Granted this seems an incredibly obvious question, but this is where some careful thought can save an awful lot of work and time later on.
Often what’s wanted from a website is to provide information and a contact point. Okay, but what information are you providing? The answer to this question comes from asking a couple of more targeted questions:
- Who is your audience?
- What are you providing for your audience?
So, let’s take a look at those questions.
Who is your audience?
This is an all-important question, but again, the answer is only really found by asking still more questions. Here are some suggestions:
- Is the site for interested parties such as hobbyists or researchers, the general public, or fellow professionals?
- Are site visitors likely to be younger or older?
- Will they be confident with the Internet, or require extra help?
- Are there likely to be any accessibility considerations that require special attention?
Going through this kind of a checklist will help you to gain an accurate picture of the people who you’re speaking to. Remember, if the visitor to a web site wants the information that you’re offering it makes sense to consider that person as the most important factor in the entire website creation. Keeping this in mind in every step of the process from this point on will help to make sure that you are delivering your message properly.
What are you providing for your audience?
Once you know who you’re speaking to, the next thing you need to be clear on is what you want to say to or do for them. Take the time to decide on the following:
- Describing your organisation
- Providing Educational Information
- Promoting a cause
- Describing news events
- Selling a service
- Publishing a database
- Creating a web community
All of these purposes need to be handled in a different way, requiring different approaches and bringing with them different responsibilities. True, one website can do several of these things, even all, and often the best websites are a blend of these options. However, the more that one site tries to achieve the more that it will require in planning, resources and maintenance. If you are working alone, or have a limited budget, this is the time to decide on what is possible, or the most important. Getting one thing right is better than having several things done poorly. Remember, the user is the most important person, and what a user always wants is quality first.
Describing your organisation
This is a very common type of web page, and will probably form a part of any website (including family websites if the family is considered an organisation!). The point to remember here is that you’re describing your organisation for the site visitor, so don’t get carried away. Inform, yes, and enthuse, of course, but be wary of waffle and irrelevant information, and keep the tone of the writing aimed at the visitor.
Although you may be able to draw on existing literature for the text and even image content on the website, try not to think of the pages on your site as online copies of paper brochures, leaflets and so on. Certainly maintain a consistent message, but remember that the web has a lot more to offer with multimedia and user interaction, so you should try use your imagination a little to think of ways of using the web page to greater effect and give more impact. The user may also be coming to the website looking for more than they’ve already found elsewhere, and space is hardly an issue at all on the Internet. So, make sure there is plenty of quality background information for the user to find that perhaps wouldn’t be easily found elsewhere.
Providing educational information
One incredible aspect of the Internet is the ability to share knowledge freely, and as a result bona fide experts with real credentials are taking the time to make their expertise available online. Some educational sites follow traditional curriculum subjects, and may be developed and maintained perhaps by parents or community groups or state educational bodies. Hobbyists love to share information with each other, and people who have specialist interests may perhaps hope that a website will help them make contact with others with similar interests for mutual learning. As you can see, there are limitless scenarios (remembering that the PCTechGuide is, essentially, an educational site born of a hobby interest!).
An educational site can easily be set up using any HTML editing software, and really it’s the development of the content that is the most important factor. The site may well grow, of course, as the PCTechGuide, to need database management of the content, but start-up is about getting the material well informed, well maintained, and current.
Promoting a cause
A cause can be anything from fund-raising to political campaigning to encouraging healthy eating or environmentally friendly living habits. The approach to this kind of site is essentially the same as that for an educational site, as the content is the real key. It’s about spelling out the cause in a clear manner, and making sure that all the bases are covered in terms of the questions that people are going to ask. The site might only be a single page, or it might be many involved pages with interactive elements, but of course the aim is to educate the visitor. So once again, the material must be well informed, well maintained, and current, but also providing a clear and strong line of contact for the visitor (whether by phone, email, post or all) is likely to be an important element of this site.
Describing news events
Very often websites start with the intention of maintaining up to date news and events on their pages, and then fail to achieve it. The reason is that it actually takes quite a lot of work, confidence in website maintenance, journalistic skills, and of course, a lot of time. Researching stories, writing them up, and putting them onto the website is a considerable task, not to be taken lightly. A small organisation would have to be sure of its resources to be able to keep up with the demands, and larger organisations will probably need sophisticated systems in place to manage the flow of articles from authors to publishing on the website.
Selling a service
If you have a service that you think will be useful, and that you either want to give away or sell, then you have to do two things. First, provide quick, concise information on what it is you’re offering, and second, convince people that they should ask you to do it. This requires considerable effort to be put into the presentation and text, activities which should take most of your time in putting together the website. Remember the picture of the site visitor that you’ve developed, and take the time to explain to them why the service you’re offering meets their requirements. First, deliver quick punchy points, and then follow it up with more detail. Keep brief, though, and make the tone match the nature of the service.
Publishing a database
It’s now true to say that databases are commonly published on the Internet. This is a very technical project, and requires a good deal of knowledge of Internet technologies. Depending on the database’s content it may also have legal ramifications, especially regarding the Data Protection Act, but of course this is something that you should be aware of if you hold information on individuals in any case.
Consider the information that you’re going to be publishing, though, and if it includes addresses, are they of organisation offices, or do they include individual’s home addresses? Be especially careful of publishing home phone numbers. It is likely that this type of web project will require professional help.
Creating a web community
The most common web communities generally grow out of younger age groups, but they’re certainly not restricted to this area. Common interest is the most binding factor, and almost any subject can generate a broad community base. Womens’ sites, hobby sites and fan sites are a few examples of the kind of sites that can generate a community. The key to this kind of site is the ability to join the site and present an online persona to the other site members, whether through a series of forums, or chat rooms, or personalised pages and blogs.
The things to consider in this kind of site are many. The technical skill level demanded is very high, and marketing is paramount. The site must be able to convey the right image, whether a buzz or knowledge base or attitude, and has to give the users the facilities that they want. If it’s a community site, it lives and dies by its community. If the visitors don’t come and use the site, then the site has completely failed. Considering the demands of developing a community site, it can be quite an investment to lose if it fails. Often it’s better to create a traditional site and build up a strong user base with relevant content, and then look to opening up community options.
So, once you have a firm picture of who your website’s for and what you’re going to do for them, you need to make a decision on whether to do it yourself (or yourselves), or to get in some professional expertise.