Your website may be you or your company’s biggest calling card to the world. Therefore, it’s important to make the most of it. These tips can help turn a passable design into something much more strategic and impactful.

Do your research prior to beginning anything. Would you jump into an activity blindly when real money is on the line? Most people wouldn’t, and for good reason. You are likely to miss the mark and lose hard cash in the process. Research is important to understand the lay of the land. Who is the competition, and what types of designs are they using? What types of websites does your target market normally respond to? Are there certain design technologies that are off limits due to viewing habits of your target? Do you need to design to be flexible to multiple screen resolutions and sizes? There are so many important things to discover that will provide you with clues on how to build the most persuasive site possible. Take the initiative to learn as much as you can.

Be careful not to copy the competition completely. Yes, there is the old adage, “Minor artists borrow, and major artists steal.” And while it is good practice to mirror best practices you see in the market, make each element you copy your own. Find a different way to incorporate the best practice to make it work well for your overall design. This will keep you from forcing an element into your design that doesn’t fit conceptually simply because a competitor is successful with it. As well, it better secures you from legal action if a competitor believes you have stolen proprietary work.

Map out your information architecture. Before beginning any design, pull out a pen and a piece of paper. Create a line drawing of how you see your website flowing. What is the horizontal logic of its main navigation? Are there sub-pages built into that navigation? How are you driving visitors from one page to the next to keep them on the site for the longest time possible? Answer these questions in your map and more. This exercise will speed up your overall workflow. You will spend less time second guessing yourself when it comes time to tie together a multi-page website.

If frequent content updates are important, build your website using a user-friendly content management system at its core. There are few things more aggravating to a business then having its content locked down in complex code that a only web designer can successfully change. Modern businesses and personal brands with original content strategies need updating often, sometimes daily. It’s best, then, to utilize a well-known and simple to use content management system like WordPress or Tumblr at the center of your design. These CMS systems give anyone with general Internet and office software skills access to the content on the site. This website flexibility gives businesses the ability to react quickly to market changes, threats and opportunities.

With these web design tips, you are now ready to move from a passable static website to one that works strategically on behalf of your business. Now take the next step and begin designing your web masterpiece.