Before you start ensure you have a clear idea of your goals.

sample websiteWhat do you want your website to do for you?
Will it be 100% of your business - such as selling products solely online. Or at the other end of the scale, do you already have a business and you want a website to compliment your existing marketing efforts? Or somewhere between?

Where are you customers?
Local, regional, nationwide, international, worldwide - it is essential to know this and be realistic, as this will influence the choice of top level domain (TLD).

Will it be a .com/ .co.uk/ .fr/ .de/ .ch/ etc? This will make a big difference to which search engines your site will appear in. As will where your site is hosted. For example don't expect a .com hosted in London to feature well in Google.ch. As a rule you should host your website as close to your market as possible.

As explained under search engine optimisation, search engines use many different factors to produce their results when people search, and the domain name will have some influence here (but a not much). Thus if you search in google.com for 'website design' you will see that about half of the top 25 results have either 'design' or 'website' in their domain name.

You should also consider keywords & key phrases (again see SEO) right from the outset. For example your slogan/tag line will be picked up by search engines. Does it convey the right message?

"Where the Customer is King" is all very nice, but what are you selling? That strap line could be used for any business with customers. It may make customers feel more confident, but it tells search engines nothing.

On the other hand "Maternity Wear to get Pregnant for" (a slogan I devised for www.hotmama.ch) tells both customers and search engines what you the website is selling. It also includes some important keywords ('maternity', 'maternity wear' and 'pregnant').

Simple Technicalities

As a site owner you will be more concerned about your business, than the technicalities of your website, but there are some constraints that your web designer will be working with that it is helpful for you to understand.


DIMENSIONS OF YOUR SITE

The width of your website is influenced by the resolution of screen visitors use to view your website, and screen sizes that visitors to your site vary greatly. Unless some thought is given to this, your website might either be lost on a 24" / 60cm wide monitor or only partly visible on a lap top. Here are the monitor resolutions currently in use:
width x height in pixels
1024 x 768 56%
1280 x 1024 16%
800 x 600 12%
1152 x 864 4%
Rest (12%) including mobile, 640 x 480 and 'unknown'.
(Source http://www.onestat.com December 2011)

The above figures are maximums, and many users will not have their browser set to full screen or may be using a favorites bar or other browser add-on that reduces the screen width.

You can see that a fluid format that adapts to all sizes would be ideal. However, although many sites use this format, including google.com and amazon.com, from a design point of view a site that expands and collapses and expands brings its own problems.

Thus many designers and site owners prefer to have control over where the images appear on their sites for example and fixed-width sites are used more often than not. And most sites today are being made to 1024width (like this one).


COLOURS

Once the question was 'Web-safe colors or special/ unlimited colours?' As with the use of ever larger screens, so the need to limit designs to 256 colours is now passed.
Far more important is how those colours appear. If you have ever seen computer monitors or TVs on display in a store, you will have noticed how different each screen is.

Different screen manufacturers, controls for brightness, contrast, hue, saturation and gamma settings and even 'digital vibrance' will all ensure that it is virtually impossible for two screens to render colours exactly the same. Thus if you have company colours or product colours that you are used to checking for print with a colour swatch, you will be disappointed with how the web handles your colours.

Even if you get colours right on your screen, you can guarantee that they will be different on every other screen you look at. So you'll have to be a little relaxed about colours rendered on the web.


IMAGES

Images for use on the internet need to be 'light weight'. Small files sizes allow a page to download more rapidly and all images should be optimized for web use. This means not using bitmap (.bmp) format image, but rather .jpg for pictures with tones and shades, .gif format for solids and perhaps .png formats for both.

Important for site owners is the fact that computer screens run on low resolutions compared to print. For web use 72 pixels per inch (ppi) is fine. When printed, the pixels (dots) will be visible and appear of poor quality. Likewise, using print-quality images on the web brings no improvement to the images' quality on screen, but it does dramatically increase the download time of the images.

Thus site owners should be aware that print and screen images are not usually interchangeable, but different quality and format types will be need for each medium.


FONTS

This situation is changing at last. Until now, websites (or their stylesheets) defined what fonts appear on websites. However, the fonts themselves are selected from the visitors' computers. Thus if a font is specified that the visitor does not have on their computer another, possibly inappropriate font would be used.

There are in fact very few "web-safe" fonts (and they are not always the nicest):
For Windows:
Arial
Comic Sans
Courier New
Georgia
Impact
Tahoma
Times New Roman
Trebuchet MS
Verdana

For Mac there are equivalents.
See a fuller font explanation here. [Opens in new window/tab]

Thus when a company has for example, 'Antique Olive' or 'Futura Light' as a house font in use for all printed material, this will a problem online.

Webfonts: opening up new "fonteers"?

A number of organisations, notably Google, now offer various fonts in addition to the ones above. These fonts display by websites specifying a link in the page code and stylesheet which downloads the font onto the computer viewing the page. This requires additional time to download but once downloaded the new fonts can be then used without further downloading. It should also be noted that fonts available are only in the styles supplied. If you business used a certain font for printed materials this may not be available for download and may indeed not be suitable for screen use.

The above paragraph and headline are examples of this (Headline = "Lobster", paragraph ="Cabin")

This website now uses the Google font Ubuntu throughout. While many of these new remotely hosted fonts make great headline fonts, their suitability for body text is questionable in many cases.


ACCESSIBILTY

Websites should be accessible to users with disabilities and older users. Below is short summary, fuller details at w3.org.

Perceivable
Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
Provide captions and alternatives for audio and video content.
Make content adaptable; and make it available to assistive technologies.
Use sufficient contrast to make things easy to see and hear.

Operable
Make all functionality keyboard accessible.
Give users enough time to read and use content.
Do not use content that causes seizures.
Help users navigate and find content.

Understandable
Make text readable and understandable.
Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
Robust


VALID CODE/ MARK UP

Websites are written in code (like HTML or PHP) this is not a programming language, hence it is called 'code' or 'mark up'. When a browser downloads a page, the browser interprets and parses the code to form a webpage from the list of instructions it receives.

There are standards for these instructions, but few websites keep to them. Only about 4% of all websites actually pass the validation test.

A valid site is:

  • making life easy for browsers to correctly interpret the site as the designer and site owner intended
  • making indexing of websites by search engine spiders easier
  • showing that the site builder takes pride in their work and knows what they are doing

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional


BROWSERS

There are a number of web browsers (the software that people use to view the web) that each interpret and render code for website pages slightly differently. In June 2012 their market shares were:

Internet Explorer 54%
Firefox 20%
Chrome 20%
Safari 5%
Others 1%
The above figures are for the "desktop" market, which has 93% market share with "mobile/tablet" at 7% and increasing. Add to this different operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android etc.) and you see that cross browser and cross platform compatibility is essential.
[Source - http://marketshare.hitslink.com]

So web designers must have a version of each of popular browsers running on their systems to check your site appears correctly in all browsers. And ideally a PC computer, a Mac and mobile/tablet.


NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

This includes your website! The webs is developing fast and website owners need to keep abreast. Old websites not only project a poor image, they are often a security risk and an invitation to hackers.

Be prepared to upgrade and update every couple of years.