I’ve made a lot of websites for a lot of reasons. Over the years I’ve seen em come and go, but I’ve learned these lessons from my most successful clients and I hope to share them with you. Just answer these questions, and you are more likely to get what you want from your website.

How to get a USEFUL website.


These are meant to be questions that open our eyes and remove obstacles.  If some of them don’t seem to make sense or don’t apply to your situation, then take it with a grain of salt.  When the dust settles, this is YOUR website and YOUR process.

Your website reality.

Let’s start out on the ground where we are.  If you don’t already have a website, then you can obviously skip these questions.

What resources do we have?

You have to promise to take care of it. A website is a bit like a living creature.  It needs hosting, domain registration, fresh content, graphical materials, and it always grows with you.  Maybe think of it as a puppy.

What’s our site like now?

Let’s take a look at this puppy. Just describe it to yourself and see what words come out.  Old?  Ours?  Dark?  Slow?  Rich?

Why are we changing it?

What’s it doing wrong? You should have a compelling business reason to change your site. Where’s the ROI here?  Increased sales?  Better reputation? Reduced maintenance costs? Increased communication? This might be the most important thing to bear in mind as we continue.

How did it get this way?

If you are looking to change something, you should know how you ended up in the wrong place up to this point.  If it’s an internal problem, then will engaging a new designer just reset the clock? Can we address it moving forward?  This could be a hard one to answer.  Don’t worry, these are general guides meant to clear away obstacles.

What are our brick and mortar resources?

Who can take care of the puppy? Can anyone here take the time to deal with the website?  Who keeps all the passwords?  Who answers website email? Who has the best time resources and skill set to do updates, make changes, and engage outside help when it’s needed?  Who makes the call if something goes wrong?  Who is paying the hosting bills and keeping the domain registration current?  For a digital pet, this puppy needs a lot of love.

Who are your contract resources?

So maybe you work with me, or maybe not – that’s fine too.  Still, I don’t do everything – maybe you need somebody for copy-writing or strategic marketing or SEO specialization?  Consider your network of specialists that you can engage for various aspects of your site.

What’s our budget?

We all know this one, but seriously: It’s possible to spend a million bucks on a site and to get that much out of it.  We can spend months building use cases and feature lists and designing mock-ups, or we can spend a few hundred bucks and still get…something…up.  Don’t forget to factor in long-term costs.  A static website might be cheap to launch, but it’s expensive to update and keep fresh.

 What do we need as a business, and when?

This is the state of your business.  What do you need?  Is it visibility in a year?  Hundreds of leads right now?  Increased Sales?  Be realistic, not optimistic (yet).

What kind of quality can we afford?

Budget and time and other resource considerations will ultimately guide you.

Your website needs

 What’s the business purpose here?  What does our business need that a website can provide?  Are we looking for sales leads and customer engagement?  Are we providing brand messaging primarily?

What do you want people to do when they go to your site?

Are we trying to get people to sign up?  Contact us?  Buy something?  Get a quote?  Having a clear call to action will help focus your site into something useful for your business.

What’s common and expected in your sector?

A real-estate site without a property search is a little silly these days.  You want to be competitive in your site’s features.  Check out the best sites from your field and see how you compare.  Are you over-shooting or undershooting on the common and accepted features of a website?  Are you redesigning things that are already designed?  Websites work a certain way.

What should our visual elements be saying?

My graphical treatment is like my facial expression online…If we aren’t thinking about what face we are making – then what does that say to people?  Whatever you are saying in your text, we want to be saying it with images too.  The web is based in text, but allows us to do some graphical reinforcement to make the emotional point drive home.  Think of it like body-language.

How is this maintained and updated?

Does this require an expert every time we want to change a PDF out?  Does this need expensive custom hosting?  What if we want to change EVERYTHING and keep our content?  Am I future proofed?

Where does the content come from?

Who is writing our message?  Who is taking the photos?  Who is making desk-doodles that we can scan for illustrations?

Your website dreams

“We live as we dream; alone.” – Joseph Conrad

  • What kind of quality sets us apart?
  • What looks cool to people in our world?
  • What features would blow away the competition?
  • Where can this site take us?
  • How could we grow it to bring us more rewards?

That’s pretty much it.

Moving forward, we can identify a clear business related reason to produce a website that contrast with our competition, highlights our best face, and meets our budget while empowering us to control our message and grow.  From now on, we know how to maintain it and grow our own useful website.

Common missteps

These are meant to be questions that open our eyes and remove obstacles.  If some of them don’t seem to make sense or don’t apply to your situation, then take it with a grain of salt.  When the dust settles, this is YOUR website and YOUR process.

You should try to avoid the following modes of thought whenever possible:

No plan for maintenance or updates

Websites are technology, and I try to make that as easy as possible to deal with – but it is still technology.  Things go wrong, technology changes, styles change, devices like iPads are invented.  You should have a plan for basic updates, and for larger scope updates and support.

No plan for content generation

Have content goals, and a person ready to meet them.  Set up rewards or accountability to ensure this is met.  It’s a real shame to launch a site and see the client never updated it.  Nothing sadder than the most recent post being “We just launched!” and it’s two years old.

Technological overkill

99% of you don’t need a developer.  However I still hear about companies shelling out 5-digit contracts to have somebody build a custom CMS for them.  You very likely do not need any custom development – there are lots and lots of tools out there that probably already do what you need.

No communication goal.

Some people jump the gun and want a website up, but have no idea why or what it should say.  It’s best to have a clear goal for your website.  My site, for example exists to promote my professional services  and to clarify my own distinct design philosophy of client-empowerment.

Lack of confidence with the web.

Many clients settle for what is hard because they think the web should be hard.  Many can’t hear simple advice because they are so convinced that the solution they need must be complicated or hidden deeply in some obscure tome of nerd arcana.  There are tools that make maintaining your own website accessible to anyone who can use a blog or Facebook.

Misunderstanding how websites are used and redesigning the internet.

The basic structure of a website is a design problem that has basically been solved as well as it’s going to be with the current technological paradigm. In my mind, this removes the need for designing from the ground up.  What, am I going to revolutionize the nav-bar and make you a star?  It’s better to spend that energy elsewhere, on your content or your actual graphical assets.



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