web designWhile it’s easy these days to rely on Facebook Pages and Yelp listings to represent your company, every business should have its own website. Running your own site gives your customers a central place to find everything you want them to, regardless of their social media preferences.

Rushing into building a site without a plan can leave you with something that might not fit your long-term needs. Whether you are doing it yourself or hiring someone to do it for you, here are four things to keep in mind when building your company’s website.

1. Design for Content and for Customers

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There’s a well-known Internet marketing expression that says “content is king.” This also applies to the design phase of your website. It may seem obvious but it’s important that you consider what’s going to go on your site before building it. A service like WordPress can be great for building a blog, but if your business is a restaurant, it’s more likely your customers are looking for a menu or directions than an article about your business.

Think first about what your business is about. What essential information do you need to share, and what will your customers come looking for? While blogs, splash pages, and giant photo galleries might seem really fun, consider what information is most important to you customers and present it prominently.

2. Allow for Mobile Access

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The mobile space is expanding at a dizzying rate. As of January 2012, there are now more iPhones sold each day than babies born world-wide! It’s a given that customers will be accessing your site from a mobile device. At some point in the not-too-distant future, that will likely be the way the majority of the world will access the Internet.

This means it’s time to stop building sites with Adobe Flash, which does not work on certain mobile devices and tablets. This is especially true for businesses like restaurants and photographers. Your customers are going to want to find you while they are on the go. If your site doesn’t work on their devices, you are leaving money on the table.

You should consider how to make the mobile experience great for your customers to begin with. Many of the conventions that work for a desktop browser-based site might not work so well on mobile. Because your designer will design for mobile first, he or she will need to focus on simplicity and ease of use. Those lessons learned can then be applied to make the desktop experience that much better.

3. Make Your Site Accessible

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According to the U.S. Census bureau, 1 in 5 Americans have some sort of disability. Also, the collective income of people with disabilities is approximately $1 trillion dollars, and $200 billion of that is discretionary spending.

These individuals could be extremely loyal and passionate customers. When you create a new website, it’s to your benefit to think about accessibility. If you need an explanation of how to build with accessibility in mind, the W3C organization has some great resources.

4. Incorporate Responsive Design Features

Responsive Web Design Book

The basic idea behind responsive web design is to avoid having to build unique websites for different devices — such as smartphones, tablets, and desktop browsers. Instead, responsive design allows you to have one site that reflows its layout in response to the size of the screen it’s displayed on.

For example, the Boston Globe’s website was built using responsive design techniques. If you navigate there and change the size of your browser window horizontally, you’ll notice that parts of the page will change, hide, or reveal as you resize the browser. This type of design saves your customers the hassle of having to navigate sites that weren’t built for the screens they’re using.

While some of these suggestions might seem overwhelming to the non-technical, they are quickly becoming the baseline standards of the web-design industry. When looking to hire someone to build your online presence, make sure he or she is familiar with these concepts. If you’re building your site yourself, using responsive WordPress themes may be a good place to get started.

[Image credits: John Morrison, MIKI YoshihitoKeoni CabralJeremy Keith; Additional Sources: Kristina Halvorson, Cindy Li, Luke Wroblewski, Ethan Marcotte]