Exploring the Possibilities
Youre connected, youve spent a few hours (days) wandering around the net and youve determined that you are ready for the plunge. Where do we go from here?
Make a site outline
Start by looking at business sites that are already on the net. As you explore these sites, keep an outline of similar topics you would like to incorporate into your site. Keep your list in outline form, as you find a particularly well done site, bookmark the site so you can share the information with your site designer. While you are working on your site outline, gather hard copy of specific text you will want to include on your site. If this information is not in digital form, this is a good time to have your secretary put it in digital form. Most designers will require you submit copy in digital form. (See Copy writing for the Internet later in this article.) Gather any photographs or camera ready art that you would like to feature on your site. Making your outline as complete as possible will save you many design charges later.
As you are making your outline, you will discover that some topics will be relativity static while other areas will require constant updating. Unlike a printed brochure, your web site will be under constant construction. This is a good thing. However, it presents some design considerations because you will want to build in flexibility to add, change and subtract from your site without having to tear the whole thing apart and start over. A good designer will know this intuitively and guide you accordingly.
Find a web designer
Contact a design firm. Ask about their background. A good design team encompasses four skills, programming, graphic design, marketing and copy writing. An experienced site designer will have an on-line portfolio. Visit all the sites in the portfolio. You may not find all the sites appealing (different customers have different needs and goals) but you should be able to view the sites without crashing your browser or finding a mangled page.
How designers work
Large corporations with a web site usually employ their own staff of programmers and designers. Other firms will have their advertising agency create and maintain their sites. Fortunately, a small business wont need this much firepower. A small partnership or an individual designer can easily handle a site for a small business or organization. These designers each work differently and have varying degrees of expertise. Some designers are programmers who will design your site for very little if you post it on their web servers. Many designers freelance, collaborating with others when the demand arises. Some designers are high-school students, with a lot of time on their hands. Which one is right for you? Go on gut instinct and price. If you are uncomfortable with the design, the price or the process, keep searching.
How much will it cost?
Again, be prepared to discover a wide range of services and prices. Dont be surprised to find it difficult to compare two designers/design firms because of the differences in services provided and prices charged. The going rate for design work is from $35.00 - $50.00 per hour and up. Most small design firms will have a basic "package price" with an add-on "a la carte" list of prices.
How much should you pay? If you arent going to do any on-line selling, you shouldnt have to pay more than $2000.00 to $3000.00 (design work only, hosting not included). Your best bet is to submit your site outline and ask the designer for feedback and price.
Growing your Own Web Site
Should you consider making your own site? Probably not. How much time do you have to spend learning, do you have an employee who is interested in web design? If you think your already-overburdened receptionist is going to let you add this to her job description, think again. If you intend to create or maintain your web site in-house, you must have someone who is familiar with HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), the language web pages are written in. Dont let anyone tell you that there are programs that will let you create a web page. Those programs exist; indeed most word processing programs boast these features. But more often than not, unless you are already familiar with HTML, these programs will create complete junk and frustrate you in the process. There are many good on line tutorials and anyone familiar with computers can easily teach themselves HTML in a couple of weeks. My favorite tutorial is DEV HEADS at (http://www.zdnet.com/devhead/stories/articles/0,4413,1600332,00.html).
*You might consider having a professional designer create the site and have your staff maintain the site. The key is finding an employee who wants to do the work. Then the only problem you will have is getting that employee not to work on the web site and do other tasks as well. And when they are trained, will they want a pay increase or look for other jobs?
Working with a Designer
Face it, your designer is going to know (or should know) a lot more about the net than you. If not, you should be continuing your search. One of the biggest challenges facing a designer is educating you, the client. Why do you think we bother to write this article?
What makes a Good Site?
What makes a good site? Four things: consistency, ease of navigation, speed and the copy or content of the site.
Consistency: The site has simple, tasteful logo in the same location on each page.
Navigation: Because the image links at the top of the page are repeated at the bottom as links, navigation is simple. The labels are self-explanatory and descriptive. There is no doubt about what each link is.
Speed: All the images in this site are small and serve to illuminate and enhance the text. Dont detract from the function of the site, to inform.
Copy: The copy itself is lean and informative. Paragraphs are short and to the point. The language is comprehensible and compelling. The site which does precisely what it intends to do inform your visitors and make sales.
Writing copy for the Internet
You will need to rewrite most of your copy before you submit it to the designer. Few designers have enough of a marketing background to suggest a change of writing style to the client. Many designers are happy to shovel your brochure on the net without bothering to try to educate you.
Write simply, briefly and clearly
Writing styles are different for web publishing than for publishing printed text. On-line viewers dont typically read, they scan text for the information they need. Organizing your content and leading your viewer to the content with visual clues is critical to the usability of your site. Naturally there will be parts of your site that the viewer will be expected to print and read, off-line (directions to your club or business for instance). However, simplicity and brevity are key. All those flowery marketing adjectives need to go in favor of a more highly organized, direct writing style. Consider which block of text youre more likely to read:
World Renowned Seafood Company, Inc.
Our mission at World Renowned Seafood Company, Inc. is to deliver the worlds finest seafood, in a top-quality condition, using the fastest state-of-the-art delivery service on the face of the planet. Our world-renowned seafood is delivered to you impeccably ocean-fresh! Each delicate cut of seafood is hand-packed in crushed ice and then carefully enveloped in dry ice. Our next-day delivery service assures you that our top quality seafoods arrives at your door the next day. And, we guarantee delivery in time for your chefs to prepare our seafood delicacies in time for your most discriminating lunch customer! We carry the worlds largest selection of seafood too! To save your busy culinary staff time, we also offer our exclusive direct-fax service. Each afternoon your chef will receive, via fax, a complete listing of the days available seafood, complete with pricing information and delivery charges worldwide. And our money-back guarantee assures you, the busy food industry professional, that your clientele will have the food that they have grown to expect from your establishment. Dont delay, call 1-800-seafood today!
World Renowned Seafood Company, Inc.
When read on the printed page, the first paragraph is tedious. When viewed on-line the situation becomes even worse, especially if the viewer has to scroll to see all the text. Often, an experienced web user will not even remain on a "brochure-ware site" long enough for the page to download. They know from experience that teasing the real information out of the marketing copy is not worth the effort. Your site immediately loses credibility simply due to the large amount of text and lack of visual clues and organizational layout.
The best way to edit your copy is to remove as many words as possible. Then break long sentences into short ones. Then get rid of more words. If you are left with a bullet list you are on the right track. Does this mean that long copy has no place on the web? Absolutely not! Post that 20-page article on "Improving your Golf Swing". Your viewers will read every word of it as long as it is copy they want to read. Content is key! See How Users Read on The web (http:www.usenet.com/alertbox/9710a.html)
Think like your viewer
Answer the following:
Why does your site exist?
Who are you trying to reach?
What is your visitor looking for?
Why would a visitor return?
Does a customer visit your site to see a picture of your office? Does a prospective customer want to read your mission statement? Would anybody? Would a prospective employee print and read a five page historic perspective of the club or business? Its amazing how many business or club sites begin with a picture of the clubhouse (that takes three minutes to load before anything else is visible on the site), follow it up with a mission statement, then launch into the history of the business or club. Would you give a two-hour speech before dinner? Dish them up something to read right away and point them where they want to go.
Organize the content
Scientists have known for decades that most people can only hold about four to seven chunks of information in their short-term memory. Your goal in organizing the content of your site is to keep the number of choices your viewer must make to a minimum.
Divide the content of your site into four to seven chunks. For instance, the directory on your homepage might list:
Then further subdivide the main topics. For instance, a visitor clicking on "Dining" might find links to your a la carte menu, banquet menus, special events and private dining room information. Build a site outline, keeping in mind that your outline shouldnt be too "flat" or too deep. For instance, limit the number of topics in each sub-directory to no more than seven and have your outline no deeper than four pages.
Graphics on the Internet
Presenting useful information in an organized manner is critical to the success of your web site. However, the visual design of your site will make or break you. You are responsible for the content of your site but your designer will be responsible for how the site looks. So what makes good design? Three things, speed, simplicity, and consistency.
The visual elements of your site (logos, buttons, background and photographs) must load quickly or your visitor will simply hit the "back" button and leave. One consistent mistake made by club sites is the gratuitous use of graphics. Otherwise great sites are often opened with a large graphic of the clubhouse on the homepage that takes several minutes to load before the visitor can read any text or explore the site further.
A good designer can work around this problem by breaking the graphic into smaller chunks, correct HTML coding or by using a lower bit-depth. This isnt your problem to fix, only to recognize.
Some design principals stay the same, no matter what the media. Simplicity is one of these principals. Leave lots of "white space". Make sure the text is legible size and color. Dont mix and match different styles of fonts or graphics. Season your site with graphics but dont over-use them. Make sure every element on your page has a really good reason for being there, including the content.
The design of your site should guide you through the information and focus on the content. Your pages should have a consistent organizing element. Directory links should look and work the same throughout the site. If the directions to your club are named "map" in one section, dont switch to the term "directions" in another section.