As the old adage goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Building a web-to-print website without a plan is like constructing a building without blueprints. Things end up in the wrong place, features are overlooked, and the situation is ripe for miscommunication between resources working on the project. Planning your website ahead of time will give it clear direction as well as prevent missed deadlines and backtracking.
1. Set your purpose and goals.
One of the first things you need to do before starting any development work is to be clear about your goals. What are you trying to achieve exactly? Ask your client, your manager or yourself what those goals are. If they or you don’t know yet, then they should be discussed and agreed upon. A clear direction is essential if you want your project to stay on track.
2. Create a budget.
Whether you’re an established organization or a fledgling start-up, you should always set a budget for deploying your web-to-print product. This will probably include funds for web design and programming (though other expenses may apply). Research the market by shopping around and consulting with professionals. Don’t sell yourself short by comparing prices alone. What you save in money you may later pay for with a lackluster site and lots of headaches. It’s better to choose team members based on experience and a proven track record.
3. Assign roles.
- Company stakeholders (owner, marketing manager, or whoever else represents a primary function of the business)
- Web and graphic designer
- Front-end Web developer (HTML/CSS)
- Content writer and/or editor
- Print Editor template upload and configuration
- Print Store setup (Categories, Products, Pricing, Content Management, etc)
Make sure everyone on your team knows their role and what is expected of them, and that they stay abreast of deadlines and new developments.
4. Create a content strategy.
What kind of content will you be displaying on your website? Content is basically anything that gives your visitors information. It can include, but is not limited to:
- Product Details
- Pricing Details
- Blog posts
- Embedded social media feeds
5. Structure your website.
Decide what pages you’ll be using and what features will be on each one. Most web-to-print Print Stores have very specific category pages that lead to product pages, online calculators, and information pages, but the pages you use should meet your business’ needs.
6. Create a mock-up.
A page mock-up, also know as a wireframe, is essentially the outline of your website (with the initial design being the first draft). Usually created in Photoshop or similar tool, you don’t have to put too much detail into your mock-up. Use placeholder text to fill pages, and don’t worry about details. This is just to give everyone an idea of what the website will look like.
Another popular option in theme development is integrating HTML themes you purchase on the internet. If you find a theme that works for you all the design and layout is done for you and you can customize it to fit your needs.
7. Start designing.
The importance of good web design can’t be stressed enough. Good website design includes both usability and aesthetics. An ugly website will drive away customers, as will a website that’s difficult to navigate. Keep in mind some basic concepts of usability as you go:
- Make your navigation easy to understand and easy to find. Research shows that most users expect website navigation to be vertical and available at the top of the page.
- Use an easy-to-read font for blocks of text. Choose a background color and text color that contrast well (Hint: No red text on a hot pink background).
- Make sure your site fits the screen. Use responsive design built in Bootstrap to make your website one that adapts to all screen sizes.
- Keep your website light so that it loads quickly. Some purchased themes will include more then you may need to optimization may be required to improve load times.
- Make the company logo and tag line prominent on the page.
- Keep styles and colors consistent across the website.
- Make copy clear and concise, and put important information and features above the fold.
- Make notes about what to include in the style sheet as you design, as you want to keep style and function separate. This is important, not only to comply with web standards, but to make it easier to change something in the future if you need to.
- You should also design with the future in mind.
- If your adding Print Editor online templates decide what features you will use because your entire workflow may change as an result.
8. PrintNow Admin Tools.
While your Print Store's theme development is coming together you can use the PrintNow Admin Tools to set-up your configurations and add content like products, pricing, and pages. Your onboarding expert will help direct you along the way but in general these are the steps to get your Print Store ready for online orders:
- Add product Categories.
- Add Products.
- Add any new Pages or modify existing ones that come standard.
- Decide if your products will have Attribute Sets or Tags to filter large product catalogs.
- Configure General Settings.
- Configure Email Account and Email Notifications.
- Set up Merchant Accounts if you will be accepting credit cards.
- Configure Shipping Methods for live shipping rates and fixed rates shipping.
- Activate any required Partner Integrations.
- See Domain Tools to configure custom domain and SSL certificate.
9. Test it out.
Testing is important for getting out bugs out and catching details that you might have missed initially. Make sure your Print Store shows up the way you want it to in all browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and mobile web browsers like Safari and Opera Mini. Test it on your cell phone, your tablet, and your colleague’s cell phones and tablets too. You want your site to have a consistent appearance no matter what screen it shows up on. Make sure all of the links work, that the images are properly sized, and that you’ve replaced all of the placeholders with actual content. See to it that all of the forms and other input fields are working.
10. Maintain your site.
Once your site is launched, the work isn’t over. A website is an ongoing entity that continuously represents your company, so maintenance is very important. Monitor your analytics software to see how your website is performing with the public. Keep an eye on metrics like your number of unique visitors, bounce rate, and which pages are most popular on your website. You might find that certain metrics are more useful to you than others, but that is information you’ll find out over time.
You should also have a plan for maintaining the website, such as who is responsible for posting new content or monitoring site security. And of course, get feedback from your users. Feedback is a valuable tool for improvement.
Planning a website ahead of time is just as important as planning anything else in business, yet this step often gets overlooked by those anxious to claim their piece of internet real estate. Taking the time to plan your website is a great investment, and it will better you chances of having a finished product that serves you well for as long as you need it.