates an XML file for you.

Web Design Budget

Web design budget is one area not to scrimp. The more unique your website or blog is, the more memorable it will be with visitors and readers.

Like when you are collecting your information for website technologies and web hosting, a spreadsheet with features down the left and company names (or source) across the top would probably work the best.

If you need some extra ideas of what to include in your web design budget see our How Much Does a Website Cost? article.

This is a great opportunity to make you list for your formal request for quotation when actually read to get quotes. Make the list very detailed. The more detailed your list is, the more accurate the quotes will be. Just like offline, when shopping for something you are not an expert in, an educated purchaser avoids the gotcha extras.

What ever budget you come up with add a 10-20 percent contingency for unforseen extra costs. You know what you would like to pay but you then have some cash set aside if it is needed.

You can survey the ads on the following sites without actually signing up usually.

Freelancing Websites

There are lots of websites where freelancers offer their services for hire. Some show the bids on the jobs posted before the job is awarded. The prices on these sites are lower than average. People go in cheap to build their portfolio or get initial client signups.

Webmaster Forum For Hire Sections

Generally the bidders do not post their prices in reply to ads for web design on Webmaster forums but you can have a look at the section of the marketplace where web designers, programmers and graphic designers offer their services to see what kind of pricing is being offered. Even check out their links to see if you want to put them on your bidder’s list once you have your request for quotation ready.

Prepare Your Request for Quotation Before Asking for Pricing

Some people approach the process of pricing their web design requirements too soon. You have all the research in the previous steps to compile first. Prepare a formal and detailed request for quotation before going shopping. If you post an ad at one of the above sites without the proper preparation:

  • You will get responses that you do not understand.
  • You will get inaccurate quotations.
  • You won’t have any benchmarks to evaluate the quotation you do get.
  • You won’t know what questions to ask when trying to determine why someone is low or high bidder.

Website Budget

You have gathered lots of information above and now it is time to put some numbers to everything and see what kind of website budget you need to accomplish all your goals and requirements or which items need to be postponed.

Once again, a spreadsheet would probably be the easiest to organize everything. Put budget items down the left and the dollar values in the next column. Have an additional column to the right with the actual winning bid/cost for comparision with your budget allowance.

With budget figures in hand you can move forward with your project.

Website Planning Tools for Better Organization

Using website planning tools makes the whole website planning process less over whelming. Just work on each section above one step at a time. You will get there.

Do you have any other website planning tools to suggest?

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