How To Plan Your New Web Site
by Kevin Nunley (Copyright, 1999) Reprinted with permission
Old stuff, but solid ideas.
You must have a detailed plan even if someone else is designing your site. Here are some reasons why.
There are many fine designers who are ready to build your new web site. They offer a quick quote on the price of pages, good deals on graphics, maybe even search engine registration. But all these goodies don't do a thing to get you started. Before anyone can begin building your new Internet palace, you must have a detailed plan for what will be on your web site.
Starting a web site is a lot like getting your taxes done. The real work comes BEFORE you go to the preparer. Unless you've already got your box of organized receipts, the preparer can't fill in the forms. Start your web site plan by pinning down exactly what you want your site to accomplish. Draw a diagram on paper. List the pages you will have. Create some phrases to center copy around. You will save time, expense, and will get a much more effective site.
Will your pages sell your products and services online or serve as a detailed brochure to support your offline sales effort? Do you have one to two big products you will center your pages around or do you plan a big supermarket of products that need to be tied together under a prominent store image?
Focus Your Pages
Narrow, more focused web sites tend to do better on search engines. Their computers can easily figure what search terms to classify your site under. With almost half of all North Americans surfing the Net each week, search engines are becoming the new yellow pages. It pays to plan your site to be search engine friendly. Write down six to 10 words and phrases that customers will use to search for you. Build a page around each of those. The title (that line in the box at the top or bottom of your browser), the meta tag (code in the page's html) and the text should mention your search phrase several times with copy that relates closely to the phrase.
Most web site owners put up their new pages, THEN think about tailoring them for search engines. That means you end up redoing most of your pages with greater expense and poorer results. Your opening page should clearly tell visitors what your site is about. You may only have a few seconds to make your point before people click away. They should understand the most important benefit you provide. Use a headline and a related graphic to give people an instant image of what your site and organization can do for them. CarAccessories.com opens their first page with a graphic of car covers, mirrors, and fancy hubcaps along with the headline "Thousands of name brand accessories for your car...the largest selection on the Net...with fast online ordering." Readers instantly know what the site has to offer them.
Standard Pages That Build Customer Trust
Most sites have an "about our company" page and a "contact us" page. You can use these pages to build customer trust, one of the most important factors in getting sales online. Prospects trust you when they feel like they know you. Your "about us" page can feature a photo of you, your employees, your building, or anything else that gives a visual sense of who you are. You don't necessarily have to display a studio quality portrait. One man had a photo of his hand pitching a ball. Lots of successful home biz folks show themselves working behind a computer in a small, cluttered office. It is a scene their readers can identify with.
Tell people why you do what you do, your company philosophy, and how you got started. Your "contact us" page should list the people in your company and provide several ways to contact them. Tell people why they should reach you and what they can expect when they do.
Support Your Main Theme With Secondary Pages
If you have a central product or service, introduce it with flair on your opening page. Save less important or secondary products for inner pages. If your site will have more than a dozen pages, gather similar pages into groups. Give each group its own gateway page that introduces the section and displays links to the related pages with a short description of what people will get when they click the link.
One particularly organized client gave me a diagram of what pages he would have and how they would be grouped. Then he provided information on what each page should cover. He didn't write the copy, but he did give me a solid idea of what he wanted on pages. It cut in half the time needed to build his big web site.
Simple, Clear Order Page
Keep your order page or pages as clear and simple as possible. You won't need a full-blown shopping cart if you offer five or fewer products. Make sure prices and descriptions are easy to understand. Anything that frustrates or confuses customers will make you lose sales. It is not unusual for a site to clean up its order pages and see an immediate surge in sales.
Finally, resist the temptation to load down your pages with too many slow loading graphics. Corporations often feel their site doesn't look "big time" without them. Jupiter Communications, one of the Net's top research firms, recently predicted 78% of us will still be using slow phone modems through 2003. Keep your pages lean and mean. Slowloaders mean lost customers.
Your Website on a Notebook
Notebook computers are more popular than ever. Last year, notebooks accounted for HALF of all computers sold. That means that lots of people surfing the Internet this year are looking at it on a small notebook monitor. Since most notebooks sold are toward the budget end, many folks are looking at you through some of the smallest views possible.
Small print gets even tinier on a notebook screen. You can adjust for this by using a larger type style like Arial. You can also design pages that are simpler and less cluttered. Limit the items on your page to the more important ones and move less important features to their own page or pages.
Colors of graphics and type also look different on many notebooks. The liquid crystal display tends to give a washed out effect to otherwise bright colors. Faint background colors that look fine on your desktop monitor can practically disappear on a notebook. On the other hand, simpler logos often look more impressive on the small screen.
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