by John Eberhard

When it comes time to re-design your old web site, or when you want to put a new web site together, there are certain steps you need to take to ensure the web design results are good.

Survey the Industry: The first step to take is to look at other sites in your industry and see what they look like. I do this every time before designing a web site. The point of doing this is to see what the other sites are doing in terms of design, and to see the general look and feel of these other sites. You will probably find that all or most of the sites in your industry have a similar look to them, or use similar design elements.

The way I do this is to search on search engines for other sites in the industry. Then as I find sites that are above average, I will paste the web addresses into a Word document, making a note of the ones that are really good. That way I can easily review them any time I want. (Press Control click in Word to open a link in a browser.)

The point to this is not to just copy those sites or to have their commonly used design elements limit you or box you in. But it does pay to know what they are doing and to stay within certain parameters. You don’t want your site to look like a gothic rock band if you are selling dental services. And I always find that I get great design ideas when doing this.

Decide on CMS or Not: One of the big design decisions is whether or not you want your site to be in a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS will allow you to log in and make changes to your site yourself, without extensive web design knowledge. You can change or add text to pages, add new pages, and add pictures or videos. Bear in mind that there are limits to what you can do with CMS unless you do have extensive web design knowledge. There are several choices of CMS’s, including WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

I have been using WordPress for clients that want a CMS, as I feel it is very easy for them to use and has a lot of features and plugins that add functionality to a web site. To me it looks like it is shaking out that WordPress will be the dominant CMS in the future. It was designed originally as a blogging system but people are using it as a CMS because it is so easy. When I design a site for someone using WordPress I give them an instruction document I created on how to use it. Note that adding a CMS will likely add cost to the design project.

Work Out Your Pages and Navigation Structure: The next thing to do is figure out what pages you want on your site. If you are re-designing, start with a list of your current pages, then decide what new pages you want to add, and if you want to eliminate any from your current list.

Once you have your list, work out how you want the pages to appear in your navigation structure. I favor a navigation structure these days that has a relatively short list of buttons, say 10 or less, and each of these buttons represents a major category of things. Then you can have a dropdown menu appearing under each button when you mouse over it. That gives a compact navigation system, which can also allow for a lot of overall pages.

Write Your Copy (Text): Now that you have a list of your pages, start writing the copy (text) for each of those pages. If re-designing you can start with your current copy on those pages, and edit it to ensure it is fresh and current. If starting from scratch, gather up all your promo pieces, brochures, ads, etc., and lift copy from them or use them for ideas.

These are some of the things you need to do to prepare for getting a new web site designed. If you are working with a designer and you do all these things, it will make the web design whole process go a lot more smoothly.