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Design Your Site for Your Users
A well-designed Web site can ensure the prosperity of your online business. A poorly designed site can put you out of business. It's like the difference between showing up at an elegant dinner party in plaid Bermuda shorts, and arriving in a tuxedo that's just a little more nicely tailored than everyone else's.
Web site design is very different from Web page design. Designing a Web page is a lot like creating a page in a publication or a screen for a computer program. Designing a Web site is like simultaneously creating a storefront, a promotions group, and a computer department.
A complex project such as creating a Web site can benefit from a disciplined, systematic approach. This process will vary depending upon your company, your staff, and your goals. Here is one way to build a Web site:
- Assemble a good team
- State the purpose of your site
- Organize your site for your users
- Make your site easy to navigate
- Document your work
- Re-evaluate your site regularly
- OR go with the complete solution offered by Identity Designs
Assemble a Good Team
First, get a representative from each of the functional areas of your business - sales, marketing, production, operations, and so on (if you are a one-person shop, this is easy). Then assess whether your existing staff can fill any or all of the following site-development roles:
The producer articulates the vision of the site and oversees its implementation. This person often also serves as the site's information architect - making sure that the site organization, interface design, navigation tools, interactive components, and other big-picture design elements all work together.
The project manager coordinates the team effort - tracking schedules, budgets, and so on, and generally doing what it takes to keep the project on track.
The graphic designer makes the site look good with nicely laid-out pages and appealing (but low-bandwidth) images. He or she may also do the actual production of the HTML pages.
The programmer makes the functionality of the site happen - writing HTML, Java Script, CGI scripts, and so on, and possibly designing and administering databases. Many small businesses use off-the-shelf software for their storefronts, discussion forums, and other functions, but even they may need programming help to integrate the site's various programs.
Writers, editors, graphic artists, and other creative talent fill up the site with the words and pictures (and possibly sound, animations, and other features) that inform your customers of what you have to sell and why you are so worthy of their business.
Especially for a small-business site, these roles may overlap. The producer might also create the content, and the programmer might also do the page layout and graphics.
Depending on your line of work, you may also end up with staff from functional areas filling some (or all) of the site creation roles. If this is the case, make sure that the needs of the other functional groups aren't overlooked.
State the Purpose of Your Site
Next, get your team together and articulate the purpose of your Web site. What do you want to do?
Sell stuff? If your primary business is selling physical goods, then you will probably create an online store.
Promote a service? If your primary business is delivering an offline service, then you will likely end up with an informative online brochure. If you deliver an online service, then you will build an infrastructure for the delivery of your service.
Publish information? If your primary business is delivering information, then you will create an online publication (although it may not look much like a print publication).
Support your customers? No matter what your primary business is, you may want to provide online customer support. Once you and your team have identified the purpose of your site, state it on paper in the form of a mission statement. This statement might look something like this: "Identity Designs provides insightful, useful information and powerful Internet solutions to help small businesses get online to conduct e-commerce, promote their business, and manage their Web sites."
Note that the mission statement includes a description of the audience. You know who your customers are, but it is still a good idea to describe them in your mission statement. Note also that a site can serve more than one of the purposes listed above.
Once you have written your mission statement, keep it plastered in front of everyone who is working on your site-building project.
Organize Your Site for Your Users
Throughout the site-building process, keep your customers' needs at the forefront. Put yourself in their shoes and make sure that your site gives them what they need and expect.
Organize your pages in a way that will make sense to your customers. Perhaps the most common mistake in Web site design is for organizations to emphasize what they do and how they are organized rather than focusing on what their customers need. So don't use your company organization chart as your site organization scheme. Instead, evaluate your customers' needs and buying behavior and structure your site to address them.
Remember, the Web is primarily a "pull" medium where consumers are more likely to proactively seek out information and less likely to respond to attempts to "push" them elsewhere - witness the continuing decline in online advertising click-through rates. If you shout at your customers about how wonderful you are, they might not stick around, but if you give them the information they want and need, they will be more likely to stay at your site.
Make Your Site Easy to Navigate
Once you have thoughtfully organized your Web site, you'll need to make it easy for your customers to navigate from one part of the site to another. Wherever someone is in your site, it should be clear to them:
Let's look at each of these in turn, examining examples from the best-known e-commerce site, Amazon.com.
- How they got to where they are.
- How that page relates to the rest of the site.
- Where they can go from where they are.
1. How they got there. At Amazon.com, after clicking on "Bestsellers" and then on "Hardcover Fiction," viewers end up at a page with the headline, "Bestsellers," and the subheading, "Hardcover Fiction." The "Hardcover Fiction" selection in the navigation bar is highlighted, as is the "Books" tab above it. All these elements together create a "bread crumb trail" that shows customers how they ended up on the page they are currently viewing.
2. How the current page relates to the rest of the site. On the Amazon.com hardcover fiction bestsellers page, a navigation bar across the top of the page shows all the major areas of the site, highlighting the one in which the current page is located ("Books" > "Bestsellers"). Another navigation device runs down the left side of the page, indicating how to get to the top of the current section ("Bestsellers Home") and which other sections in the site are similar to it ("Amazon.com Hot 100," "Hardcover Nonfiction," and so on). From these cues, it is clear how this page fits in with the rest of the site.
3. Where they can go from where they are. All the navigation devices mentioned above give options for other places to go in the site, but the main purpose of this page is to point the viewer to the top 25 best-selling hardcover books at Amazon.com, so those links dominate the page layout. In addition, there are a number of links at the bottom of the page. Many of them duplicate links in the navigation bars higher up on the page, but some of them are links to other popular pages within the site. It is clear to the viewers where else in the site they can go from this page.
In addition to the navigation bars and other devices mentioned above, you may want to include in your site:
- A table of contents that organizes the pages in your site topically.
- A site index that lists the pages in your site alphabetically.
- A site map that illustrates how the pages in your site relate to one another.
- A help section that explains how to use your site and how to contact your support staff.
- A search feature that lets your viewers search all your pages and/or databases; a search capability is especially important in large, complicated sites.
Document Your Work
Your site design team will make a number of important decisions about the scope and function of your site. It is important to document these decisions. The amount and type of documentation will depend on the complexity of your site and the size of your organization, but your list of documents might look something like this:
- A site-design specification that describes the scope and functionality of the site; it may include a storyboard or other mock-up of the site, directory structures, file-naming conventions, and other basic information about the site.
- A procedures manual that describes how to do the various tasks necessary to create and maintain the site.
- Reference manuals such as HTML style guides, editorial usage guides, graphics conventions, and so on.
- Ancillary documents on database specification and design.
Re-evaluate Your Site Regularly
Web site design is what software developers call an "iterative" process; like the Energizer bunny, it just keeps going and going. You may get lucky and hit on a design that lasts a year or more, but it's likely that your interactions with your customers and the relentless advance of Internet technology and business practices will lead to fairly frequent site redesigns, or at least ongoing tune-ups. So build into your site-design plan regular trips back to the drawing board.
The Bottom Line
A well-designed Web site can mean the difference between life and death for your online business. A poorly designed site will leave your customers wandering and confused, unable to place an order or contact you. A well-designed site takes a lot of hard work, but it pays off with higher sales and happier (and less confused) customers.
That is why having your business on the Internet is not really a choice anymore. It has become a necessity in today's marketplace.
Local competitors may already have one. And remember; it's now much easier for almost any business to tap into almost any market, from almost any geographical location. And best of all, with today’s advances in technology, you can control your entire online empire without anyone's help.
All of the websites sold with Identity Designs solution include all of the capabilities needed to have a successful online business including the ability of gathering e-mail addresses into a database and allowing you to send out an e-mail or newsletter to as many of them as you want. Also the ability to promote yourself to most of the top search engines with one click of a button and have unlimited pages, modifications, and changes.
That is why we offer the only complete solution in one affordable package. When you're ready, take us for a test drive and we will show you in 30 minutes how you can build your online empire successfully and easily without costing you an arm and a leg. To get started click here.
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