Thoughts On Web Design

Yosh wears a hat

7 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Building A Website

Most clients are inexperienced buyers of website design and development services. For many, the website they are purchasing is their first. As a result of that inexperience, a lot clients don't know what questions they will be asked in an initial meeting or what to expect. The resulting uncertainty can be a little nerve wracking. That's why I made this handy dandy list of questions to think about before that initial meeting.

1. Why does this project need to be done?

Usually there is a reason(s) for doing a project. That reason may be that you want to sell paintings of cats wearing odd hats, to update a 90s GeoCities style abomination to a modern responsive design or share your wonderfully thought out blog posts on Japanoise music scene of the late 1970s. The answer to this question is the reason the project exists. It is what the website has to do.

NOTE: "I need a website" doesn't count as an answer. If that phrase comes out of you, it should be immediately followed with a "because" and some sort of reason.

2. What will make this project successful?

Websites can be successful in a variety of ways depending on the project. A successful design can mean increased traffic, more newsletter signups, less customer support phone calls and so on. I'm going to use the previous example of a website that sells paintings of cats wearing odd hats. You could the measure success of that project by the amount of cat paintings sold. Let's say selling 10 paintings a month would make it a successful project.

Now the designer knows what she is trying to accomplish and the designer definitely needs to know what she is trying to accomplish. Designing without a problem to solve or goal to accomplish isn't design. It's putting lipstick on a pig. No one likes putting lipstick on a pig, especially the pig.

So far we've got the what and the how well. Next up is the who.

3. Who do you want your customers to be? What do those people like?

A lot of what happens with a project is determined by who the site is trying to attract. A site geared toward crazy cat ladies who like painting of cats with odd hats will have a different design feel than a site for the metal head fans of Myrath. Two totally different audiences that probably have a small, but interesting bit of overlap.

What your visitors like is extremely important. What they like is actually more important than what you like. The bad news is that what your customers like will conflict with what you like on some level. It is something you are going to have to acquiesce on to some degree to if you want to have a really successful project.

If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.

I'm not trying to give the impression that customers are always right about anything. They don't always know what they want, need or will like. The key is to find the bits that really matter to them and build around that.

NOTE: Keep in mind that the customers you want to attract do not have to be the customers you have.

4. When does the project need to be finished?

A project needs an end date and deadlines for each stage along the way. Deadlines help keep the project focused, on time and on budget. Projects without deadlines take longer to complete or derail off the tracks and crash into a mountain of unhappiness in a fireball of destruction.

This is because of Parkinson's Law. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. When there is no deadline for completion, there is an infinite amount of time to fill. Content gets delivered late and programming gets put off in the face of projects with actual deadlines. A lack of deadlines is the reason that the redesign of this website took over a year to finish. Personal projects need deadlines too.

5. What's the budget?

It's best to discuss the budget as early as possible. The designer needs to know if you are looking to spend an appropriate amount for what you want done. You need to know if the designer can do what needs to be done within your budget. This conversation can be a little bit weird because designers don't generally publish their rates and most clients have no idea what to expect.

An easy way to tell if you are on the same budget level is to see if the designer has done work with similar clients. If a company in your field that's about your size can afford the designer, you should be able to as well.

Think about how long a project will take to complete (Hint: most full website projects take a minimum of two weeks). Then think about how much money someone needs to earn to make a living during that period of time. If a project is going to take a couple of weeks of continuous work, it'll likely cost about that much of someone's salary. If you are working with a large company, it'll likely be a couple weeks of multiple salaries.

6. How is this project going to make money?

Are you going to make money from advertising, affiliate marketing, selling products, subscriptions or memberships? How much money do you think you can make? What are your projected expenses? Make a profit model and see if the project passes the sniff test. You don't want spend thousands of dollars on something that smells like the titan arum.

7. What is my marketing strategy?

If you build it, they may not come. Building the site is not the same thing as marketing it. The website may be amazingly good at selling paintings of cats with odd hats, but it can't sell the paintings if no one visits the site. Marketing the site as well as ranking well in search engines is how to generate traffic. You need traffic. Do you have a plan for making that traffic happen?


You don't need to have all the answers and I've never met a client who did. Your designer should be able to point you in the right direction with advice on marketing and strategy.

Thank you for reading 7 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Building A Website. I hope you enjoyed it. You can give me feedback, say hi or yell at me on

Sep 18, 2015 Filed under Client Relations


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