Ok, you’ve selected your domain name, found a good host for your site, and registered your domain name. Now you are ready to start building. Right? Well, not exactly. Just like you wouldn’t build a house without a detailed plan written down on paper, you shouldn’t start building your web site unless you have first developed a plan.

I’m guilty of having build many sites without a plan and each of those times I ended up with several different versions as I radically changed my design and the entire process took a lot longer than it would have if I had only to design it once. Either way, you’ll be spending more time figuring out your site’s layout than you’ll spend creating the layout.

To determine what layout you want, it might be useful to look at other sites to get some ideas. See what you like and most importantly what you don’t like. Many people who come to me for site design have little clue about what they want, which makes my job more difficult, so I at least ask them to send me a list of sites they like as well as tell me what they don’t like about those sites. That at least gives me an idea.

Be as detailed as possible with the layout. What pages do you want? What order for those pages? Where do you want the pages listed–across the very top, at the top but below a banner, on the left side, on the right side, in the middle, etc? What colors do you want used and how do you want them displayed? What graphics will you use, and do you have those graphics? iStockPhoto is a great place to buy rights to pictures if you need some and this is a site I’ve used many times as it’s much cheaper and easier than me taking the pictures myself–however, I often want something unique in which I do take the photograph myself.

The more detailed you are the better, but also be careful not to limit the designer or yourself with too much information. I once had a client present me with a large stack of papers explaining how they wanted their site layed out. I took the stack at first, but then later contacted the client and returned their stack and their money and recommended another designer as I realized it would have taken me longer to simply read everything than it would be to design it. So, give detail, but not too much detail.

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