Top 10 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Website Project

By Michael Rohde

These questions are primarily intended for the web developer who is stepping into a new role at an organization that is already established. It is not necessarily suited to the entrepreneur web developer who is creating their own site for their personal usage. The questions are intended for business web site development and enhancements. For example, a particular small business might already have a web site, but they want to take it to the next level. That's why they hired you. Now it's time for you to step up to the plate.
  1. Determine who the powers-that-be are and who has a say in how the content appears on the site. It's best to get a sense of what is expected before you do anything at all. Of course, if the site is already online, study what was already done so you have a sense of what is currently taking place.

  2. Determine the scope of the site. What purpose will the site serve? Will it be merely an online brochure? Do you want it to attract new customers? Will you publish company deliverables? Do you want to list your clients? How do you want prospective and existing customers to contact you? Will you be selling goods and services through the site? Now is a good time to create a list of features and functionality. You can break this down into Must Haves to Get Started, Nice to Haves if Time Permits, and Plans for Future Expansion.

    As you discuss the purpose of the site with the Powers That Be, start keeping a list of keywords that are essential to the business. This will help you later as you work towards building up strong search engine optimization (SEO) tactics.

  3. Start thinking about the infrastructure of the site. Will you need a CMS, an image library, or is the site better suited as a Portal, or maybe a static HTML site is all that you need. This is also a good time to start asking budget questions and if the company can afford an expensive solution or if the budget is calling for a hand-built site. Also, will the site be hosted locally, or will a third-party host the site? This is also a good time to discuss the ways and means the site will be updated. How the site is built has much to do with current needs, future growth plans and available resources.

  4. Ask who is going to provide the initial content and who will provide content on an on-going basis. Keeping the site fresh with new and relevant content is an important step to keep the site vibrant and gives existing customers a reason to check back on the site.

    This is also a good time to start thinking about procedures and guidelines. Having a straight forward approach to content publication is essential to a well-run website.

  5. Now that you have an idea of the content and who is providing it, it's time to start thinking about how your visitors are going to find that content. How are you going to establish your navigation, menus, search functions and the home page?

  6. Before you start creating any pages, it's important to set up a standard for the URLs. This is important for SEO. Also, if you are running a content site and you want your articles to appear in Google News, then you must follow Google's URL guidelines.

  7. Now is a good time to start thinking about the common pages found on websites. Does your site need an About Us page, Contact Us page, Careers page, a listing of the current Staff, and/or Overviews of the company and the different departments?

  8. Establish branding and identity into the templates, wire frames and CSS. Ask for any existing artwork, logos and fonts. This information will help determine the attitude of the site and the overall presentation.

  9. After laying the ground work, start creating a few sample pages and format them in different ways. Use different functionality and test them. For example, on the home page, do you want visitors to rotate through different information (presenting information in a pseudo image gallery) or do you want them to click through to new pages? After you have a few versions prepared on your hard drive--before putting anything online for the world to see--get some feedback from the Powers That Be and listen to their ideas and suggestions.

  10. Now that you have company approval and buy in, the last question to ask is, are you ready to do this? If so, get going!

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