Purpose of a business web site
The purpose of a web site is to communicate content, in a clear, interesting and attractive way. A few of the major business uses of web sites follow.
° The most common purpose of business web sites is advertising. As such it has some advantages over other types of advertising. It is available every hour of the day, every day. If a company seeks a national or worldwide customer base, then a web site has the additional advantage of being seen all over the world; the site can even be translated into other languages. However, a web site also can be good advertising for a company which seeks only a local customer base.
° Another major use of web sites by businesses is to provide 24 hour customer service. Answers to frequently asked questions can be posted, saving the businessperson the time and expense of answering the same question repeatedly for many different people. The ability for the site viewer to send e-mail allows the businessperson to handle customer service requests in a convenient, orderly fashion.
° A good use of a business web site is order taking. Customers can order products, any time of the day or night, using their credit cards over a secure server. The businessperson can display an online catalog, and can use "shopping cart" software which makes ordering any number of products very easy for the buyer.
One of the aspects of a web site that makes it more interesting than print media is that a web site includes some sort of interactivity; i.e. the viewer is not just a passive viewer but can respond in some way, and in some cases the web site can respond back to the viewer. Examples of interactivity include the viewer being able to send e-mail, order a product, leave a comment, sign a guestbook, search a site, join a discussion group, or search a database.
How we design web sites so that they are effective
In order for a web site to convey its message, the viewer has to stay around long enough to receive the message. That means that the site must load quickly onto the viewer's monitor, even if the viewer does not have the fastest computer or the fastest type of internet access available today. Our philosophy includes the principle that web sites must load quickly. We achieve this by tweaking graphics so that they are small in file size, and by not employing unnecessary features which take a long time to load. We try to avoid using techniques which require that a user download a plug-in, as very many users will leave a site rather than wait for a plug-in to download, or they leave because they don't want to use space on their hard drives so that they can see your site. Java provides neat types of animation and doesn't require a download, and is definitely a coming thing; however we are still reluctant to use it because it sometimes crashes browsers or entire systems. Viewers tend to dislike sites that cause their systems to crash. Shockwave is "super cool," but not all viewers can use it and it requires a plug-in, and not many viewers are willing to download new software to their machine before they can continue to view your site. If you want Shockwave, we can do it as well as anyone, but we don't recommend it. On the other hand, small, quick loading animated gifs can be really cute, and are safe to use. We avoid the overuse of frames. Frames break up the monitor display into smaller parts, making the screen much more cluttered and difficult to see. Some browsers do not support frames; some search engines do not support frames. Many people don't know how to print out a page with frames and their printer produces a blank sheet of paper. We will use any techniques (sounds, movies, etc.) when they significantly enhance the site's ability to communicate its message, but we will avoid those techniques when they detract from a site's effectiveness. We may use a frame to include a link to another site, so that the viewer can see the outside link without leaving your site, in order to avoid losing the viewer entirely to the other site. This is just another example of the adage which applies to all design, "form follows function;" the design depends upon the purpose of the product. This is true whether one is designing buildings, furniture, or web sites.
We don't use backgrounds that make it difficult to see the text. Notice I did not say that we won't use backgrounds, but we are very judicious in how we do use them. A clean white background is frequently the best choice.
Web sites look different on different browsers. We design our sites to look good on all browsers.
Our web sites have a consistent logo on every page so the viewer knows whose web site is on the screen.
Our web sites provide for easy navigation by the viewer; one can go to any section of the site from anywhere within the site.
Check our sample sites to see these principles in action.
Peter Kent has written a book, Poor Richard's Web Site, in which he argues that "cool" web sites, which employ all of the latest technical glitz, are usually counterproductive. At the end of this page is a link to "Creating an Effective Web Site," which is Chapter 10 of Peter's book. If you are wondering what constitutes a good, useful web site, I urge you to read this chapter. Our philosophy of web site design agrees with Peter Kent's ideas.
Web site promotion
A web site is not much good if nobody sees it. The major search engines on the web (Yahoo, Infoseek, Excite, Google, etc.) each work differently, and they constantly change the methods by which they select the order in which they list sites when a search is performed. There may be tens of thousands of sites with content in some way similar to yours, and if your site is to be seen, it must be listed near the top of the search engine results. We know how the major search engines work, and we can design different versions of a web site for each of them so that the site shows up well on each of the search engine's results. Furthermore, we periodically modify and re-submit the sites to adjust to the changes made by the search engines.
We can promote web sites by finding other webmasters who will agree to reciprocal links. Also we can design banners for promotion of a web site through such free services as Linkexchange, or for paid advertising on other sites. We can often enroll a web site in an appropriate "webring," which links a site with many other sites with similar content, which brings more viewers to a site. If your company is a member of your local Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber will include a link to your site from their site. If your city has some type of a city guide on the internet, they may well be willing to add a link to your site. At egret.net, our philosophy includes that we seek out many ways to promote the sites that we design and manage.
We encourage the businessperson also to promote his or her web site by including the web site address (Uniform Resource Locator, or "URL") in print advertising, business cards, and letterheads.
Here's that link I promised you to Peter Kent's chapter, Creating an Effective Web Site.
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