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Factsheet: How to design a web site

A web site is virtually a must for most businesses these days, however you should only contemplate writing a site yourself if you have the time to do so and a basic understanding of HTML (HyperText Markup Language - the code used to write web pages), or if you cannot afford to have a web site professionally written. It may not be the most productive use of your time to spend hours (or days) writing a site that may not have the same quality look and feel as one designed at relatively low cost by a professional company. That said, if you do have a flair for design and can get to grips with today's very visual web design packages, then carry on!

Want a more in-depth guide to designing, promoting and adding e-commerce to your website, plus a CD-ROM with software that will help drive more traffic to your site?

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Before you put digit to keyboard, the first thing to do is to map out the navigation of your site. Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a box to represent your homepage. Now draw 5 or 6 boxes underneath and link them all to the first one - these will be the pages that will be linked from your homepage. From each of these boxes there maybe several boxes linked underneath. For example, if a link from your homepage takes you to a Press section there may be several press releases linked to that page. The latest press release might also be linked to directly from the homepage.

On any web site content is king - the more material that you can add that is likely to be of use to your visitors, the better. This might include:

  • Press releases
  • Newsletters
  • Case Studies
  • Account application forms (in PDF format)
  • Brochures (in PDF format)
  • Audio/video files

Once you know what navigation you will need you're ready to design the site structure. Start by designing a template. Products such as Macromedia Dreamweaver give some basic pre-designed templates, but there are many companies that sell professional-looking templates for you to plug in. Beware though, as these do require a fair level of knowledge of graphics applications (such as Adobe PhotoShop) to knock them into the shape that you might want them in. A template has items that are common to every page on your site, such as company logo, menu items etc. By designing a template up-front you can quickly add in new links ensuring that every page is automatically updated.

Now you have your template you can start building pages. Create a page for every box you drew on your paper earlier, ensuring that they are named relevantly - search engines will rank pages based on a variety of factors, one of which is the actual filename. Add in graphics, bearing in mind file sizes - many users may still be on a 56kb connection, so ensure all pages will download in under 10 seconds.

Before you go live test your site with as many different formats and resolutions as possible - a site that looks good at 1024 x 768 in Internet Explorer may look entirely different on an Apple Mac or in Netscape Navigator at 800 x 600.

For an in-depth guide to designing a web site buy Marketing your Business here.

Chapter 2.6 within the practical sections of 'Marketing your Business' includes a complete and detailed walkthrough of how to build a web site. The CD-ROM also provides trial and free web design software together with many other Internet-related applications. Other chapters also cover web-related topics such as adding e-commerce to your site (for free!), publicising your site and optimising it for search engines such as Google.