Getting started with your first web site - part I
On this page: Some notes on what you need to get started with your first web site. I begin with some points about how to decide what should be on your site and how it should be organised, and then consider some more technical and practical issues in part II. (Mostly aimed at the UK, but the principles are the same wherever you are.)
It's a good idea to focus on a few clear and realistic aims for your site before you get too far. "Because everyone else has one" is not a good one to start with! Typical aims for a business site might be chosen from the following:
- To give the impression of a large company - on the web, no-one can tell how big you are unless you want to tell them.
- To alert newcomers to the area of your existence - another route than the Yellow Pages if you like.
- To widen the area from which you draw your clients or customers - it's easy to give people access from other countries or other parts of the UK.
- To provide useful info. about your location, hours of business, products and services.
- To allow customers to order goods online (if you want a full e-commerce solution. A halfway house is to have an online catalogue plus instructions on how to make an (e)mail-order purchase.)
- To provide an email facility for customers to supplement telephone/fax/mail links.
- To keep in touch with customers with email newsletters, open days, special promotions etc. This helps encourage loyalty to you rather than rival businesses.
- To inspire trust in your online or bricks-and-mortar business (and if you are a consultant for example, to let people know about you and why they should use your services).
For a public service or community site, things like this might be important:
- To alert newcomers to the area, holidaymakers, or existing residents, of your existence.
- To provide useful info. about your location, hours of business, aims and services.
- To foster a sense of local community.
- To provide online services, like local discussion groups.
Each business or service is different, and you will certainly think of some more. These aims should determine what sort of content you start off with - the aims and the content can always grow in future if necessary.
You need to think about who will be visiting your site, why, and what information they will likely be looking for. There is a tendency to put everything you have on the web, just "because it's there". You need to identify useful material for your target audience, not what you personally find interesting.
Obviously, your site will be no use unless you have some content. Some can be written specifically for the site, but if you already have printed info. available in electronic form, this can often be a useful basis for the initial pages. There is a definite advantage to writing specifically for the web - people are far less likely to wade through screens of information than pages of paper, so conciseness is important. Also, remember that what works in print may not work the same way on-line, especially if you divide topics up into separate pages.
You need to decide what you want to have - remembering to fulfil the aims and satisfy the audience you have identified. Some generic kinds of information to choose from are:
- Home page with summary of who you are and what you do.
- Short profiles of key personnel, if these are important to your business.
- Map and directions to locate your premises if necessary.
- Details of opening times.
- Contact details (tel., fax, post, email, out-of hours number if any).
- News items - e.g. details of open days, promotions, local business-related events, sponsored community events.
- Useful information for customers - the type of information is related to your business, but most people know useful details of their area of business which can help customers, and perhaps persuade them to use you over a rival, because you are knowledgeable.
- Links to any associates, useful web sites related to the business.
- A site map/index, listing all the pages on the site. It's probably not necessary to have a site search facility unless your site is huge.
If the site is felt to be successful, you may eventually want to consider adding some services for your customers, such as mailing lists, for sale and wanted ads, a blog, or a discussion area. What you offer will depend upon your kind of business. This will mean that updates need to be done more often, but keeps the site current. (It's generally not considered a good idea to put the site up and then forget about it for three years.)
Once you have a list of content, you need to break this down into key categories - 7 +/- 2 is the ideal number for ease of understanding. Each category will end up as a page, linked from the home page, and probably with links to other pages.
The structure can then be used to design the page layout and relationships between pages, so it's always easy to get from one page to another, and the most important information is easy to find.
The "look and feel" of a site is considered to be very important in web sites - all the pages should have the same overall look so they are an obvious whole. You will need a graphic logo, and possibly a marketing slogan that can be used as the basis for designing some complementary "branding" graphics for the pages. These can be complemented by text and background colours to harmonise with the logo, always remembering to make the page easy on the eye.