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A Thing

Before the Web Design, Think Purpose

Editor's Note: This is the second article in a series on creating an effective Web site. Here we look at the next phases in Web site development: choosing a concept and design.

Whether you are a company's primary decision maker or part of a decision-making committee, you must determine the Web site's function.

Some sites are purely informational, but the intent in providing information is to entice visitors to send an e-mail, call or visit the company. For example, an informational site provides company history and staff biographies, a detailed description of goods and services offered, and contact information.

Other sites are more interactive. For example, they provide forms for visitors to fill out, rate calculators, promotional materials and a searchable database of product statistics. Visitors tend to stay longer at these sites, and they feel more served by them.

With interactive sites, however, the caveat is that customers might spend more time with the site than you and your staff. Most businesses thrive on making personal connections with customers. If computers could do the selling all the time, the payments industry and the rest of the business world would be a different, lazy place.

A Web site should support a sales staff, not replace it. The site should also provide enough helpful information so that it becomes an integral part of the business.

A site's design must mirror the image the business wants to project. As discussed in the previous article, you can be wildly successful and rolling in money, but if your Web site looks like a high school student created it, you'll make a horrible impression.

The first rule of thumb in developing a Web site: Just because it costs a lot doesn't mean you will receive a quality design or support after the sale. Some firms charge exorbitant fees to create and manage a Web site; you can spend tens of thousands of dollars. However, you can still end up with a great site, a positive return on investment, and possibly even local customer service and support with a modest investment.

Instead of hiring an outside firm, you might have your company's design department create and maintain the Web site. Provide your staff with explicit details just as if you had hired an independent designer. The overall experience of visitors initially, and on any return visits, will measure a site's effectiveness. Implement a form or e-mail link for people to provide feedback. Once you receive feedback, fix what's wrong and improve what's right.

Just like any brick-and-mortar business, aesthetics and excellent service will keep people coming back and referring others. (In future articles, we'll discuss marketing and retention methods.)

The site's general "look and feel" should be indicative of your business's direction. It should reflect the corporate image, marketing campaign and other branding efforts. Consistency is a key factor.

Work with your designer on color schemes, typestyles and flow. If you achieve a smart design, you'll have fantastic results. (It's also helpful to note sites you find appealing or easy to use to give the designer a better idea of what you want.) Developing a Web site is a deliberate, almost rudimentary process. Each stage must come together in a sequence, or you'll spend time and money on projects before it's time to implement them.

The next phases of Web site development are creating and shaping content to get the information to customers.

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