Everyone needs a website right? While that is definitely correct, not everyone needs the same website. Making your website stand out is critical – it’s literally your business shop window these days, so take time to consider functionality, usability and design before you start. Whether you’re working with a software development agency or going for an out of the box solution, these tips will help you to get it right and avoid expensive mistakes.

1. List your website priorities

Whether you’re starting a brand new business, branching out into a new direction or simply refreshing an existing site, start by listing your business priorities. Then amend them for the website. They may seem different, but the end goals should be aligned.

2. Plan plan plan. And plan again

Before you even think about colours and all the fun bits, define your customer base and any new targets to include. What is your development timescale?  What must be included? What is a ‘nice to have’. Who’s writing the content? Taking the photos? Do you have a market deadline – or are you aiming for a prototype or minimum viable product? You don’t have to be a fully qualified project manager, but it won’t hurt to read up on it at this stage while you make your plans. Try this free project management e-book from software development specialists Netguru.

3. Define your online marketing goals

If you have an existing website – check your analytics and see who’s using it, what devices they are on and how they are travelling through it. If customers are converting, see how and where. If not, where are they leaving?

If you’re new to market, check out your competitors and see what they’re doing.

4. Budget

Set a sensible budget. Most people start by working out the percentage of sales, referrals or leads currently coming via the website. Tip: work out your ideal numbers for these. Then take that percentage from your existing marketing budget. Don’t forget to include digital marketing support, regular updating (for example, an ecommerce website is going to need a lot more regular updating than a service site with a monthly blog post. And don’t forget maintenance. You might not think you’ll need to change anything, but Google probably will.

5. Budget again

Too high? Does something need to give? This is where you can refer back to your list of priorities. Remember it’s generally always false economy to scrimp and try to make retrospective changes, assuming of course those changes can even be made. Make sure your developers understand your business goals and targets so that your site can be as future proofed as possible.

6. Usability

Who’s using the site, where are they using it and what are they looking at it on.

If you’ve worked through all the above steps you should have a good idea of this by now. Make sure your designer knows, as this is stuff that you want to incorporate at the very beginning of the design process. For out of the box themes and new business platforms, try them across multiple devices yourself and see what works. Better still, ask your existing customers what they’d like to see.

7. Decent images

If you’re selling your own goods invest in some decent photography and considering professional styling to help attract attention. Great product shots can be used in print and for PR and promotional as well, so it’s always worth it.

If you’re a service business then images are still important, they define the design of the site which tells customers a lot more about you than you think. Boring images equals boring experience. Irrelevant images can be off putting. Tailor the tone to your ideal customer. And if you must use generic stock photographs, don’t automatically select the first and cheapest you come across. Try and find something that looks like your brand should feel.

Then check your competitors again to make sure they’re not using the same images.

8. Optimise images

Follow all the above advice but don’t optimise your images, and no one will ever know because they simply won’t wait that long for them to load.

9. Alt tags for images

While you’re at it, make sure your images are alt tagged for extra search visibility. An out of the box  website theme will probably help you to cover all this, if not, take advice from your developer or agency.

10. Accessibility

Another very good reason to alt tag those images is to provide a description of the image for  screen readers as used by the visually impaired. While you’re at it, read up on general accessibility (or ask your development agency to advise) and make sure your theme incorporates best practice for readability, colour management and options for the hearing or visually impaired.