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Building a Web Site: Considerations

Starting Out
Coordinating Print and Web
Site Visibility/Marketing (SEO)
Getting Some Action
In Conclusion

If you're thinking about creating or updating a web site for yourself or for your business, here are some questions and considerations to speed you along in a good direction. Before you talk to a web developer, have at least provisional answers to these questions. It will make the conversation easier and more productive.

Starting Out

Let's start out with some broad questions.  Answers to these questions will guide you in your overall development, in your selection of a developer (should you choose to go that way), and in your selection of service providers such as hosting companies.

Coordinating Print and Web

It seems like a web site and printed materials are - or ought to be - closely related. However, they are somewhat different in their natures. Here are some considerations about coordinating the two.

First. Note that you do absolutely want them to resemble each other. No, more than that, you want them to use the same imagery, fonts, and general feel. That way someone who uses your business card to go to your web site won't wonder if they stumbled on the wrong site. This is a professional must.

However. If you are considering making the site and your brochure or other printed material essentially the same:  That would be a little like taking KISS (in its glam-rock days) and some string quartet and trying to make them wear the same clothes. It's certainly possible to do it, but there are both benefits and drawbacks to it. 

Print materials are generally much more expensive to produce, because they require higher quality images (higher resolution), more precise formatting and more detailed planning.  Plus, once you print something, it's static.  A web site is much more flexible.  You can put it up today and change it tomorrow and/or next Friday, etc., if you decide you want to say something more or differently. 

Also, web sites thrive more on redundancy and narrowly-focused page content than print materials do.  There are at least 2 reasons for this:

When we pick up a printed document, we give it a different kind of attention than we do a web page, and we have different expectations of it. Usually you want to squeeze every little bit out of a print page - get as much on it as possible so when folks see it they can get the broader picture.  On a web page, links serve that purpose in part, so you don't need all the content on one page.

Now, using the graphic design/page layout and content as a basis for creating print material (rather than a direct translation of web site to print material) is both possible and a darned good idea.  As ntoed above, this gives you consistency between your online and print materials, and makes use of the design effort in multiple areas.  And, certainly, text from printed material can be part of the web site.

Site Visibility/Marketing

In terms of site visibility/marketing, here are some things to think about.  

First, it's very important to get people to the site - otherwise all the splendid content in the world doesn't do any good.  You have several ways to do that:

The first two are big ones in terms of site design and your results.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization is big business these days. There are very large companies entirely devoted to figuring out exactly how to optimize web sites for specific search engines - tracking (as best they can) Google's ranking algorithms and so on. It's big business, and to do it well it is an ongoing and full-time job. If you really want your site to rank high, especially for highly competitive search terms, be prepared to pay someone a lot of money to get and retain that ranking.

But here's a rough guide to starting out.

For search engines, consider what search terms people might use that you'd want your page to respond to.  Think of it as someone shouting out their front door, "Hey! Who out there knows anything about xyz?" For which "xyz" do you want your site to jump up and shout back, "I do!!!"?

These kinds of words or phrases are the ones you want to feature in your site text. Here are some examples for different topics:

It's usually much easier to rank well on searches that are more specific - plus, you get people who are actually interested in exactly what you offer.

On the other hand, you don't want the terms to be so specific that no one would ever think to type them into a search. For example, who cares if you rank first for "big red slightly scratched 1999 John Deere tractor that I bought new"? Or "fun-loving cohousing community with perfect sidewalks and seven brick buildings"?

This is where your chosen SEO pro will come in handy. They will have resources for helping you choose the search terms that will best combine the ability to achieve ranking with maximum possible traffic.

Links from Other Sites
Search engine rankings are also related to who thinks you are the cat's pajamas when it comes to (whatever your web site is about). That is, you want the web sites of other people or organizations that know about your topic to refer people to you, by linking to you. The more incoming links you get that come from sites related to your topic, the better. This has the double benefit of improving search engine rankings and bringing people to your site from the other sites.

Getting Some Action

Finally. All the traffic in the world won't help if you don't give your visitors something to do. But what do you want them to do?

Consider the benefits and wonders of your service or products, and don't hesitate to be boldly explicit about that on your web site.

What benefit will visitors get from your product? What's in it for them? Why should they act on what they are reading?

In short, you want them to see immediately the benefit for them, and to give them a reason to do something about it right away - known in the marketing lingo as "a call to action". Here are some examples of calls to action for different kinds of site:

Again, a web developer (should you choose to work with one) will be able to help you choose an appropriate call to action for your site.

In Conclusion

One of the beauties of web sites is their mutability. You don't actually have to know any of the above to begin building a web site - you could just go seat-of-the-pants into it, and ultimately end up with what you really want. On the other hand, the road you take may be shorter and less - well, expensively scenic - if you take the time to answer some of these questions.

It may also help you maintain a good relationship with your web developer!

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