• Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint
Share this Page URL

Identifying Your Message

Step one in building or maintaining a Web site is to understand why the site’s sponsors want it to exist. Some sites send an overt or implicit message; some provide a business function; some are hobbies in and of themselves. If you don’t understand a site’s true purpose, you are very unlikely to achieve it. Instead, you might end up sending a message like, “I’m just learning HTML,” “I’m scatterbrained,” or “I’m trying to increase ugliness and confusion in the world.”

“Establishing a presence” is probably the most common reason for starting a Web site, but this is terribly vague. It usually means following a perceived trend, keeping up with competitors, or responding to requests from others. Here are more focused (and more useful) reasons for starting a Web site:

  • Promoting a desired public image

  • Advertising products and services

  • Selling products or services directly to Web visitors

  • Providing post-sale services and support

  • Increasing knowledge and awareness of a person, a topic, or an organization

  • Releasing information in accordance with law or an organization’s charter

You’ll almost certainly need to drill through several levels of detail to fully understand your site’s mission. Investigating each level generally leads to questions for the next. The end result should be a mission statement, even if informal, that describes the site’s purpose and objective.

Understanding the Audience

As important as knowing your site’s message is knowing its audience. “Everyone on the Web” is too vague an audience to be useful; you should have some particular kinds of people in mind—perhaps even specific people to use as models. The following are typical audiences:

  • Everyone in a certain industry

  • Practitioners of a certain skill

  • Purchasers of a certain type of product or service

  • Users of a specific product or service

After you decide who your audience is, you should learn whatever you can about them. Are they technical, artistic, or people-oriented? What are their skills and interests? What’s their level of vocabulary and education? Do they respond more to detailed text or to color, style, and visual metaphors?

You hope, of course, that your audience will find your site’s message inherently interesting and attractive. Often, however, they’ll need some other enticement. Perhaps you can entice visitors with a free clip art library and then, while they browse, sell them your graphics program. Perhaps you can sell art supplies as people browse a library of works or techniques. If they come for information about a product they already own, perhaps you can sell them another.

The ultimate enticement, according to recent thinking, is to make your site the meeting place for a community of some kind—presumably a community with an interest in your product or message. The goal is then to make your site such a valuable resource—such a compelling place for people in your target audience to find each other and interact—that the site becomes a “must visit.” This generally requires some sort of added content that’s updated frequently and not readily available elsewhere. It also requires a means for visitors to enhance the site themselves and to find other visitors without invading anyone’s privacy. This sort of community is more often talked about than achieved in practice, although it remains a lofty goal. It also illustrates the importance of providing a magnet to attract targeted visitors.

Identifying Content Categories

If your site is typical, the home page will be the most time-consuming of all to construct. There are several reasons for this:

  • The home page presents the site’s first impression; therefore, it’s usually the most elaborate page in the site. Remember the old saying: “You get only one chance to make a first impression.”

  • Despite being the site’s most elaborate page, the home page must download quickly. Otherwise, Web visitors will give up after a minute or two and go elsewhere.

  • The home page often serves as the prototype for the entire site’s visual appearance. It sets the tone and image for every page that follows.

  • If you’re new to creating Web pages, a home page will probably be your initial learning experience.

  • The options on the home page intrinsically represent the site’s primary structure.

The first four issues usually work themselves out, but the last one is critical. If you can identify the top few options in your site, you probably have a good understanding of its message and audience. If you can’t get your home page organized, your content plan probably isn’t organized either.

FrontPage provides built-in templates and wizards that create typical pages for many kinds of sites, but at best they produce only starting points. No two sites are exactly alike; your site’s content and organization are ultimately your unique creation.

Here are some terrible ways to organize a site:

  • Offer an option for each member of the design committee

  • Provide an option for each person who reports to the top executive

  • List an option for each category someone thought of, in chronological order

  • Repeat the same options you used at a previous site

All of the above share the same problem: They ignore the target visitor’s likely interests and mind-set. They indicate a lack of defined message, defined audience, or both.

  • Creative Edge
  • Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint