How to Make a Good Site Look Great

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The running joke in this industry is the one where the client calls the Webmaster and asks, "How much does a Web site cost?" The Webmaster answers, "That depends. What do you want the site to do?" to which the client answers, "I don't know-what can you do with a Web site?" The Webmaster responds, "That depends. How much do you want to spend?"

Web sites are so new that no one knows what they should cost. There are reports of people spending tens of thousands of dollars to put up a few pages. Then you hear about the high school sophomore who puts up 12 pages for $400.

What Kind of Site are you Building?

Although the joke above may stretch the issue, it is often the case that prospective owners have little idea why they want a Web site. They just know that they need to be "on the Web," or that management has decreed that they "put up a site."

One of the tasks of the expert Webmaster is to help clients define their purposes in putting a site on the Web. These purposes can be considered at three levels:

  • Level One: Goals-The overall business purpose of the site. "We want to sell our product through the Web."
  • Level Two: Objectives-Measurable indicators that a goal has been met. "We want to sell $100,000 worth of our product by the end of July."
  • Level Three: Milestones-Measurable indicators that test whether the objectives will be met. "If we are going to sell $100,000 by the end of July, we must have the site complete and announced by the end of February."

There are at least three goals an organization might have in setting up a Web site:

  • Direct action-as a result of visiting the site, users will do something, such as place an order for the product.
  • Delayed action-as a result of visiting the site, users will remember the site and come back when they are ready to take action (such as buying our product).
  • Indirect action-as a result of visiting the site, users will do something that does not necessarily involve the Web.

A First-Cut Storyboard:

Many clients are not sure why they want a Web site so it's impossible for them to set objectives or participate in the design process. Here's a process the site developer can use to help clients clarify their goals and objectives:

  1. Learn about the industry. Form an opinion about whether the company should expect direct action, delayed action, or indirect action.
  2. Visit similar Web sites. Use Lycos, Yahoo, and other search engines to find existing sites.
  3. Visit online mailing lists and UseNet newsgroups that relate to the client's industry. Visit mailing lists and UseNet newsgroups that relate to Internet sales and marketing. Check the frequently asked questions (FAQs) and archives of these groups to see if anyone has told a success story (or reported a failure) in this industry.
  4. Examine surveys such as ActivMedia's review of the Web to find out what this industry can expect on the Web.
  5. Present the results of this research to the client. Describe a realistic scenario based on the research and make a recommendation for a goal. Present a rough storyboard, called a Web treatment, of the proposed site.

Marketing experts use the acronym AIDA to describe the marketing and sales process:

  1. Attention
  2. Interest
  3. Decision
  4. Action

On the Web, "attention" translates to visits. A site can't be effective if no one visits it. Three ways to bring in users to a Web site are:

  • Have the site listed in databases and directories (not just the usual ones but also industry-specific listings).
  • Present the URL everywhere-on business cards, stationery, in print ads-anywhere the client advertises.
  • Get the site talked about. This "talk" can take the form of reviews in print magazines, conversations in UseNet newsgroups or in online mailing lists, or people meeting at the water cooler.

When users arrive at the site, hold their interest. Whereas lots of sites use impressive graphics, sounds, and even animation, most experienced Webmasters acknowledge that the most effective interest-holding tool is content. We use content here to mean information that is of use or interest to users, even if they do not take the desired action.

In a Direct Action site, the goal is to bring users to the point where they decide to take action. In the example of the Displaced Cajun page, by the time users find their way to the order form, they have had a grand tour of mouthwatering Cajun recipes. Many of these users have decided (one hopes) to order some Cajun food.

In a Delayed Action site, the site should bring users to the point where they make a decision to remember this site. They may bookmark the page or enter it in a site-monitoring service such as URL-minder.

An Indirect Action site combines many of the features of a Direct Action and a Delayed Action site. The Webmaster wants users to find out enough about the product to make a decision, but users can't take action on the Web site.

Often, an effective strategy is to turn the Indirect Action site into a Direct Action one: offer users a form to fill out that allows them to register their interest. These registrations are later turned over to people who qualify the user and close the deal. For a commercial site, these "closers" are called salespeople. For, say, a political party, the closers might be volunteers who follow up with users to help them "get out and vote."

It is the responsibility of the Webmaster to help clients set realistic objectives for their site, based on their experience and research. Irresponsible Webmasters promise everything, deliver little or nothing, and leave a trail of angry clients saying that "the Web doesn't work."

Professional designers don't leave their clients at all. They build effective sites that meet objectives and work to maintain the site to enhance its effectiveness.

To help clients visualize the recommended site, the Webmaster can use presentation tools to prepare a treatment or storyboard of each page. Usually, the first graphic should show a high-level view of the site: where is the home page and what can the visitor access from there? How many "layers" are there to the site?

In the sample site, the realtor wants to attract people to list their homes with that company. Signing a listing agreement is not something most folks are likely to do over the Web, so a reasonable goal is to have people call the realtor and schedule an appointment-making it a Delayed Action site.

If the site is successful, users might be interested in filling out a form on the Web site to tell the realtor they are interested in the realtor's services-making it a Direct Action site.

Refining The Concept:

Once the client decides to move forward with the project, the Webmaster gathers information from the client for each of the pages. For example, what makes this realtor unique? Why would someone choose this realtor instead of a competitor?

Many clients are able to supply print ads, brochures, and other collateral material to help the Webmaster get started. Although the Webmaster may need additional material to provide effective content, existing copy is a good place to start.

The Webmaster should also get started on graphics at this point. For many sites, the only graphic needed may be the client's logo. The client should supply a clean copy that the Webmaster can scan into the computer.


Copyright Manjor Inc.