What is the purpose of the web site ?
The purpose of the web site needs to be clearly identified. Define the purpose, the mission, and the goals of the site, then the site can be designed and developed with the intended function(s).
A site can have one or several purposes:
- to showcase an organization,
- provide product/service information,
- offer consumer support information,
- give detailed information of organization,
- provide a good presentation of the organization,
- provide quick and efficient access to the organization,
- provide office location maps and details,
- public relations,
- give event schedules,
- offer an on-line catalog,
- take and process orders, requests and other user information,
- receive consumer/user input,
In fact, a web site will serve any purpose that is served by the media of print, radio and television. Furthermore, an interactive site can serve as an automated sales and support office. Any purpose that involves consumers and the general public can be served by a web site. The real limit to the uses of a web site are not the technical design and development issues, but the imagination.
Whether the purpose is to reach local consumers or the entire world, a properly designed web site will serve any organization well. By determining the purpose, the content and layout of the site can be properly developed. If needed, additions and changes to the site can be done to incorporated additional purposes. However, the initial content and layout needs an initial purpose(s), with intended missions and goals, to be properly developed.
The expected users should be considered when designing the site. Will most users be looking for specific products or service information? Or will many be visiting the site for general information and be more interested in facts and details of a non-specific nature? Will users expect detailed technical information, or will they prefer general descriptions?
It is the site's purpose to serve a local client base. Adding links and facts of a local interest (even trivial facts) will help attract users and potential clients/customers to the site. The same applies to a more global site for users sharing a common interest, links and facts pertaining to that interest will attract those users. For example, a site for a radio station can use links and information such as other sites, concerts, bands, events, and music news to attract frequent visits to the site.
The site should contain both general and detailed information, both specific and non-specific data. The proportions of these different types, and the extend of how detailed and specific the information is, will depend on the nature of the expected audience. Knowing what the typical user will expect and want, is needed in order to develop the appropriate content and layout of the site.
Another consideration is the speed of connection the expected users will have. Typically many users will be accessing the Internet and the site through different connection with speeds as low as 28.8 or 33 kbps. These users can not be expected to have to wait for large graphical files to download. In fact some users may grow impatient while waiting for large files and leave the site to go elsewhere, but occasionally the expected audience may consist of businesses and institutions having high speed Internet Access. With this audience it can be safe, and possibly even desirable, to incorporate large graphic and multimedia files into the site.
By determining who the expected user of the site will be, the content and layout of the site can be developed. Knowing the expectations and abilities of the audience will help ensure that the site is successful and useful.
To serve the intended purpose, the site must contain complete and relevant information. Excessive amounts of irrelevant information can obscure the specific data that the user seeks, and also cause user frustration. Incomplete data can frustrate site users looking for specific information, causing them to become impatient and leave the site without the information they sought. Ensuring appropriate content will satisfy users and prevent losing potential business.
It is far better to have excessive content (even irrelevant information), than to have too little content, provided that the site's layout is properly done. Site content can be broken into general and detailed categories.
The general content provides a brief overview of the site, organization, products and services, and other items. Brief descriptive information aids users in determining that what they seek is available, directs them to the appropriate specific data, peaks their interests, informs them of other available items at the site, and gives them a feel for the content and layout of the site.
The detailed content provides users with the specific detailed information on the site, organization, products and services, and other items. The layout of the site must ensure easy access to the detailed information, and specific information they seek. Just providing a brief overview with general content can upset users looking for specific information.
Though it is permissible and recommended that phrases be used (such as 'for more information call....'), but these phrases should not be used in lieu of detailed information. Many users will visit the site in search of specific information, and may be frustrated if the information is not available. The 'Web' is a valuable resource with great potential, but if under used it will serve no better purpose than a high tech business card.
Inclusion of irrelevant content is not advisable. However, information that is not related to the purpose of the site, but maybe of interest to users can be provided. It is important that this information does not obscure the other information at the site, nor hamper access to the other information. Examples of useful but irrelevant information are: links to other sites, public service notices, or information on Web and Internet items that may interest many expected site visitors.
Ensuring that appropriate information (both general and detailed) is available and easily accessible ensures that site can serve its intended purpose. A web site is a valuable tool for businesses and other organizations when composed of the right material (content). As with other tools, the web site can perform an outstanding job.
Your home page layout
The Welcome Page provides visitors to the site a greeting and a short description of the site. Links to the major sections of the site and/or a site menu (Table of Contents) will direct the user to the desired content in the site. The welcome page is often called the home page (Note: There is technically a difference between a home page and a welcome page. The welcome page greets visitors to the site, and home page is the major page used by most users of the site. However, the two are now commonly treated and referred as one page.
The welcome page should be short with graphic or animated designs. Much like a front door to a business, the welcome must be presentable and should give an idea of what is contained within the site. Since it is likely that the welcome page is the first page to be visited in the site, it should be somewhat fast loading. It is important not to turn off new visitors by having them wait for a large file download before they even enter the site (first impression are important).
As modem speeds increase, it is possible to add more and larger graphics, and even applets and multimedia objects to the welcome page. However, do try to limit the page download times to under 30 seconds for the portion of the site's visitors who have slower modems, since most visitors can reasonably be expected to have at least a 28.8 kps modem (this will change as time goes on). Try to limit the combined size of all the files (html, java, multimedia, images, etc.) that make up the welcome page to under 80 kilobytes.
Since the welcome page is the main entrance to the site, it should not be obscured by large and/or numerous moving images or loud sounds. Though some flash might be effective, overdoing it could turn off first time visitors. Consider the site's expected and the purpose of the site before deciding to add a lot of flash to the welcome page (and other pages as well). It is probably best to lean towards a conservative approach in designing the welcome page, oppose to being overly liberal with the design.
On a final note to this page, the site's visitors will likely have people who are using speech synthesizers, Braille pads, slow connectors, or are using one of the less popular browsers (unlike the latest from Microsoft or Netscape). When developing the welcome page, and the rest of the site, ensure that the design allows reasonable presentation for all visitors. This includes using alternative text for images (the ALT attribute), and alternative content for Java applets (if the applet is critical for the presentation). More on Java, multimedia, and other features is covered later.
The visual appeal of a site is important. Having colorful graphics and a well laid out structure invites users to explore the site further. Even if a user visits for a specific bit of information, an attractive and well constructed site is likely to have the user stay longer, look at more of the content, and return to the site more often than a less appealing site.
Many design purists may argue that the best site is substance over form (or content over presentation). They are right, an attractive site devoid of content may lure some users, but these users will not stay or return if there is no substance to the site. On the other hand even if there is substantial content, a bland or sloppy looking site is not as appealing to users as a site having equal content and an excellent presentation.
Care must be exercised so that the presentation is not overdone. It would be very counter-productive to bury a site's content under a large amount of irrelevant presentation material. Although extensive use of graphics, multimedia, Java applets, etc. may enhance the site's presentation, it will adversely affect the download time (refer to previous section on page size).
A typical well presented site may contain one or more graphics that are sized and placed to add to the appearance of a page, but improperly sized and haphazardly positioned graphics clutter a page which gives a sloppy appearance.
The position of the text, headers, and tables should follow a logical pattern. It is important to remember the site's purpose is to provide information and the page presentation should aid rather than hinder that. Using paragraphs, different headers and tables provide the user a clear and easy means to read and comprehend the page content.
The presentation of the site is similar to the presentation of a television ad. The ad's real purpose is to convey the sponsor's information about a product or service, but it is the presentation of the ad that attracts and peaks the interest of the viewer.
Not all browsers will show a page the same way, so be cautious. Eighty to ninety percent of users have browsers that tend to give better presentations of sites, but the other 10 to 20 percent can not be ignored. There are users with text-only browsers, sightless users with Braille pads or speech synthesizers, and users with browsers that do not support newer features (such as centering and tables).
The proper design of a site must ensure that the presentation received by any and all browsers is the best possible one. The Advanced Features section provides some tips on how to use the newer features and still provide a good presentation to users with older browsers.
Having graphics (images) is almost essential today, especially on the welcome and home pages where a colorful design or logo is expected. Secondary pages don't always need graphics, though smaller pictures and images do add to the visual appeal of the page.
Graphic files tend to be rather large, even with the advanced compression techniques used today. The Page Size section provides caution and guidance for limiting the total combined sizes of page text and graphic files.
If a large graphic needs to be incorporated into the site, it is best to place a scaled down version (a thumbnail picture) on the page. Then a link can be provided to access the full size version, and the file size should be indicated so the user can decide whether or not to wait for the image to download.
The way a page and its graphics are downloaded, is the file containing the text content of the page and the code for the layout of the page, is sent to the browser. After the text file is downloaded, the browser makes calls to the server (web site host computer) to retrieve the graphic files. Previously, the browser waited until the image file was received before it displayed the page on the monitor. The reason for delaying the display was because the browser had to receive information concerning the physical size of the images to correctly display the page.
Most users today now have browsers that are capable of interpreting the codes in the text file concerning the physical sizes of images. The graphic size code (the image tag's width and height attributes) allows browsers the start laying out and drawing the page before any image files are receive. Proper site design must ensure that this code is included for images.
The image tag's ALT attribute is something many designers forget to add. This attribute provides alternative text for the user who is not or cannot view the images. Even when the image is purely decorative the ALT attribute should be used to suppress the display of an image marker on text only browsers. In these cases a blank is used for the attribute's value (ALT=" ").
Image formats most commonly recognized by graphical web browsers are GIF and JPEG. Newer formats, such as PNG are not widely supported as of yet. Formats commonly used on computers, such as TIF, BMP, PICT, and PCX tend to have fairly large file sizes (compared to GIFs and JPEGs) and would require significant download times if used. The GIF and JPEG formats (usually an extension of jpg) are compressed files. The GIF format works best for line drawing and images having solid colors without blending. The JPEG format works best for photographs.
Allowing a user to input information, perform searches, place orders and interact with the site in a variety of ways, increases the appeal and usefulness of the site.
An interactive page that offers a search program for the user will help locate desired information, and will make the site more useful. Users will more readily use a site where they can efficiently search and find information. The information about the site sponsor's products and services has to be readily available to users, or they may look elsewhere.
Order forms are a big plus. The site is on-line to promote a business or organization, so it makes sense to take orders on-line. The site is always available, so any time users need to place an order, they can. Users will appreciate the quick and easy methods to acquire the goods and services they need.
Surveys, opinion polls, and other data collecting processes can be carried out by the site. It is quick and easy to fill out a form and submit it, on a set up site. This will be convenient for many users. The site can also be set up to process, tally and store the results in a database file, so that minimal human intervention is required.
Message or bulletin boards are another interaction method for attracting users. Though not always suitable for every site, boards lend themselves to regional and subject specific sites. Having a board attracts users interested in the site's subject matter and provides a reason for them to frequently visit the site.
There are many interactive processes a site can utilized. By using one or more of these processes the site becomes more interesting and useful to the users and the site's sponsor. The site's main objective is to promote the sponsor's products and/or services, and being interactive will definitely enhance the achievement of that objective.
"Build it and they will come" does not apply to web sites. The site needs to be announced and promoted. There are several ways to promote a site both on-line and off-line.
The first thing to do once the site is on-line is to have the site listed in the major Web databases. These databases are used by practically all users, to locate web sites containing sought after items and information. Being listed in these databases enables users to locate the site when needed.
The www.announce newsgroup provides a one time listing of new sites. A listing here can help spur initial interest in the site.
Listing the site's address with phone and fax numbers on business correspondences and business cards informs the recipient of the site. Customers/clients, and potential ones, are likely to check out the site and use it once they know it exists.
Including the site address in advertisements and printed literature informs the public of the site. With information of the site's existence and address, people will likely visit the site and use it.