You may be on your first website. But more likely you're faced with redesigning a website that isn't functioning as well as it should. I see 12 vital decisions involved with developing a website, and I want to explain them with you in mind:
• You're the owner or marketing director of a small business and know that getting your website to pull its share of the load is vital for success. But your budget is severely limited!
• You've just been assigned the task of redoing your company's website. Congratulations, now you can be blamed if things don't work well. :-)
• You've volunteered to take on your church or organization website and make some sense out of it -- without offending the person who built it in the first place.
• This time around you've decided to outsource the job, but you have no idea of how to supervise a design company to make sure it does what you need. Good luck!
I want to help. When I built my first website in 1995 at the very beginning of the commercial Web, I didn't have a clue how to proceed. In those days there was no one to guide me. I've made every mistake you can think of -- some more than once, I hate to admit.
Since then I've built and assisted with dozens of online stores and hundreds of websites for all kinds of businesses and organizations, from mom and pops to major corporations and international organizations.
There are twelve critical places in building a website where you must make the right decision, or you'll have to repeat this task again and again until you get it right. I won't be talking about how to write HTML; I want to help you with the mindset, the basic approach. I want to take you by the hand and lead you through the critical decisions. The better you grasp these essential points, the better your website will work and the happier camper you'll be.
Okay, let's roll up our sleeves and get started. By the way, why don't you print out this document and then mark it up with your thoughts and ideas as you read. It's designed to serve as a worksheet to clarify your thinking and provide direction at various stages of the project. If you decide to outsource the project, you'll want to share a copy of your marked-up copy of this document with your website designer. Print it out!
1. Determine Your Website's Chief Purpose
When you begin a website, you must have your main purpose clearly in mind. I say this because it's easy to have conflicting purposes.
• If you're a website design firm, you may want to show off your high tech goodies with your client's site as the showpiece.
• If you're an employee stuck with this task, you may want to look good for your bosses and not do anything for which you can be blamed -- you've got to protect your backside.
• If you're a volunteer, you may just want an excuse to tinker and be praised for it.
• If you're a business owner, you probably care about the bottom line. You're wondering, How much this will cost? and Will it be worth it in the long run?
Dear friends, recognize your own needs -- they're legitimate. But to build an effective website, you've got to look at the business's or organization's needs and make those primary. From the organization's perspective, what must this website do in order to be successful?
Let's look at some common website purposes. Put an X next to all that apply.
• Build your brand. Create an online brochure that will help potential clients, customers, and partners learn about your company and look at it in a favorable light. You're trying to enhance your brand or organization image. I've heard people disparage this kind of website as "brochure-ware." But this is very legitimate for some kinds of companies, especially local businesses or organizations that aren't trying to conduct national or international commerce. You want people to know who you are, what you do, where to find you, and how to contact you.
• Provide product information to drive local sales of your products and services at dealer locations. Auto sites are a good example. Many manufacturers don't sell on their sites, but point people to retailers who carry their products.
• Sell advertising. A few sites are designed to sell advertising -- Yahoo!, Google, and other portal sites are examples. But these days, there's far too much advertising space and not nearly enough money to fill it all. Internet advertising is improving, but is still under-priced. You may be able to sell a little advertising if you're a portal site for an industry, or perhaps put some Google AdSense ads on your site. But these aren't big money-makers. Look at advertising sales as a hopeful bonus, not as a sure thing.
• Sell products or services directly over the Internet. You want to conduct e-commerce and sell to a national or international market. You'll have some kind of ordering system for one or more products, or perhaps an extensive online catalog. You may offer an online service that can be delivered over the Internet or that can be initiated online.
What's the design decision here? To be clear and focused about your site's objectives and purposes.
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