Audience Dialogue

Planning the web site

Before you set up a website, there are two key questions to be answered, one from the owner's (your) point of view, the other from the potential visitor's point of view:
1. What could a website achieve for your organization?
2. Why should anybody visit it?

Unless both questions can be answered satisfactorily, there's not much point in having a website. Let's consider each of these questions in more detail.

What do you want your website to do for you?

In our web consulting work, this is usually the first question we ask. Amazingly, many organizations with websites can't give a clear answer - they often created a website simply because their competitors had sites. Does it surprise you that such websites are usually rather dull?

There are four main purposes that a website can serve for its owner:

  1. Making money (directly, by selling things online, or indirectly, by encouraging purchases offline)
  2. Saving money (e.g. by providing information that you would otherwise need to pay for)
  3. Helping you achieve non-financial goals by having people change their attitudes or behaviour - e.g. persuading potential customers to approach you
  4. Providing information as a service to help people improve their lives in some way - encompassing a wide range of altruistic motives.

Each of these four purposes can be subdivided in numerous ways, but those are the owner's purposes. Most websites serve more than one of these purposes. (Try ranking these for your own potential site: which is most important?) But the visitors will have purposes, too - which leads on to the second question...

Why should anybody visit your site?

There are millions of other websites available at the click of a mouse - so why visit yours? The simple answer is that your site must be unique in some way that is valuable to your potential visitors - in the part of the world where you operate.

Can you finish this sentence convincingly, by adding no more than about 10 words...

Our website is unique in the area of ___ ___ ___ ___ because it ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___.

How can you tell if your proposed site will be unique? The easiest way is to use a search engine - such as Google. What terms would you expect people visiting your site to use to search for it? For example, if you hae a social planning consultancy, the terms might include "social planning" and "community planning". If you're not offering international services, you could search only within your own country. How many pages does this search turn up? Take a look at the first 10 pages the search engine displays. What could you offer that will better meet the needs of visitors?

If your website will be for a business, do you have an explicit business model? It's surprising how few businesses do. There are many different ideas about what a business model is, but to us it's a way of displaying the processes that make the business work - see this article on business models.

Do you really need a website at all?

Not everybody does. Can you explain clearly and briefly why you need a website, and what it will do for you? Did you had trouble filling in the blank spaces above? Are unable to state concisely why you need a website? If so, perhaps you really don't need one. Instead of thinking of a website, try thinking of an online presence - of which a website is just one type. Maybe email is enough. Or maybe all you need is a presence in an online directory, or a single page on somebody else's website - it could be an industry association's, or it could be one from your local area. Another alternative is to get a blog - which is normally used as an online diary, but also makes a good (and easy, and cheap) substitute for a whole website.

How to get a website

Having decided how having a website could help you, and why anybody should visit it, you are now ready to work through this simple guide to setting up a website. The 12 separate steps are divided into three main groups: preparing, building, and launching. (Each group is discussed on a separate page.)

Preparing...
How can a website help your business - and vice versa? |
Checking out the competition |
Deciding how large should your site be.

Production...
Planning the site's information architecture |
Designing the page layout |
Creating high-quality contents |
Building and checking.

Launching...
Naming the site |
Finding a host |
Uploading for publication |
Letting the world know it's there |
Keeping your site up to date |
Other relevant web pages.

The above order is a logical one, but there's no need to follow that sequence exactly as the site is planned and built. Each of the three areas - preparing, production, and launching - can be started separately, but all three strands all need to come together at the end.

On to the next page.