Most companies don’t have the luxury of redesigning their website every six months, so it’s best to be prepared to get the most out of your new design. These suggestions will help you make sure that your new website will serve you well into the future.

1. Start early – it will take longer than you think

By the time you choose a web design company, get your content written, schedule a photo shoot and get the pictures back from the photographer, go through a few rounds of designs, and have the new website developed and tested, even a fairly simple site can take months from concept to launch. If you want your new website to last a long time, invest the time upfront to do things correctly. The last thing you want to do is rush this essential investment and either be stuck applying “band-aid” solutions to major problems or have to start all over again.

2. Find out how people are using your site now

If you haven’t already, install Google Analytics on your current site. By collecting a few months of data before the design process begins, you’ll be able to get some valuable insights into your site’s current strengths and weaknesses: which pages are converting, which pages are not performing well, what browsers your users are on, and more. Even if you are not familiar with Google Analytics’ reporting metrics, give the designer access to this data so that he or she can use it to improve user experience on your new website. For even more in-depth data, you may want to add other tracking services such as Crazy Egg, which will allows you to see exactly where people are clicking.

3. Have content and photography ready

While you may be able to use the same content and imagery from your current site, this is not always a good option. Whether you plan on writing the content yourself or having someone else write it, have a plan in place and know what information you will need to convey. Also, I cannot overstate the importance of hiring a professional photographer if you need custom photography for your website. High resolution photography, when used appropriately (not every website has a need for it), can take a design to the next level.

4. Know your company

The website will be a representation of your company, so it is essential to begin the redesign process with a good understanding of both what your brand represents and what your actual business model is. Take some time to write a list of words or phrases that you associate with your business, such as “trustworthy,” “experienced,” “family-friendly,” etc. It is also a good idea to write out the steps of your process from lead to fulfillment.

5. Know your target demographic

If you want your new website to convert win over potential customer, it helps to know who those customers are. You can start with the basics: young or old, male or female, married or single. For even more impact, dig deeper: Why are they on your site? What do they value? What are their interests? Understanding the mindset of the consumer is essential for creating an effective design for your company’s website.

6. Know what you want the website to accomplish

One of the questions we sometimes clients is, “What do you want people to do on your website? Call, fill out a form, or something else?” I’m always surprised by how many people simply respond, “Yes.” An agency can help you reach your goals, but ultimately, only you can decide what those goals are. Focus on what is most important to you so that the designer can guide users toward that end result.

7. Trust facts, not fads

Many people get so caught up in wanting their website to look “cool” that they forget who it is actually for: the end user. Web design may seem like an entirely subjective industry, but the fact is, there are countless studies on how people use websites and many tools to collect even more specific data for your own. A good designer will use data to lead the design process, not just his or her own opinions – or yours.

8. Request that the website be easy to update (or maintain)

So you’ve got your new website and three months later you need to change your phone number or add a new person to your staff page. What to do? Depending on how your site was built, you either pay the company who built it to make this change for you, or you do it yourself. Even if you do not want to make the changes yourself, keep in mind that somebody other than the developer may eventually need to make changes to the website. Unless you have a highly complex business model that absolutely requires a custom platform for your website, request that your site be built on a content management system (CMS) that is flexible, well-documented, and easy to use, such as WordPress. Unless you absolutely need it, stay away from proprietary content management systems, as they are usually extremely limited and cannot be supported by anyone other than the original developers.

And now it’s time to weigh in for business owners and designers alike. Based on your experience, what other advice would you give to business owners about to start the design process?