Life Before A Website

"If you can plan and write up a grocery list, you can figure out the basics of your web site."

You've made your decision. You're going to have a web site. You'll hire a professional to do the work so you don't have to. It'll be his headache. Not quite.

You wouldn't go to a car dealer and say 'Sell me a car' without at least giving a colour preference or price range. You wouldn't go to an architect and say 'Design me a house' without giving some idea of how many bedrooms to include. So why would you go to a web designer without having some idea of what you want?

The World Wide Web, the Internet, is a combination of all technologies. Like television, it shows motion. Like print media, it shows text and still images. Like radio, it offers sound. The Internet, however, is both more flexible and far more restrictive than that.

If you can plan and write up a grocery list, you can figure out the basics of your web site. Why are you buying groceries? Is this the regular shopping trip or for a special occasion? Are you picking up stuff to feed your ravenous teenagers and their friends, or is the boss coming to dinner? Web sites require similar thought.

There are three basic types of web sites. The electronic commerce site is familiar to most people. It's where you go to buy things on-line.

Some of us have run across the interactive site - games in a variety of forms, discussion and chat forums.

Many sites are the informational type. Government offices, various support groups, schools and home pages are all informational sites. But just as your shopping list can be for a combination of reasons, so can your web site be a combination of types.

The first question you have to be able to answer is 'Why do you need a web site?' Now it may sound like a silly question, but it's an important one. Are you getting a web site because you want to be like everyone else, or is your business ready for a global market? Do you have the best prices around? The best service?

The same question holds true for people who just want to have some space to showcase their accomplishments or share tidbits of information about their lives. What you want to share with the rest of the world? Do you have the best recipes? Do you know something no one else does? Do you have an amusing story or picture that might interest others?

Even if you only admit it to yourself, knowing why your site is important is half the battle in designing it. If you have doubts about the value of your web site, how can you convince others that your site - and what it contains - is of value?

Another question for our 'grocery list' is 'Who is coming for dinner?' Who is your audience? This is one of the most important questions to consider, and the general 'potential customers' or 'my family and friends' isn't enough.

Once you think about who, in terms of age, the reason they're coming to your site (buy, play or learn), what you want them to know and so on, it's easier to decide what your site will look like and what it will contain.

'Who' also covers what kind of browser and computer someone will be using to access your site and the speed of their modem. Not all browsers recognize different text sizes, fonts (styles of printing) or colours. Not all browsers recognize all image types. And not all modem speeds are equal.

The last thing we need for our 'grocery list' is 'What are we having for dinner?' It's a question that not only covers what you want your visitors to know, but what you want them to think of you or your company. It ties back into 'why'.

Take as much care with your Internet 'image' as you do with your wardrobe. It may be the only time some people see you. Not having some idea of what you want your site to look like, including what colours you want used, is like getting dressed in the dark - and you didn't lay out your clothes the night before.

Another reason for considering 'what' is to help decide where to put things. In technical terms, this is called 'navigation' and 'layout'. To use the dinner analogy a bit more, how are your guests going to get second helpings? Will the food be on the table or on a buffet next to the table? Are you going to group your information into sections, with individual indices for each, or will it be possible to get to every page from the main one?

The layout of a page is what it looks like. In a way, it's like considering whether to use the good china or the paper plates with the handy divider sections.

Just as you put thought into buying a car or a house, put a bit of thought into your web site. It doesn't have to be overly detailed, just ideas will work. Jotted notes like 'Logo as background?' or 'sections: pictures - kids, vacation, birthday party; writing - stories, poems, songs' will help in designing a site.

Creating a website isn't any harder than making a grocery list. Everything you want is included - if you take some time to make a list.

Questions To Ask:

  1. Why do you need a web site?
  2. What purpose will it serve?
  3. Who is going to visit your site?
  4. What kind of computer and/or modem will they have?
  5. What do you want your visitors to know about you?
  6. What do you have to tell your visitors?
  7. How will you present that information?
  8. What will it look like?
  9. How will your visitors get around your site?
  10. How will you group your information?