How to Plan a Website

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

website planning wireframes
SpiffyJ/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

Because of free and simple online website design software, it is easier than ever to create a new website. Seriously, within five minutes and a couple of clicks, most users could be up and running. This new found power can be somewhat intoxicating for non-geek types (ahem), so don’t forget that planning a website is just as important as creating one.

To help ensure you don’t miss any crucial steps during your website development, follow the simple P.L.A.N.

acronym to help you fashion well thought out web pages. By doing so, your completed website will produce the traffic and end-user results you want.

Prepare – Identify your target audience and appropriate website tone.

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 Plan a Website:

  1. PREPARE: The most important thing you can do during the creation of your website is to prepare by thinking about your audience and your content message. Who are you trying to talk to? Once you determine whether it is men, women, sports fans or homeowners, start thinking about what you want your website to do for your audience. Do you hope to sell products? Do you need a basic online marketing brochure/business card? What website content (written words) will you need? Will you write with a formal or casual tone? Your answers to all these questions will help establish your website personality and tone.
  1. LANDSCAPE - Figuring out the "lay of the land" for your website is essentially determining which website features are essential and desirable for your particular site. For instance, do you want to sell products? If so, you are going to need credit card processing and a shopping cart feature. Most website providers offer this option, but it does cost and the type of customer experience will differ based off which website provider or third party provider you use. Do you want to have a gallery with photos or videos? How large will your file sizes be? For instance, will you have streaming video or music? If so, those files will be large and some website design providers will charge you additional fees once your images or file sizes reach a certain size. All of this information is important to keep in mind so there aren't any surprises when it comes to your final website cost.

    Another feature you should consider adding to your website is a regularly updated blog. In order to perform well in online searches (referred to as SEO), your website will require regularly updated content. Having a blog tied to your website can help you achieve this goal – which will ultimately increase your website traffic and improve your visitor's experience.

  1. AESTHETICS - Design aesthetics, or the way your site looks, is a crucial piece of the website creation process. Thankfully, the free or low costs web site providers have done much of this work by providing ready-to-go design templates. When deciding on a design look and feel, it is important to consider how industry appropriate a template is. For instance, don’t pick some crazy colored music industry template if you plan to do business in a conservative B2B marketplace. Make sure you take some time to research what some of your main competitors’ websites look like. This will provide you with context as you plan yours -- because ultimately, you want to create something that stands out in a good way –- not like a sore thumb.

    Images are crucial to building an environment where your website visitors will want to stay and click around your site. If you don’t have any of your own images to use, there are plenty of free or low-cost stock photo options available on the Internet. If you are on a tight budget (and who isn’t these days?) be careful cutting corners on images. It may make sense to spend $20 to get the image you want versus settling on an “ok” image which is free.

  2. NAVIGATION: Website navigation is the way the website pages and links are laid out. Do you want your menu up on the top or do you prefer to have your navigation along the left-hand side? Ease of navigation and easily identifiable links have been shown to influence website audience behavior. If your navigation is cluttered or not intuitive, your audience won’t stick around. Keep in mind that less content per page does better than pages with an abundance of written copy or images. A nice rule of thumb is to shy away from an amount of content that would require you to scroll down on the page to see it all. Stop at the page break and create a new page or reduce your written copy.

    One of the best website planning tools is the creation of a rough sitemap (also referred to as wireframes). This doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy-schmancy - a pen and paper, Excel spreadsheet or even an org chart software will do the trick. Start by listing out those website pages you already know you want to have, like, About Us, Products, Contact Us...etc. Then begin to organize those pages into main categories, sub-categories and any special features or images you hope to have on that page. This visual map will help identify any holes in your site’s content and ultimately help improve your visitor’s experience. It will also identify how many pages you will need to create for your site. This number is handy because some of your online website design providers will charge more after a certain number of pages. Knowing the total number of website pages will allow you to shop around and settle on the best price for the size website you want