Do you Need a Website?
Internet hype can make it seem like a Website is a golden opportunity that you shouldn’t pass up. But a Website requires an investment of time and money. Therefore, we recommend that you carefully weigh the benefits and limitations before building one.
According to the US Department of Commerce, Internet traffic is currently doubling every 100 days. This makes your potential for growth much higher than with traditional forms of business. Furthermore, the Internet allows you to instantly share information with an audience who is interested in your products and services. Other reasons for building include:
- To establish a credible, professional image
- To provide employees with world-wide access to company databases
- To provide excellent, cost-effective customer service by providing current product literature, annual reports, press releases, catalogs, and convenient online ordering
- To gather marketing information
- To obtain new customers and generate sales leads
- To provide a highly cost effective advertising medium (especially when compared to print, radio, and television)
- To improve customer or employee relations by providing a place to take applications, requests, questions, and comments
However, there are limitations to consider as well: The success of your Website partly depends on your profit goals, the type of Website that you build, and your marketing and advertising efforts. For example, if you want to sell a general product like music CDs, you will face tough competition from big companies like Amazon.com. On the other hand, if you want to sell a market-specific or niche product, like boat manifolds, you will probably face less competition. Here are some other limitations to consider:
Websites are not an aggressive form of advertising, which means that your customers will have to find you (although this makes your leads a higher quality)
The demographics of the Web may not be currently suited to your target audience or market segment
A poorly planned and implemented Site will reflect poorly on your business or organization
Internet companies can take years to mature and become profitable
If you are willing to meet the challenges and embrace the possibilities of your own Website, it’s time to determine your Site’s purpose and goals
Purpose and Goals
Establishing your purpose and goals will help you to build a successful Website by providing a balance between your need to promote, educate, or sell — and your audience’s needs and preferences.
Identify Purpose and Goals
Meet with your team members and answer the following questions:
Define the Website’s purpose. Why are you building a Website – what purpose does it serve? Take a look at your business plan, product literature, promotional materials and proposals.
Determine why people will come to your Site. Try analyzing the question: “what problem is my visitor trying to solve?” For example, are they looking for a product? Do they need information on your services or business? Are they employees who need access to company information or databases? Are they researching a subject that you specialize in? You may find that several types of visitors could use your Site to solve various problems – these people form your potential audience.
Determine why people will trust and use your site. What do you have to offer that will convince people to accept your products or services? For example, you can educate users on the different uses for your products, provide extensive customer service, make purchasing easy, provide a forum for discussions, provide excellent security, etc.
After brainstorming your Goals and Purpose, gather input from the people who will use your Site – your Audience
Trying to appeal to everyone on the Internet could lead to a confusing site that lacks the right tools or content. You can solve this problem by choosing a specific audience and getting their input, which will contribute to a useful, relevant and successful site.
In the following section, we offer suggestions for targeting an audience and getting their input:
Who is Your Audience?
In this preliminary stage, look over your goals to see who was initially suggested as the potential audience.
Add as many different groups to this list that you think of.
Then, determine which of these groups you can best serve. For example, are you better equipped to sell to wholesalers or customers?
After determining your audience, it’s very important to consider their opinions and desires before launching the Site. Try using some of the following suggestions to get their input. Five participants should give you a good consensus.
- How and Who to ask
- Talk with current clients
- Post an email questionnaire to message boards and chat groups that service potential audience members
- Put yourself in the shoes of your potential audience, and consider their needs and desires.
- What to ask (Don’t forget to record the responses!)
- Why will they use your site? For example, to get account information, to purchase items, or to check for job listings?
- What kind of activities or information would they like to find on your Site?
- What do they like or dislike about similar Websites?
- How familiar are they with the Web and using computers?
- What kind of computer and browser are they using?
These users and personas can help you evaluate your Site as you plan the Content and Structure
Content and Structure
Building content is one of the most time-consuming tasks of building a site. It’s also among the most important – if the site doesn’t provide useful information, users won’t use the site, and they certainly won’t return again. Content must also be organized so that users know where they are, where to go next, and how to return to different pages.
Identify Content and Interaction
Using the list of goals and the needs of your audience, start a list of contents and a list of interaction needs for the site.
Gather Content. Content should answer all of the major questions that your users will probably have about your organization and/or products. Existing brochures, fliers, promotional items, pictures, handbooks, and databases can make up your content Subjects can include product information, company information, service information, and security information. We suggest making a content list of all the proposed content, noting whether it already exists or will need to be written.
Gather Graphics. If someone else has digital files for your logo, illustrations or photos – contact them and arrange to have them sent to you. Having the digital files can be key. Sometimes this can take time and effort so it’s best to get it out of the way.
Identify Interaction. Decide how your visitors will need to interact with the site and what will be required. This can include Databases, streaming video, calculators, bulletin boards, online shopping systems, security, maps, and forms.
Outline your Site
During this stage you will provide the structure of your Site. Remember to filter all of your ideas through your audience throughout this phase.
- Group Content into Chunks. From the contents that you gathered from your content list, start identifying all the “chunks” of information included in your content.
- Outline Major sections. It’s very hard to develop a web site that is easy to navigate without making a clear outline! As examples, please look over our sample Website Outline (Text) and the sample graphical approach on Website Structure.
- Make text easy to scan. After organizing your “chunks” into an outline, you can start shaping the content text itself into manageable, scannable sub-chunks. (When something is scannable, it means you can easily scan it for key points.) Scannability allows users to quickly glance across a page of content and glean important information.
- To ensure scannability, use Headings and Subheadings (that is, topic titles.) For example, imagine if the text of this page did not have any headings, subheadings, or highlighted lists: It would be hard find the information you wanted. The hierarchy of our headings pinpoints specific information: “Content and Structure” is a main heading, “Identifying Content and Tools” is a subheading, and “Gather content” is a subheading of that.
- Use only one idea per paragraph, and try to keep paragraphs short. Otherwise important information may get overlooked: Try sticking to around three to four sentences per paragraph.
- Use tables instead of text whenever possible. If you have a list of items and something to say about each of them, try putting the information into a simple table.
- Use Lists for similar concepts. Try using bulleted lists, but only for concepts that can be grouped together logically and that would be listed in a regular paragraph anyway. Use numbered lists to rank ideas by importance or in steps, or to break information up into chunks.
Writing for the Web
Web users tend to have much shorter attention spans than other media, and they have less tolerance for content that doesn’t come to the point quickly and honestly. To ensure that your audience gets the information that they need and that you want to share – follow these guidelines:
Use fewer words. Wordy content takes away from the meaning of your message. Use a few words to get to the point more quickly. If you are putting printed materials onto the Web, try reducing the number of words by 50%.
Use everyday language. Use short sentences and everyday words. Plain language is easier to read and understand.
Be honest and avoid hype. Although it is helpful to emphasize benefits within your information, web site visitors get particularly impatient with attempts to fluff up information. Just tell it like it is.
You’re ready to talk to me about your Site. Be prepared to discuss the following items:
- the Site’s target Audience and Image (Look and Feel)
- the Site’s Purpose and Goals
- the types of Content and general Structure of the Site
- the Service Package that best matches your requirements
- During this stage, it’s very helpful for you to bring existing materials describing your product and/or company. Bring or supply any photos, logos or artwork with you on disk.