User Centered Design.
One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses when trying to get started with a website is a deceptively simple one: what are you going to put on it?
For some businesses, the answer is self-apparent; a local pizza shop needs a copy of the menu and some contact details. But for any business more complex than that, it becomes a much more challenging proposition.
Sometimes, businesses will copy what their competitors have done. Looking at your competitors is certainly a good place to start, but what if their websites look the way they do because they copied THEIR competitors?
What about asking the key stakeholders what they'd like to see on the website? Also not a bad place to start, but it's all too common that stakeholders have competing ideas about what's most important, which results in a "compromise" of simply jamming as much content as possible "above the fold", in order to keep everyone happy. Everyone, that is, except for your customers!
This is why we here at Assembler practice a process known as User Centered Design. It sounds obvious, and in a lot of ways it is, but UCD is a process of structuring your website in accordance with the things your end users are looking for.
First, we identify your users. Who are the types of users who are visiting your website, and how do we rank them in terms of importance to your business. If you've ever been through a traditional marketing process, then this will be a familiar process to you - and UCD is perfectly capable of picking up from where your existing "user personas" left off. For some businesses, this is pretty simple stuff, you only have a handful of personas, and the one that's looking to buy something from you is the obviously the highest ranking in terms of importance, but this certainly isn't the case with all businesses.
Next, you work out what it is those user personas are looking for on your website. Again, sometimes this is obvious, but your different user personas may have completely different, and sometimes contradictory, interests in your business.
Once you understand who your most important users are, and what it is they're looking for on your website, it's a relatively simple matter of designing the site so that those elements are featured most immediately and prominently on the site, and just as importantly, that any remaining clutter is removed. As the old saying goes, "if everything is highlighted, then nothing is highlighted at all".
Of course, it's all a lot more complicated than just this, as you have to take into account hierarchical navigational structures, the capabilites of your Content Management System, and Search Engine Optimisation requirements can have a dramatic impact on the structure of your content, but by putting your end users first, you're putting your focus on the people who count the most - the ones who pay the bills!