How to Plan a Website

Follow the P.L.A.N to Create a Successful Website

Website planning wireframes
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Because of free and simple online website design software and online content management platforms, such as WordPress, it is easier than ever to create a new website. Within five minutes and a couple of clicks, you can have a home business website. However, if your goal is to have a website that brings in clients and customers, you can't simply slap together a website and expect success. Planning a website is just as important as creating one.

To help ensure you don’t miss any crucial steps in building your website, follow the simple P.L.A.N. acronym to create a web presence that will help you reach your home business goals.

What P.L.A.N.​ Stands For

To help you understand what your website will need, use the P.L.A.N. acronym:

Prepare – Identify your target audience, appropriate website tone, and goals.

Landscape – Think through how you would like your website to be able to function. More specifically, what features need to be on your site?

Aesthetics – The way your website looks and feels is just as important as what it can do. Think about what colors and images you want on your site and how your site compares to your competitors.

Navigation – It is important to plan how you want your audience directed through your website. By thinking through what pages you need and how they should be laid out, you will help ensure early on a good visitor experience.

How To P.L.A.N. a Website

PREPARE: Before you jump online to buy your domain name and web-hosting to build your site, you need plan. Pull out your business plan to help you with these steps:

  1. Who is your target market? Who are the most likely buyers of what you're selling, and what is the best way to speak to them?
  2. What is the goal for your website? What do you want the website to do for you? Will it generate leads? Sell products? Operate as an online brochure? 
  3. What information do you need on the site to achieve your goal? 
  4. Based on your target market, what is the best way to provide this information? Will the tone be formal or business-like, or more casual, perhaps even whimsical?

LANDSCAPE: Figuring out the "lay of the land" for your website is essentially determining which website features are essential and desirable to meet the goals for your website. To do that, you need to refer back to the goals for your website in the Prepare step. For instance, do you want to sell products? If so, you are going to need credit card processing and a shopping cart feature.

Features to consider include:

Not only do you want to consider front-end features, but also, you'll want to consider back-end features such as: 

  • Integrated marketing systems such as search engine optimization (referred to as SEO
  • Security measures, such as an SSL certificate to help your visitors feel safe
  • Caching to help your web pages load faster

You don't necessarily need all of the features listed above. Again, you need to consider your market and your goals for the site in determining what is needed.

AESTHETICS: Design aesthetics, or the way your site looks, is a crucial piece of the website creation process. Thankfully, most web hosts offer templates and content management platforms have themes to make this part easy.

How to decide the look of your site:

  1. Who is your market? Are they moms? Business owners? Survivalists? It's important to match your site's tone to your market. For instance, don’t pick some crazy colored music industry template if you plan to do business in a conservative B2B marketplace.
  2. What is easy to read? Generally, white font on a black background is harder to read than black on white. Also, consider font style. Stick with basic fonts that all browsers will be able to deliver to the reader. 
  3. Use images. Research indicates that readers are attracted to visual content. But you need to choose quality graphics that enhance your content and message. You can take your own photos or there are​ free or low-cost stock photo options available on the Internet. If you don't have fancy photo editing software, you can use one of the free and low-cost online graphic editing options, such as Canva.
  1. Above the fold content. You want your best information, the information your visitors have come to your site to find, front and center on the screen. There are too many other websites your visitors can visit if they can't find what they want on your website. You'll want to keep this in mind for each of your website's pages. Avoid making your visitors have to scroll down to get the information they want.
  2. Responsive design. Since many people now use the Internet on mobile devices, you want to make sure you use a responsve design

    If you're stuck on how to visually create the tone of your website, visit your competitors’ websites to see how they do it. You'll get ideas on what to do, as well as what you can do better. Note, that you don't want to copy or plagiarize. You simply want to get a sense of the colors, fonts, and themes that are used to create an atmosphere for visitors.

    NAVIGATION: Website navigation is the way the website pages and links are organized. Deciding your navigation structure before you build is crucial to designing a site that is easy for your visitors to use to find what they want. To determine your site's navigation:

    1. Use a piece of paper to map out your site. At the top, you'll have your homepage or top page of your site. This is the page that your domain URL (www.yourbusiness.com) will direct to.
    2. List pages you know you need such as "About" and "Contact" just below your Homepage.
    3. List main categories of your site, just below your Home Page (same level as "About" and "Contact." For example, if you have a cooking store, your main categories might be, "Utensils," "Pots & Pans," "Kitchen Tools," and "Recipes."
    4. Under your main categories, list subcategories. Using the cooking store example, under "Utensils" you might have "Knives," "Serving Utensils," etc. Under "Kitchen Tools" you might have "Crockpots," "Spiralizers," and "Mixers." 

      Once you know all the pages you'll need, decide how you'll make these pages easy to find. Most sites have a top and/or a side menu that appears on every page. Top menus tend to have limited space than side menus, so usually, you want only your main pages (Home, About, Contact) and possibly your top category page links at the top. But again, you want to make it easy for people to find what they're looking for. If a person is looking for a specific item, but it's not on the menu, how can they find it?

      One option is to have a drop-down list from the top menu. Using the Cooking Store example, when a person hovers over the main category of "Utensils" on the top menu, a drop-down list of the sub-categories, "Knives," "Serving Utensils," etc appears. You can achieve this through side menus using a nesting effect, in which clicking on the main category then opens the sub-category list below it. 

      Include a search box on your website for the impatient person who doesn't want to poke around to find what he wants, or for the visitor who's having trouble finding what he wants. 

      Putting It All Together

      Once you've completed your P.L.A.N., you're ready to move on to the building phase. That starts with buying a domain name and web hosting, and then choosing the theme that will fit your tone, and allow all the features you want.

      Once you've built your site, be sure to check that all pages and graphics load correctly. Test your forms to ensure they're working. Consider previewing and using your site on different browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, etc), as well on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) to make sure all elements appear and work.