Plan your Web site

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Your Web site is an extension of you, your business, and your business branding. Before you create your Web site, ask yourself these questions:

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Who do I want to visit my site?

What do I want my site to do?

What look and tone will help convey my message to my audience?

How do I keep site visitors coming back?

Who do I want to visit my site?

The answer to this question depends on who your audience is: potential business clients, potential fund-raisers or volunteers for your organization, members of a professional society, or the parents and kids involved with the local swim team. You need to know who your audience is and focus on them.

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What do I want my site to do?

Your Web site can provide the information that your audience finds important. Ask yourself what essential information your audience needs to know. For a nonprofit organization, this can be information about current events. For a mid-sized corporation, it can be the latest news about corporate tools and processes.

As you plan your site and the information that it will provide, consider which authoring tool is right for your needs. Publisher is an excellent authoring tool to quickly create, publish, and manage simple Web sites on the Web. If your Web site needs interactivity or database-driven content, so that visitors can respond in a Web log (blog) or purchase items with a credit card, Publisher may not be the best tool.

When you know what information your audience needs, you can do any of the following:

Use your Web site to your advantage

  • Give technical support to customers or workgroups.

  • Post a calendar of events for group members.

  • Offer a clearinghouse on consumer product information.

  • Create a personal home page for planning family events, sharing vacation photos, pursuing a hobby, or just having fun.

  • Post an electronic resume for prospective employers.

Provide products and services on the Web

  • Reach potential clients with information about services or products.

  • Introduce new products and services, and make special offers.

  • Sell merchandise directly through an electronic catalog.

  • Build corporate identity, brand awareness, and good public relations.

  • Publish the latest product or service information.

  • Publish your product literature and user guides.

Be the go-to Web site — information gathering, feedback, or interaction on the Web

  • Conduct research through surveys and questionnaires.

  • Create an educational forum for sharing the latest information in a given discipline.

  • Exchange information among members of clubs and across organizations.

  • Recruit participants for volunteer and fund-raising activities.

  • Develop a qualified list of client prospects for goods and services.

Help site visitors contact you

Provide ways for site visitors to contact you, so you can follow up on business opportunities:

  • Use postal mail, telephone, or fax.

  • Send e-mail messages.

  • Submit forms on your Web site that allow visitors to order products and give you credit card information.

    Before you can accept credit cards over the Web, you must do the following:

    • Decide which credit cards to accept.

    • Open a merchant account with a financial institution (you may be charged an application fee).

    • Purchase the appropriate software (in some cases, you may also need hardware).

    • Purchase software or a subscribe to a service to verify the credit card data.

      Search the Web or your local library for resources. If you need this type of Web site, Publisher may not be the best authoring tool for you.

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What look and tone will help convey my message to my audience?

Do you want the tone of your Web site to be exciting, serious, or humorous?

This can be one of the trickiest balances to achieve. For example, what is funny to one person isn't necessarily funny to someone else. You need to know your visitors, write from their point of view, and authentically use the same language that they do. Also consider your branding. If your business branding represents authority and years of experience, irreverent humor won't be consistent with your branding.

  • Use you and your frequently so your visitors know that their needs come first.

  • Focus on the purpose of the Web site — whether it is selling widgets or disseminating information about the local swim team.

  • Get your main points across in the headings and subheadings.

  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short to reinforce scanning and readability.

  • Include white space to help readers stay on track while they read.

  • Refine your text so that it captures your visitors' attention, holds their interest, answers their questions, overcomes their objections, and compels them to action.

Finally, constant testing is important. Send different versions of marketing material — for example, flyers, direct mail material, and so on — to small, targeted subsets of your audience. Track the effectiveness of the different versions of the material and then further refine your message.

You also want to make sure that all potential customers can see, read, and enjoy your Web site the way that you designed it. Some people turn off graphics so they can see only text. Others have dial-up connections to the Internet, so graphics on a Web page increase the page download time.

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How do I keep site visitors coming back?

  • Update the pages of your Web site frequently to keep it interesting.

  • Send newsletters that complement the material on your Web site, and include links to your Web site.

  • Provide Web-based incentives such as Web-only promotions or downloadable screen savers, or offer games or other downloads.

  • Send time-sensitive offers, such as discounts, gift certificates, or invitations to events or seminars.

  • Design your Web site so that visitors can personalize it and get exactly what they are looking for faster and in one place — your Web site.

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