Planning a new website? Don’t forget these five key elements

It’s always exciting when clients are developing a new site. It is the perfect chance to sort out any issues and build advanced functionality that will help set their site apart from the competition.

However all too often, crucial elements are not factored into the initial scope which can be costly to re-address after the platform and CMS have been chosen and developers appointed. It is therefore vitally important that you think carefully about what you want, and need the site to achieve first and map your requirements from this.

Below are the top 5 elements you need to consider when getting the project scoped:

1) Analyse your current site to inform the new
What is working well? What needs improving? What are the opportunities? What do your customers think? It’s so important to understand the status of your current site so you can figure out exactly what you need the new site to achieve.

2) Ensure the navigation is search engine friendly
Textual navigation is important for the search engines to be able to easily spider the site. Therefore avoid JavaScript, Flash or image based navigations as these can be problematic the search engines.

3) Plan your site architecture
Having a good site architecture is important as it will ensure the search engines can index and rank all relevant pages on the site. Ensure that the category structure is logical and you have landing pages that match how people search. Make sure product filtering produces unique URLs so that ranking and traffic potential is maximised. (These pages should provide a better conversion rate.)

4) Specify device agnostic design
Responsive web design is the best option to allow the site to render well on different devices. If not, a separate mobile site should definitely be considered to ensure you are providing a seamless experience across devices to help further encourage conversions. Allow your customers to buy where and when they want!

5) Allow for good CMS functionality
It is important to ensure the CMS allows easy optimisation and ongoing management of the site. My colleague, Ben Adam, recently put together a much more exhaustive list of e-commerce features that will be driven by the choice of platform / CMS. Those that are pretty fundamental are as follows:

  • Logically structured, search engine friendly URLs that follow the structure of the site (avoid dynamic URLs, spaces or symbols in the URL, uppercase letters, etc.)
  • Ability to add page-by-page 301 redirects (in case your URLs change, which if you are changing platform they almost certainly will)
  • Ensure HTML tags are customisable to allow for targeted optimisation. The main ones are:
    • title tags
    • meta descriptions
    • h1 headers
    • alt tags
  • Maintain areas for copy on every page and keep this copy integrated into the design (web copy seems to be a dying component but it is still very important to the search engines, particularly if you want non-brand, search term exposure)
  • Support for the following:
    • breadcrumb trail
    • editable robots.txt
    • instructional meta tags (including rel=canonical, rel=prev / next, rel=author)
    • microformats to allow us to mark up the content directly for the search engines (e.g. price, stock, review markup etc.)
  • Allow for an XML site map, automatically generated would be best case (this means that any changes or additions will automatically populate the XML sitemap)

In most cases, the budget available for a re-build will help determine features and functionality somewhat; however you must plan and be clear about your objectives and requirements from the very beginning. Otherwise you risk spending money on a new site that doesn’t achieve what you want, and need it to.

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