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Developing your website the easy way

By: Avinash Narula
   
 

Internet seems to be making its presence felt everywhere! Internet is a worldwide linking together of computers. It has cut across all national barriers making the world a unified knowledge hub. One of the most powerful media available to mankind today, Internet has changed the way we live and work. Getting on to the net is like throwing open the doors to a world of opportunity. The opportunities are innumerable because one can get prospective clients, customers, employees or business partners from all over the world.

Benefits of a website

Even though, it is tough to gauge the contribution that a website makes to the revenues or profits of a company, intuitively we can think of a number of benefits that a website has:

1. With the website the customer can help himself. He can visit the website for information instead of calling the company or visiting its office. For example, Federal Express has not only reduced their costs but has also improved their customer service by providing an online tracking system through their website. Now customers do not have to call the company's service representatives to find out the whereabouts of their package. They can do it on their own by visiting the company's website.

2. Websites are also serving as an effective tool to market your products as well as to receive orders. E-commerce is estimated to be a $30 billion market. Prospective customers who do not even know that you exist can come across your website in their search for products and services to fulfill their needs. They may like your product and may even buy it. Information about the company and its products are available 24 hours a day seven days a week all over the world.

3. Companies are also using the website to generate feedback from customers which is then used to improve service levels as well as the product itself.

These days practically every business has a website. There are many website designers available. However, the problem is that these website designers have technical skills in terms of creating a website but quite a few of them do not have adequate designing or copywriting capabilities. Also, quite a few of them do not have the marketing orientation which the advertising agencies have.

My business has three websites to its credit. And each one took me no more than a week's time in designing and getting them up and running. I have also assisted a number of my clients in developing and improving their websites. I have gained some experience in developing websites and would like to share the same with you.

Let's see what we need to know to be able to develop a website efficiently and cost effectively. First, we need an understanding of how the web pages work. Second, we need to know the promotional structure of the business for which the website is being prepared.

How do web pages work?

In web designing, we need to think in terms of pages. Just like you have pages in a printed brochure, you have to have pages in a website. In a brochure, the pages are in a sequence while in a website the pages are not in any sequential order. The sequence of pages that are opened by a visitor to a site depends on the visitor.

While developing a website, you cannot just dump all the information on one page. In this case, the visitor would have to scroll through a very long page. He would have to go through a lot of information that he is probably not interested in. He will get bored and quit. You will lose a potential customer. As such, you need to think of providing the information in a website in a number of different pages. But how many pages should a website have and what information should be given in each page? I will discuss the answer to these questions in the following pages of this chapter.

Also, you don't have the luxury of reading a website like a brochure. As mentioned earlier, websites don't open up by page numbers. For this, the programming language of developing websites provides the facility to link the pages together. It is through these links that you can actually make it easy for the visitor to your website to travel in your site and read the desired information.

Another way of thinking about development of a website is to think in terms of modules. You have to think in terms of modules so that the customer can go to the module that he is interested in, rather than having to read a lot of stuff that he is not interested in. If he cannot go to the information that he is interested in quickly, he will part ways and look for greener pastures elsewhere. As such, developing the website with the right number of pages and appropriate information in them is of utmost importance.


For instance, suppose an Escorts website design had everything put up in one page. This would compel the customer to scroll through a lot of information. A lot of unnecessary information at that. And in the process, the company would lose the customer. Imagine if I just wanted to know about the tractor division of Escorts and I had to go through the entire process of reading about the Telecom division first. Wouldn't I lose interest in it? Sure I would. So I have to provide the means to the customer to go to the place that he wants to in the shortest possible time. Movement in the site should be easy, so that the prospective customer can roam about wherever he wants to (in the website of course) in the shortest possible way.

You can also think of developing a website as making a presentation about your company to determine the number of pages you will need to develop. For each slide you make, you will need to make a page on the website. Then you will need to link each of these pages.

Website Organizational Plan / Structure

Let's look at the promotional structure of Escorts which is as follows:

Group Brochure
About the group - History
Quality Policy
Top management
Financial Information
Joint Ventures / Technical tie-ups
Major Subsidiaries
Telecom Division / Subsidiary
About the division
Top management
Financial information
Joint ventures / Technical tie-ups
Products & Services
Product A
Details
Product B
Details
Farm Equipment Division / Subsidiary
About the division
Top management
Financial information
Joint ventures / Technical tie-ups
Products & Services
Product Line I: Farmtrac Tractors
Product A
Details
Product B
Details
Product Line II: Escorts Tractors
Product C Details
Product D
Details
Now let's see how we can very easily develop a website for Escorts from the promotional structure that we have developed above.

Website Development
Home Page

The most important page in the web-site is your home page. Picture a brochure cover in your mind. The more interesting the cover, the bigger the audience. Pretty much similar is the case with home pages. Design an attention getting home page and chances are high that hoards of prospective customers will be interested to go through your website. It pays to have an interesting home page.

Every website has a Home Page. In the Home Page of Escorts website, you will have a very short description of the Escorts Group and the following suggested links:
1. About Us
2. Quality Policy
3. Top management
4. Financial Information
5. Joint Ventures / Technical tie-ups
6. Divisions / Subsidiaries
(a) Telecom
(b) Tractor

By providing the above links, you are allowing the visitor to make a choice as to where he wants to go. If he wants to know more about the Escorts Group as a whole, he can click on any one of the first five options. On the other hand, if he is interested in finding more information about either the Telecom or the Tractor division, he can click on 6a or 6b. If he clicks on any of the 1-5 options, he will be taken to another page which will have the desired information. For instance, if he clicks on "Top management," he will be taken to a page which has all the information he needs about the top management.

Common Links

At the bottom or at the top of each page of all websites, some common links to the key pages are provided to enable the visitor to move around easily and quickly. Some of the standard links are :
(a) Home page: This links allows you to reach the Home Page from wherever you are in the site. On the Home Page, you don't need this link.
(b) Contact us: This option allows the visitor to be able to contact you for ordering your products or services or for finding out additional information that may not be available on your site. This link is also provided on every page. This "Contact Us" page should have your address and telephone numbers as well as your email address so that the visitor can contact you easily.
(c) About US: This link allows the visitor to visit the page where he can get information about the company, its history and its top management or founders. This link is provided on each page.

Additional links will depend on the structure of the site and what you think is important from your business and customer's point of view. For instance, the following links will be provided on the Escorts
Home Page:

(a) Telecom Division: When the visitor clicks on this he goes to what I call the sub-Home Page of Telecom Division. Here he will be provided with various links so that he can get all the desired information about Escorts telecom business. The link options on the Telecom sub-Home Page would depend on the promotional structure of the Telecom division.

(b) Tractor Division: When the visitor clicks on this link, he goes to the sub-Home Page of the Tractor Division. Here he will again be provided various links so that he can find out what he wants to know about Escorts tractor business.

The above links are provided because it is obvious that after the customer had found what he wanted to know about the Escorts Group, he would either like to know more about the Telecom or the Tractor Division.

Sub-Home Page

Every website doesn't have a sub-Home Page. Sub-Home Pages are only necessary where a business has different divisions or subsidiaries. In Escorts case, there are two major divisions and as such we need two Sub-Home Pages.

The Tractor Sub-Home Page will have a brief description about the tractor business with the following links:

1. About the division
2. Top management
3. Financial information
4. Joint ventures / Technical tie-ups
5. Products & Services

The customer can go to any of the above links and get information on the subject of the link. For instance, if he clicks on financial information he will end up on another page which will have all the desired financial information.

More Pages & More Links

The above module based website can be further developed. Let us assume that the company had provided financial results for the last five years. It is obvious that all the financial information for five years cannot be provided on one page. In addition, the visitor might be interested in the financial information for a particular year. In this case, the financial page will have a brief description of the financial performance of the company and links to financial information of different years can be provided. By just clicking on the links provided, the visitor can go directly to the specific year for which he needs to review the financial information. For instance, the following links can be provided:

1991 Profit & Loss Account
Balance Sheet
Other Financial Information
1992 Profit & Loss Account
Balance Sheet

Other Financial Information
1993 Profit & Loss Account
Balance Sheet
Other Financial Information
1994 Profit & Loss Account
Balance Sheet
Other Financial Information
1995 Profit & Loss Account
Balance Sheet
Other Financial Information

In this way, the visitor can go directly to the information that he needs rather than going through information that he is not interested in. Using this method, you can keep on expanding the website in layers and providing increasingly more detailed information to the visitor as well as allow the visitor to reach where he wants to go quickly. In addition, such a module based structure allows the visitor the flexibility to choose the level of depth of information that he wants to access and read. Similarly, modules can be created for the various products of the division and links provided for the same.

A note about the links. Till now, we have talked about links that take you to different pages. But links can also take you to different sections of the same page. For instance, if the information about the subject is too long, you can either create a new page or provide the information on the same page. But if you provide the information on the same page, you need to make it easy for the visitor to reach the information that he wants to reach as quickly as possible. For instance, in the above example, we can provide the Profit & Loss account, the Balance Sheet and Other Financial Information on one page. But to make it easy for the visitor, you can provide the following links at the top of the page:

Profit & Loss Account
Balance Sheet
Other Financial Information

In this case, when the visitor clicks on any of the above links, he does not go to a separate page but goes to the beginning of the relevant section on the same page. For instance, when he clicks on Balance sheet he goes to where the Balance Sheet information is given.

As you can see, while developing websites we think in terms of modules, pages, links and the promotional structure. You use these to make the visitor's movement around the website easy while at the same time providing him information that convinces him to buy your product and services.

Linking of Websites

Now Escorts can choose between two kinds of website structure for its website(s). Firstly, it can choose a single website where all the information about the group and its subsidiaries/divisions is packed in. Secondly, it could have three different websites each linked to each other. Escorts Group's website would have links to detailed separate website of its subsidiaries or divisions.

It is possible that both the Tractor and the Telecom divisions want to develop and maintain their own website. In this case, the website developed earlier in this chapter can be just divided up and hyperlinks provided to link each of the website. For instance, the Escorts Group website will be the same as above. However, when the visitor clicks on the link to Tractors division, he will go to the page where only brief information about the Tractor Division will be provided. At the end of this page, you will simply provide the link "click here www.escortstractors.com for more information." If the visitor wants more information, he simply clicks on www.escortstractors.com and he will reach the Home Page of a separate website of the Tractor Division which would be the same as the sub-Home Page of the Tractor Division in the Escorts Group's website discussed earlier. In such a case, in the Escorts Group website there will be no sub-Home Page for the Tractor Division. It will be just another page. All the other pages will be the same as discussed above. Similarly, you can provide hyperlinks to the Telecom Division's website.

In both the websites for the Tractor Division and the Telecom Division, you will also provide hyperlinks to the Escorts Group website. Let us see where we can provide this hyperlink. As mentioned above, every website has a link "About US." So if the visitor wants to know more about who is behind the Escorts Tractor Division, he can click on "About us." In this page, you can give brief description about the Escorts group. At the end of the page, you can provide a link "click here for more information www.escortsgroup.com." Once the visitor clicks on this, he will reach the Home Page of Escorts Group website. In the brief description about the Escort Group, you will certainly make a mention about its Telecom business also. At this point, you can also provide the link to the Telecom Division website www.escortstele.com. With such a structure, not only all the three websites of Escorts are connected together but they also facilitate easy movement around its site.

Steps for Developing the Website Design

After you have established the website structure based on the promotional structure, its time to actually start the process for executing the development of the website. Here again our job will become easy if we take the following steps:

Prepare the website structure

The first step is to prepare the website structure based on the promotional structure as suggested above.

Selection of the website designer

Just like advertising in any other media, discipline of creativity and design is applicable in the case of Internet as well. Web designers, though experts in their own field, may not have enough experience in creative designing. As such, you should ask to see sites that they have designed for other companies before giving work to them.

Selecting the name of your website

This is a very important decision as an easy name will make it convenient for your prospective customers to remember the name of your website. Easy recollection of the name of your website by the customer increases the probability that he will access your site more often. The best name is the name which is connected to your company's name or brand name. For instance, the website for my book Customer Math is www.customermath.com. If you know the name of my book, then it's very easy to remember the name of the website. If the name of the website cannot be the same as the name of the company or its brand, you can look for a name which indicates the main benefit(s) of your products or brands. For instance, www.temporaryjobs.com suggests what is the business of the company. Identifying names based on all these relationships can help you select names for your website which are easy to remember. Also, keep the names as short as possible. Short names are easy to remember.

Information for website

Once you have developed the structure of your website, you need to collect the information which needs to go into every page. You have to develop the copy as well as identify the various photographs that you would like to include in your website. Most of this type of information is available in your printed brochures. Once you make the structure clear to your website designer, he can himself pick up the information from the brochures and other printed material that you provide him. The website structure actually makes it clear to the website designer as to what information needs to go on which web page. For effective and efficient development of the copy, please refer to chapters 6 and 7 on Headline and Body Copy respectively.

Selection of Homepage design

You know your website structure and you have collected all the necessary information that needs to be included in the website. Now what's next? You have to finalise the design of the website. The design of the website should be in line with the design of your other promotional material. There should be a continuity in the design of all your advertising and promotional material including the website.

In any case, you should ask your website designer to show you 4/5 designs not of the complete website but just of the home page. We have already mentioned before that the design of the inside pages of a brochure will depend on the design of the cover page. The same is true in the designing of the website. As such, our first objective should be to finalise the design of the Home Page. Out of the options given to you, you may want to select 1 or 2 designs which you like as well as suggest any changes that you would like to be made. Once the website designer incorporates the changes in the shortlisted Home Page design(s), you make the final choice. Once you have selected the Home page design(s), you have more or less decided on the key elements of your website design like the colour, the background design as well as some of the other key design elements.

After you have shortlisted the Home page design(s), ask your designer to give you design options for the inside pages for selected Home Page design(s). After you receive the design options of the related inside pages of the Home Page design(s) selected by you, you can now make the final selection of your Home Page design as well as the related insides pages.

Provide some multimedia effects

Now you should ask your website designer to make the website interesting by providing some movement (multimedia effects) in your website, that is, if he has not provided some on his own. For instance, you can make your logo rotate or move. You can also make some words or a sentence scroll through. This will make your website more attractive to the visitor who will think positively about your company and your products.

However, I would like to point out here that you should not go overboard in making the design of the website very attractive by using a lot of photographs or multimedia effects. Usually, more photographs and multimedia effects will make your website very heavy and will take a long time to open. Also, the movement of the visitor around the site will become very slow. Slow movement around the site will make the visitor go away. As such, there is a trade-off between making the site attractive by such design elements and keeping the visitor interested in your site. If you have to err, err on making the site less attractive rather than making it slow.

Keep the website design simple

As in other medium, the basic rule in website designing is also to keep it simple. Complicated pages may look good when you set them up, but remember your audience can click you off in a nanosecond if they are bothered to spend unusually long time downloading it.

Copy

First, you can follow the same method of developing copy for the website as we have discussed in the chapter 6 & 7 on Headline and Body Copy respectively. In fact, if you have already developed brochures and other advertising and promotional material, you can use the same copy material. However, you have to keep the following in mind while developing copy for the website:

(a) Online readers scan material before deciding whether to invest their time on going through the website or not. If what they see doesn't immediately appeal to them, they will click right on by. You have to talk to them about their interest.
(b) Legibility and readability of text on a computer screen is relatively poor as the computer screen has lower resolution than print. As such, the font and colours used as well as the layout of the webpage should facilitate reading on a computer screen.
(c) Usually, people go online to seek information. As such, provide the information in a clear and concise manner.
(d) An online reader not only scans quickly but also accesses the information in a non-sequential manner. The information in your website should be laid down in a manner that it should support online readers preference for scanning non-sequential content. This is different from the copy in print documents where the idea is usually presented in a single continuous format. Website content needs to be cross-indexed for easy scanning and non-sequential access.
(e) Provide information in self-contained chunks for one idea. Repeat contextual information where needed. Also, provide links to related information.
(f) Keep chunks of information short. Minimise length by cross-reference to desired information. For instance, instead of explaining each new term you can cross-reference the same through links.
(g) It is best to get right to the point. Put your main message right on top rather than burying it somewhere in the middle of the text.
(h) If you have something new, highlight the same.
(i) Don't use the "as-shown-above" method to refer to contextual information as online readers scan with non-sequential access. They do not read your document from top to bottom. If you have to refer to information on another page/section, create a link or repeat the relevant contextual information.
(j) Restrict the use of pronouns as whatever the pronoun refers to may have scrolled off your reader's screen. It's acceptable if the pronoun reference appears within a line or two of the pronoun as it will be within the reader's view.
(k) Headings and page titles should be self-explanatory, simple, clear and interesting. Remember when readers are scanning through your websites, all they will really "see" at first will be the headings and sub-headings. It is your headings and sub-headings which will convince the visitor to go through your website in more detail.

Involve your advertising agency

It may not be a bad idea to involve your advertising agency in the development of your website design. I have observed that most website developers are not good designers. So it may help to involve your advertising agency at two stages. First, at the time of the initial development of the design options and later after the complete design has been developed. The advertising agency can help in not only bringing about continuity in design with the rest of your communication material but also assist in making the website conform to design principles
and concepts.

Website - An effective marketing tool

Internet has opened the flood-gates for a whole new exciting world of advertising opportunities for the advertisers. More particularly for smaller companies with a shoe-string budget. However, during the heydays of Internet boom, websites were touted as the solution for all marketing problems. It is definitely not so.

The best part of having a website is that information about you, your products and your company is available to a prospective customer all over the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year at very low cost.

There are millions of users worldwide and the numbers are rising fast. India too is witnessing a recent spurt in the use of this busy media. A website is simply a tool by which you can make the information about your company, products and services available to practically everyone all over the world at a very nominal cost. Compare this with the other available options of sending printed material like brochures through mail or courier and you will realise how cost effective a website works out to be.

I was able to get my first book published in Chinese by a Hong Kong publisher through the help of the internet. I floated information about my interest in getting my book published in China. A publisher in Hong Kong came across the information and the rest is history.

Business can also be transacted through the website. Your customers can place orders as well as pay for the same. A website can reduce your sales and marketing costs considerably. So what's the catch? Well, the key to the success of your website or your selling through your website is that your prospective customers need to know that you and your website exist. In order to increase the awareness of your website, apart from the internet itself, you will have to use conventional methods of advertising and promotion to promote the website. If you remember, promoters of websites during the days of internet boom spent a lot of money on advertising initially to increase the awareness about their websites. Of course, they could not generate sufficient revenues and most of them went bust.

So websites are not the solution for all your sales and marketing problems. It is just another tool, a very cost effective one, to sell and market your products and services globally.

(Copyright @ Avinash Narula - All Rights Reserved. This publication may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Avinash Narula, K-2 B, IInd Floor, Lajpat Nagar-II, New Delhi-110 024 (India), Th::+(91)-(11)-29841255 / 29841256 / 46010013, E-mail: info@customermath.com)

Permission to reprint can be granted on payment of nominal royalty. Please contact us at info@customermath.com

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