Your website can have a dramatic impact on your sales. If your website is working well, your sales can grow but, if not, your site might just be a waste of time and money. Unfortunately, many people who are responsible for the development of their organization's website don't understand the site development process. They also may not understand their role in the process and they often try to delegate all of the work to their web designer. While the designer/developer is certainly responsible for much of the work, the website owner has a number of responsibilities and must be actively involved in the process. Without the owner's active participation in the creation of a new website the effectiveness of the new site is sure to be compromised.
But how do you know all the things you need to do? A new book titled Website Owner's Manual: The Secret to a Successful Website has a lot of the answers. The first chapter provides an overview of the various roles that a website owner needs to play during the development process. According to author Paul Boag these include:
* Content guardian
* Project coordinator
He touches on the tasks the website owner must undertake as part of each role and how to work with others on the website team.
In the second chapter, which is on planning, the author discusses goal-setting at various levels including organizational objectives, website objectives and web project objectives. Author Boag points out the importance of involving the various website stakeholders in the planning process. He also recommends including the web designer in the process of shaping your website vision. I heartily endorse this recommendation. A good web designer will be able to contribute to this process in ways you might not expect. If you don't include the designer early in the process you may close off some valuable options without realizing it. And having the designer on board early ensures that they have a good understanding of your goals and you organization's culture.
Part of the planning process, author Boag points out, should include detailed discussions with your various stakeholders. This not only helps ensure that the site will fulfill all the needs of your organization but also provides a political benefit.
In this chapter on planning, the author also provides advice on reviewing your competition's websites to learn how to improve your own site. Other useful information includes advice on evaluating your existing site such as how to determine what your current visitors are doing on your site and whether they are getting what they need. Links are provided to websites that can help you to understand and critique your site's performance in a variety of areas.
Discussion of the planning process continues in the next chapter, The Perfect Team, which Boag begins by discussing the importance of creating a written document outlining the scope of work. In my experience, this is an important step which most businesses fail to address adequately. This part of the chapter discusses what should be included in the project brief and why. Among the reasons Boag lists for writing a project brief are the following:
* Limits scope creep (in which projects drag on for weeks and months as new features continue to be added)
* Improves budget planning
* Clearly defines tasks--who is responsible for what
* Specifies delivery dates and deliverables--without a clear list of deliverables you and your web designer may not agree on when the website is done!
Chapter 3 also outlines the four major categories of information that the author recommends including in a project brief:
* Context--who is the target audience, some background about your organization, your goals, and your competition
* Requirements--what the website needs to do in order for your web designer to successfully address your needs
* Deliverables--the specific web pages, images, media, documents and other work products or services that the development team must produce
* Information about the developer
And, finally, Chapter 3 provides information on how to interview and evaluate web designers.
Chapter 4 discusses design and how to manage the design process. It also touches on some key design concepts, particularly as they apply to the web. Design can be tricky as certain aspects of it are very subjective. However, the author does a good job of separating out which portions are subjective and which portions are not. For example, one person may like a certain color palette while another doesn't. You can never satisfy everyone with your choice of colors. But you can ensure that the colors chosen provide good contrast for reading text, for example. You can make sure that your high priority marketing campaigns are prominently featured on the relevant pages. These sorts of things are part of the design process and objective criteria can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the design with respect to those needs. Similarly, the design can be tested on sample users and feedback can be obtained. And a small sampling, as few as five users, can be very valuable. Later in the book the author provides good information on how to conduct usability tests.
Chapter 5 delves into the critical task of creating content for your website. This is another area where many website owners fall down. Often, business owners aren't sure what to say or how to say it. Perhaps, they're not good at writing or just don't have the time. If any of these applies to your organization, it's essential to find a way to address the problem because having good content is essential for your website's success. The chapter includes information on what to include, how to organize your content, and how to structure it for the web. (The good news is that one of Boag's mantras is "reduce or remove" by which he means that content written for a website should be brief and concise.)
Ensuing chapters cover the following topics, among others:
* ensuring that your website is easily usable
* ensuring accessibility to the widest range of website visitors
* content management systems (CMS) which allow you to update your website on your own (without help from your web designer or webmaster)
* understanding technical issues like hosting and domain names
* search engine optimization (SEO) -- being found in Google and other search engines
The author goes into some detail in each of these areas but I won't elaborate here except with a brief summary of some of his comments on content management systems. CMSs are very popular now for a variety of reasons:
* they allow anyone with basic computer skills to update a website
* updates can typically be made more quickly than when the process needs to be outsourced
* costs are reduced because fewer technical experts are needed
But CMSs also have a downside and author Boag helpfully brings these to our attention; these include:
* the cost of training (using a CMS is easier than writing HTML but it does require the user to learn some new software and new procedures)
* the affect on quality--without supervision by the proper people and without the help of a writer/editor the quality of the site's content may suffer
* the affect on functionality--by their design, CMSs require things to be done in certain ways; sometimes these limitations can be onerous, particularly if the right CMS is not selected for your needs
Author Paul Boag is clearly a veteran of many website development projects and his experience shows in his advice. Throughout the book his advice is grounded in the real world and is practical. The book is very readable and covers the essentials for any website owner planning a website or redesign. I heartily recommend this book to organizations contemplating a new site or redesign. Reading the book and following its advice will go a long way toward ensuring the success of your new site.
For more information, see the book's web page: [...]