Whether you're looking to get a web presence for the first time, or looking for a redesign of an existing site, there is a series of questions that you should be pondering before you are ready to actually hire someone (hopefully us) to design your website:
Who will be visiting your site?
At first blush, you might think that because it's your website, it's there to fulfill your needs. It's not though -- it's there to fulfill the needs of the people who visit the site. The first step in web design is to identify your audiences. Are they your friends, your family, your customers, prospective customers? What kind of computer equipment are they likely to have -- older systems with small modems, or fast computers on fast connections? How experienced are they -- internet newbies or hardcore web veterans?
What will your audience want to accomplish via your website?
Once you've identified your visitors, start to think about why they are coming to the website. Are they looking to buy something, learn something, look at something, or maybe even complain about something? Are they in a hurry or leisurely browsing? Do they want to be entertained or are they researching? Remember, they are your invited guests; it's common courtesy as well as good business to make their visit as pleasant and trouble-free as possible.
What can your website offer your audience that can't be offered in other ways?
Some people think that they can just take their latest brochure and lay it out on a web page. That's usually a mistake -- your brochure utilizes a completely different medium than your website. While the messages may be similar, the delivery technologies are worlds apart.
Each medium has its own unique advantages and limitations. Your brochure doesn't take longer to open if you use sumptuous graphics, but it also can't change its presentation to fit the preferences of whomever is looking at it at that moment. If you're wanting a business site, ask yourself how your website can help your customers. Maybe it can make it easier for them to place an order, or ask a question, or view proofs of work in progress. If you're crafting a site for family or friends, how simply can they navigate the site and what more can the website show beyond a photo with a quickly jotted note?
How is your audience going to learn about your site?
The web is huge -- Google, one of the leading search engines, claims access to well over a billion websites. Optimizing and registering your website on the search engines is an important strategy. But, there is no guarantee that you'll be listed high on the search runs, especially now that almost all search engines are listing paid registrations higher than free ones.
So once you've crafted your website, consider other ways to publish your website address to reach your intended audiences: trade publications, billing stuffers, and word-of-mouth campaigns are just a few examples. At the very least, listing your website on business cards, fax letterheads, etc., will help keep your web presence in front of potential visitors.