Requirements for a Website

Who is it for?

It’s vitally important to start by understanding who you are designing your website for. You need to ask yourself ‘who is my target audience?’ and take some time to understand the demographic that you have in mind. Imagine that the website you are about to create is for a clothing brand selling to young people. In this instance, you are likely to be looking to pop culture for inspiration.

How big is your website?

Once you have determined who your website is for, the next step is to plan the structure. Think of this as the blueprint. At this stage, you will be creating the site map and you need to start at the top with the homepage. From there you need to create a map to all the other pages in the site. Every page will need to feed back into the homepage but ask yourself where else they need to go. Contact pages, about us pages, further content, blogs? You need to consider the scale of your website and what information you will display.

Content

This leads us nicely onto the content of your website. This may not be top of your list when you consider the overall design, but it certainly should not be underestimated. In 2016, when users were given 15 minutes to consume content, 59% said they would prefer it to be beautifully designed so the combination of the two is important. Think of the website like a blank sheet of paper. Just having a few words on this piece of paper will be very boring and not great to look at. You need your content to help to keep people on your site. A lack of a clear message is the biggest turn off for consumers, with 46% claiming this to be the reason for leaving a site. Good content can engage your audience, help you from an SEO perspective and convey your key messages to your customers. It is vital to use your content in a way that is ‘beautifully designed’ so that it is effective in delivering this.

Imagery

Once you have your content, you need to think about images. In particular, you need to consider where they are going to come from. You have a few different options that you could use. You could take the images yourself, and this is the quickest and cheapest way of getting imagery for your website. However, you may not be the best photographer and do you want your site to suffer just because you wanted to scrimp on the images? Alternatively, you could hire a photographer to get all the images you want. This is an expensive solution but, if you have a high quality brand image which needs to be maintained, this might be the only way that you can get the right quality of image for your needs. The final option is to use stock images. You can get some images to flesh out your website for a reasonable price and there is a very wide library of images available online for this. However, these images can be generic and might not represent your brand powerfully enough.

Brand

This brings us neatly onto branding. Some brands only exist as a website and so this is their only visual representation of their businesses. It is vital that a brand’s image is considered before the website even begins to start taking shape. A website isn’t something that should be ad-hoc, you should carefully consider any pre-existing branding or, if this doesn’t exist, a brand identity needs built from scratch. This is where you can really flex those design muscles.
Here are a few questions to consider:
Do you have a logo to use?
This is where you might want to start as you could use elements of the logo to start structuring the brand image.
Which font are you going to use?
Sans serif fonts are currently the most popular due to their readability. In fact, serif fonts don’t even make it into the top 20 most popular fonts to use on websites. There are plenty of free fonts available online and the likes of Google Fonts would be a great place to start. According to Google, ‘Open Sans’ is currently the most popular. However, in 2016 Photoshop users are said to have adopted ‘Roboto’ as the number one web font.
What about colour?
This is where you should maybe consider colour theory. A website for an eco-friendly housing company, for example, should consider using green to represent the ‘green’ nature of the brand.
What about any design elements?
Icons are all the rage right now, acting as little visual cues for the audience to absorb. These could form an important part of the brand image through your design.

Usability

Speaking of visual cues, usability is vital to the success of your web design. One of the main considerations is consistency. You need to break down all the elements that you are going to use, such as buttons, hover states and menus. If you include clickable elements in rounded rectangles, then all your buttons should be rounded rectangles. In 2016, rounded shapes reigned supreme in web design and 87% of all Photoshop shapes had rounded corners (84% of all shapes designed in sketch). Avoid using this visual cue for any other element. It is all about using subtle indicators that train the user to use your site instinctively. Think carefully about menus too. Hamburger menus have become the norm for lots of different websites but, from a usability point of view, they still aren’t as intuitive as simple header navigation (unless on mobile where they are more common). The simpler you can make the journey, the better user experience you create.

Layout

Designing a website has the same basic principles to those used when laying out a poster or front page. It is important that you organize your page so you get a good balance of images and text. More than half of users feel that good design is important when viewing content online. When you are designing the website, you need to give it a simple structure so that it is far easier to digest for the user. The more distinct the hierarchy you have, the better navigation your website will have. Keep visual cues to a minimum as you don’t want to confuse a user with your layout. By keeping it simple it makes it far easier for the user locate the content that they want. You should consider wireframing the site before you go ahead and design the actual interface. That way you can easily chop and change the layout and test how the design works.

Responsive

We consume the internet in so many ways these days, with people choosing to access the web from many different devices. From smartphones to widescreen televisions, there are so many screen sizes for a website to appear on. According to one study, consumers use an average of five different devices each and that gives you some perspective as to how important it is that your website is suitable for each of these different devices. Having a responsive site ensures that the user experience is so much better and this will help to keep people on your website. Indeed, it’s said that 62% of companies who designed a website specifically for mobile increased their sales. With this in mind, you are going to have to consider how your design will lend itself to a condensed space like on a smartphone.

Inspiration

There are plenty of places online that you can turn to for inspiration. Sites such as Dribble, Behance and Awards are terrific resources showcasing amazing web design and are great to turn to if you are ever stuck for ideas. By exposing yourself to different design elements that you may not have even considered before, you can be inspired to try something new.

Choosing a Domain and Host

Great domain names (take a look at Google and Yahoo, for two) say so much while saying so little. In addition to being memorable, a domain name needs to accurately reflect your brand's voice and be nearly impossible to misspell. Finding the right name for your brand is crucial, because incorporating a combination of SEO, simple spelling, and brand identity into the domain name leads to a higher chance of being located in search engine results. Simply put, businesses that are easily accessed online get more customers.
When comparing hosting packages, it's vital to consider the nature of your website and business. Will the website be media-rich, with loads of pictures, videos, and presentations? Do you have technical support in-house, or do you need reliable, responsive support from your hosting provider? Also think about the amount of traffic your website will receive. Does the hosting company offer scalable solutions? What backup, security, and additional features are offered? Don't forget to research reviews about the company's performance on social media and third party websites before making a final decision.

Backend Services (CMS "Content Management System" / Software)

It's impossible to develop a great website without a functional program taking care of the backend. If you think of your website as a car, you can understand why. When friends see your shiny new sports car, they look at the sleek paint job, glistening tires, and luxurious leather seating. In the world of websites, this equates to the part of your site a user experiences directly. Just like the powerful engine in your sports car, the backend of your website is where the magic really happens. Without strong backend services, your website won't be able to "wow" your guests. Similarly, a sports car without an engine is rendered useless. One of the best "engines" for ecommerce sites is Magento, while WordPress is a customizable CMS ideal for informational sites.

Clean Design

One of the most important things to remember during the process of website development is to create a clean, appealing design. A quality design is attractive and easy to read with intuitive navigation. Most importantly, a clean design helps viewers focus on the value of your brand and content instead of distracting graphics and large amounts of text. Often, customers associate website designs with the quality of a particular company or product. Hence, a clean design is vital to providing a positive user experience that encourages customers to return.

Effective Color Scheme

Color schemes are more important than customers realize. Different colors have the ability to evoke emotional responses, such as calm, happiness, or frustration. When it comes to using colors in your website design, it's essential to consider your company's niche, target audience, branding, and the elements of color theory. What colors will your target audience respond to? If your color scheme is similar to your logo and branding, is it overwhelming or pleasing to look at? Are you trying to convey your brand's voice with a bright and spunky orange or a professional, calming blue? Regardless of your choice, spending the time to research the best color options will give your visitors a good impression.

Branding

Branding is important to all businesses, both large and small. The design and placement of your brand's logo contributes to a viewer's overall opinion. Professionally designed logos successfully catch the customer's eye and provide a clear picture of the brand's unique voice. Choose a location on your site that is readily visible to visitors, such as the upper left corner, since this is where the eye naturally begins to scan a website. To further solidify your brand's identity, consider using the same logo on packaging, print advertising, and branded apparel. When a business is consistent with branding, it provides customers with an integrated and memorable brand experience.

Functionality

When thinking about functionality, there are a few matters to consider. Namely, is the website functional in the literal sense? Are there loading issues or broken links? Are the site's security features adequate for your business's needs? In addition to these operational issues, it's crucial to view your website's features from the user's perspective. Are the contact forms, surveys, and customer feedback sections of your site working properly? One or all of these functional issues can prompt a customer to leave your site.

Navigation

If a website is confusing and difficult to navigate, your customers may leave and never return. To increase the efficiency and appeal of your site's navigation, conduct an in-depth site review as if you are a new visitor. Note the navigation streams that make sense and those that do not. One way to improve a visitor's ability to navigate your site easily (and help search engines crawl your site) is to add a site map. Furthermore, streamlining navigation by eliminating unnecessary or underperforming pages may decrease load time while improving the quality of your brand's online presence.

Usability

Websites that are easy to use are more likely to garner customer interest and encourage business. Usability can be increased by displaying product and service information in a clear, concise manner. Make sure your website has all the features a customer would need for the site to be easily accessible. If a viewer is reading your blog and wants to subscribe to an email newsletter, do they have to hunt for the opt-in form? Is your contact information clearly displayed? Does the layout of your website encourage social sharing and further interaction with your brand? These key elements are essential to review when optimizing the usability of your site.

Call to Action

Placing calls to action on your website encourages customers to contact your business. A friendly suggestion, such as "Contact us today!" demonstrates that your business wants to develop a relationship with its customers. It's important that calls to action are appropriate for a visitor's level of engagement with your company. If they're just discovering your brand, invite them to subscribe to your email newsletter. If they're already a loyal customer, perhaps they'll enjoy participating in your brand's loyalty rewards program. Regardless of what you're asking visitors to do at your site, always include a call to action at least once on each page.

Short Loading Times

When looking for information online, nothing aggravates visitors more than slow loading times. Customers can be turned away completely due to this issue. Testing your website ahead of time will help you pinpoint any loading time issues, and these can be fixed before your site's official release. To increase customer retention and provide a positive user experience, periodically evaluate your website's loading time once it has launched. Short load times give customers the information they want when they want it. If your site can't deliver, a competitor's site will.

Active Blog

An on-site blog helps keep customers informed about the latest products, company events, and industry-related information. Featuring a blog on your website is a great way to connect with them, especially if your posts encourage readers to interact with your brand. Keeping your blog regularly updated informs customers of your brand's values and desire to promote communication. By regularly providing readers with fresh, helpful, engaging content, your brand becomes a trusted resource and an industry authority.

Clean, SEO-Friendly Code

Whether you're developing new webpages or optimizing existing ones, it's critical to have clean, SEO-friendly code. By taking the time to improve your site's code, you can increase the overall return on investment. SEO-friendly code acts as a guide for search engine spiders by providing a clear picture of your site's content. Certain CMS services, such as WordPress, provide plug-ins designed to simplify the process of cleaning up code and increasing search engine rankings. Since it requires little coding knowledge (if any), WordPress is a great resource for companies struggling to drive traffic to their websites.

Compatibility with Multiple Browsers

As technology progresses, the number of internet browsers is steadily growing. From Internet Explorer and Chrome to Firefox and Safari, it can be frustrating to keep up with them all. When creating a website, it's vital to ensure that your website is reachable from multiple browsers. Specifically, your site should load properly on all major browsers - including older versions. Failing to take this step may exclude a large section of your customer base, which can be a costly consequence for a growing business.

Mobile Sites vs. Responsive Sites

Statistics indicate that the use of mobile devices to conduct online searches has increased significantly in the past two years. In fact, approximately 95% of mobile device users count on their devices to search for local products and services. To effectively reach this growing population of mobile users, businesses need to be sure that their websites are available from any device. For a large company with an existing web presence, it makes sense to develop a separate, mobile-friendly website designed to perform well on any device. On the other hand, a business planning the launch of a website would be better served by choosing a responsive design capable of adapting to any device.

Integration with Social Media

Integration with social media is no longer a novelty - it's a requirement. As technology makes information sharing more convenient, businesses lacking social media integration fail to take advantage of what has been likened to modern day word-of-mouth advertising. Social media provides a venue in which customers can promote your brand, provide reviews, and stay in-the-know about your company's latest news. Written and visual content, including product images and branded video, are easily distributed on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn with the addition of social sharing buttons on your website.

Captcha Tests

Spam, spam, and more spam. That's what some businesses receive in their comment sections, contact forms, and site forums that don't have captcha tests in place. These tests (you'll recognize them as the random letters and numbers typed before submitting a web-based form) differentiate humans from robots. Adding these short tests to your contact forms will ensure that only humans are able to use your site's resources - saving your business time and money.

Effective Security

With the evolution of technology, newer and more advanced security risks threaten to compromise your website's integrity. From malware and viruses to malicious apps and the threat of hackers, websites must prevent security breaches on both the front ends and back ends. Websites built to conduct online transactions, such as ecommerce sites, need additional security measures to protect customer information. To reduce the potential for browser-based threats, businesses must add SSL certificates to their websites. During development, it's critical to review the security features included in your site's framework and design. Businesses also need to conduct regular security checks or work with a provider who offers this service.

Offsite Reviews

Due to Google's search algorithm changes, greater priority has been placed on local searches. Review services, such as Google and Yelp, can be instrumental in generating qualified leads for businesses. Now, when customers search for a local business or product, they're often greeted with reviews about a company on the first page of search engine results. Obtaining reviews on third party websites adds to your brand's credibility, while making it simple for viewers to gain insight into customer satisfaction associated with your brand. To guarantee customers are able to leave reviews about your company, make sure to claim your business profile on third party review sites like Google and Yelp. You can than create a call to action on your website that will prompt a client to write a review and lead them to that particular third party review service.
Google offers a great way to connect your Google+ business page reviews with your website. As long as you have an address for your business that qualifies and a Google+ account, you can search for your business page and if one doesn't exist already you can create one. Once Google verifies that you're the owner you will see your Google+ business page linked to your website whenever it appears in the SERP's.

Customer Testimonials

Similar to offsite reviews, customer testimonials can be used to promote your business. By featuring customer testimonials on your site, you demonstrate your company's skills, products, and commitment to customers. If you already have a loyal customer base, reach out to a few and solicit online reviews. If they're willing to provide a recorded testimonial, take advantage of this opportunity to create a branded video. The more genuine, detailed testimonials your company receives, the greater your chances of gaining new customers.

Google+ Author Verification

Though Google stopped accepting page verification requests (not to be confused with Google+ business page verification, which is still active), it remains essential to complete Google+ author verification for your site. Linking site content to specific authors using Google+ profiles allows the search engine to easily distinguish between content created by a human and content of a lesser quality. Completing the Google+ author verification steps also ensures that the author's byline and photo appear in SERPs. When looking for relevant content, customers greeted with the promise of information provided by a real person are more likely to click on the link. As a bonus, claiming your brand's byline in SERPs makes it easier for customers and peers to connect with it.

Tracking

Between Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and bing Webmaster Tools, web developers have the mechanisms necessary to accurately and efficiently calculate return on investment. For both traditional and mobile websites, these instruments can be used together to monitor traffic, engagement, and conversion rates. After digging deep into the data, it's possible to uncover which marketing campaigns work best and which are underperforming. These valuable insights into why customers come to, stay on, and leave your website help your team perfect marketing strategies and adjust engagement techniques to maximize results. Since your branded online presence acts as a 24/7 storefront, it's essential to simplify the outcomes measurement process by using Google Analytics along with Google and bing's Webmaster Tools.

Comprehensive Sitemap

When you sit down to read a book, what's the most helpful section to review first? Typically, it's the table of contents. Acting as a summary of the book's details, the table of contents provides a snapshot of material found within. Similarly, a sitemap provides visitors and search engines with the information to easily navigate your website and discover its contents. To keep your site up to date, it's necessary to revise the site map as new pages are added. Google Webmaster Tools simplifies this process for you.

Original Content

When designing a website, it is crucial to write high quality, original content that is relevant to your company and products. Everything from the quality of your content to the keywords used affects your site's ranking in search engine results. Keyword research can provide topic ideas and, if used sparingly, will help customers quickly locate the content they're seeking. To increase the appeal, each web page should have no less than 150 words and should include links to credible resources and other pages on your website. More than providing information, the content published on your site should be written to echo your brand's unique voice. Before publishing, use a tool like Copyscape to ensure that it passes duplication standards. Posting duplicate content on your website will result in steep penalties from Google, including possible removal from search engine results.

Stock Images

Everything found on your website is considered intellectual property and falls under copyright laws. As one of the world's leading suppliers of stock photos, Getty Images regulates the appropriate use of images online. If not posted with permission, images that are copyrighted may result in fines. When incorporating images into your site's content, make sure to receive written permission for use and pay relevant fees, if applicable. There are also sites that offer access to copyright-free images. However, be sure to carefully review terms of use before posting them. For many businesses, the costs associated with the lawful use of images outweigh the immediate benefit of "getting something for nothing."