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The EBiz Developer - March 2002 - Article Three

5 Steps to Building Your Web Site

1. Establish the purpose of your web site.
2. Design your web site to project your message.
3. Acquire a host.
4. Promote your site.
5. Maintain and grow your site.

1. Establish the purpose of your web site.

Of course you know why you want a site. But somehow, putting it into words is not quite as easy as one might think.

Before your web site can be effectively designed, you will need to have a clear understanding of what you wish to accomplish. And that is best done by writing it down. If you're not a good writer, say it to a real or imaginary friend, then write down what you said. If you can't describe it, it isn't clear yet.

The purpose of your site will guide you in your site's design and will be a major factor in determining your target audience. Thus, the more specific you can be, the better. The generic "I want a site to make me rich" is too broad. "I want to sell ebooks about flower arrangements, especially to Moms" is more like it.

With "I want to sell ebooks about flower arrangements, especially to Moms," you now have a product and a target audience to design your site for. Design your site so Moms are comfortable with it and are impressed enough to recommend it to other Moms.

"Your Path To Success" (Bob McElwain) can help you determine exactly what your site's purpose is. You'll find the book at: http://sitetipsandtricks.com/webways/path/message.html

With a clear statement of purpose, you know what direction you are heading.


2. Design your web site to project your message.

Now that your purpose is clear, your message is either self-evident or can be developed with little effort. With the above example purpose, the message might be "Learn how do to flower arrangements!" Because your target audience is Moms, a sub-message might be, "Our ebooks are interruption- friendly with short, quick-to-learn chapters. Each chapter is complete within itself, which means you can do the chapters back to back or you can do them one chapter per week."

Many elements work together to create a successful design. Three main concerns will be:

A. Visual design
B. Content
C. Interactive opportunities (programming)

While you work on these elements to design your site, keep your site's purpose and message in mind. This is your focus.

A. Visual design
Good visual design requires skill, training and an artistic eye for detail. However, that doesn't mean you can't do it yourself.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when establishing your site layout:

~~ Be consistent. Once you have decided on a layout design for your site, use it consistently on all the pages.

~~ Choose the color scheme that will effectively present your subject matter. What colors, textures and other visual clues describe the intent of your site?

~~ Use good visual sense when designing a business site: Watch that your text is readable on your background color Use web safe colors for background and text colors, especially. (See http://www.lynda.com/hexh.html for a chart of web safe colors.) If you are going to use a background texture or pattern, make sure it is subtle. The background should set the ambience of the site and enhance rather than "be" the message.

~~ Decide how you will use graphics. Keep it simple. Don't overwhelm your visitors (or waste bandwidth) with massive graphics that serve little purpose.

~~ Choose carefully what you will put on your web site; make each element work to present your message for you.

~~ Be very aware of download time; keep your graphics sized small. One rule of thumb is to keep the total size of each page to under 50k - that includes all graphics, all text, all the bells and whistles. Few people will hang around for a long load time.

~~ The two most common formats for graphics (at this time) are '.jpg' or '.gif'. As a general rule, .jpg is best used for photographic images; .gif is best for simpler images and is necessary for graphics that incorporate transparent elements.

~~ Use animated gifs sparingly. They can be distracting and annoying.

~~ Keep in mind that your visitors will arrive on a variety of operating systems and web browsers. This means your visitors may not see exactly what you see, a designer's frustration! View your site on the major browsers and operating systems, and accommodate the differences as you design your site.

~~ Spend a good deal of thought on your navigation system:

Provide easy navigation tools for your visitors;make it easy for them to find their way around your site.

How many clicks does it take to lose a potential customer?

A navigation area in the same location on each page helps your visitors get the idea of how your site is laid out.

B. Content
Visitors will spend time at your site because of what you say, what you show, how you present that which you offer. It is the lure, the magnet, that will or will not entice visitors to linger. Visits can't be pushed or demanded; they are entirely voluntary.

Give your visitor a reason to hang around. Give your visitor content:

~~ What do you offer that no one else does?

~~ What is unique about your information (or the way it's presented)?

~~ Do you offer valuable and/or up-to-date information?

~~ Spell Check!

Content is gratification with information or entertainment, the instant-er the better. Content is text, graphics, sounds, games, surveys, self-analysis tools, contests, bells and whistles, and combinations thereof. If your content does not inform or entertain or in some other way gratify or please your visitors, it can not truly be called content.

Now that you have written your content, how does it sound? Is the grammar and punctuation correct? Is what you have written what your really mean to say? Use valuable resources at your fingertips:

How to Win the Grammar Game:

Grammar and Punctuation tips, Style Guides:

C. Programming
As a minimum, your site should have a feedback form for your visitors to talk to you and it should have a form that lets your visitors recommend your site to their friends. Programs to process both of those essential forms can be downloaded free at http://willmaster.com/master/

Your web site may require only the simplest programming or it may require sophisticated database, tracking, page generation, communication, and web site maintenance systems. If you're just starting out, keep the programming aspect to the minimum, if you can, until you gain some experience as a webmaster. Then, add features as needed to promote your site's purpose and deliver its message.

Programs for sites generally fall into two categories,
(1) programs integrated directly into web pages and
(2) programs that reside on a site's server.

(1) Web page programs go by names such as JavaScript, Java, ActiveX, and other languages. What distinguishes web page programming is that, once the web page is loaded into a browser, the programs can continue to run without needing a continuous connection to the internet. Many fine, entertaining, and illuminating things can be done with web page programming. A few of these are listed below. (Attempting to list all possibilities would produce a seemingly endless list.)

~~ Horizontal scrolling text.

~~ Overriding the browser's status bar with custom text.

~~ Floating/Gliding images.

~~ Image switches.

~~ Popup windows.

~~ Real-time interaction with your visitor -- calculator, game, chat, psychic reading, IQ test, etc. - without needing to download new pages or pressing the "back" button.

~~ Current (and constantly updated) date, time, and/or weather.

A drawback to using web page programs is that some users disable their browser's ability to run scripts and/or Java.

An advantage with web page programming is that, in most cases, the entire program loads into your visitor's browser. This may allow them to use/run the web page without being connected to the internet. Also, some visual effects can currently be produced only with web page programming.

(2) Server programs abound. Although other types are popular, such as PHP, for example, probably most server programs are CGI programs (see http://willmaster.com/possibilities/archives/ for related articles, and http://willmaster.com/master/ and http://mastercgi.com/ for CGI programs and CGI help, respectively).

CGI means "Common Gateway Interface" and is a standard method for browsers and servers to communicate with each other. So long as the standard method (protocol) is followed, it doesn't matter which brand of browser is asking for information, what operating system the server is using, or what programming language the requested program is written in. CGI is seemingly unlimited when it comes to applications that fit within the protocol. CGI is used for (again, a short list of examples):

~~ Guest books

~~ Forums

~~ Creating web pages dynamically

~~ Requesting information

~~ Mailing systems and maintaining mailing lists

~~ Surveys and tests

~~ Presenting and/or manipulating database contents

~~ Creating graphics dynamically

~~ Visitor tracking and presenting statistics

~~ Shopping carts

~~ Password verification and/or updating

~~ Message boards

~~ Auctions

CGI Resources at http://www.cgi-resources.com/ is a valuable site for research and examples of Perl and other programming languages, as well as thousands of CGI programs. Matt's Script Archive at http://www.worldwidemart.com/scripts/ has some high quality CGI programs available for download. WillMaster's Master Series at http://willmaster.com/master/ contains several dozen efficient and easy to install CGI programs. Some are free and some require a fee.

If you need to hire someone to install the CGI programs you choose, the author of the program is often a good choice. Otherwise, there are people who are available to install CGI programs. Jackie McCutcheon at http://jackiemccutcheon.com/ is professional with reasonable rates. (The source for Perl and a developer's site, www.perl.com, is a must-visit if you're thinking about delving into Perl CGI programming.)

3. Acquire a host.

Responsive customer support is important, especially after the sale when a quick answer can make a lot of difference. Budget hosting companies save operational money somewhere. Often it's custom

er support because it's expensive. Sometimes it's tech staff availability that suffers. Internet server gurus can demand high salaries. The server can be slow because of too many sites or a few very busy sites on one machine.

Paying higher rates for hosting does not guarantee service and responsive servers. But paying budget rates means a high probability that expenses are cut somewhere.

I almost always recommend UNIX/Linux servers. For several reasons:

~~ Our Master Series of CGI programs are built for UNIX/Linux.

~~ There are more UNIX/Linux servers in use at hosting companies than there are NT.

~~ Almost all server attacking virii released during the past year were directed at NT servers.

~~ The majority of readily available free Perl CGI programs, are built for UNIX/Linux.

If you anticipate using CGI on your site, you'll want a customizable cgi-bin. Some hosting accounts provide a cgi-bin but only for the hosting company's scripts -- you aren't allowed to install your own. So, ensure that your cgi-bin is fully customizable by you.

Although CGI can be used in conjunction with other programming languages, you'll also want Perl 5+ on the server. Many Perl CGI programs now make use of standard Perl 5 modules, so ask your prospective hosting company if they'll install standard modules if needed. This is rarely a problem, but it's good to have an affirmative before deciding on a hosting plan.

Special Requirements:

If you anticipate needing certain programs to automatically run at specific times, then you'll want your own "cron" (UNIX/Linux servers) or "at" (NT servers). Those are schedulers to launch programs.

If you anticipate needing to route emails to scripts (for example, autoresponders or list servers where an email address, such as unsubscribe@domain.com, is to be automatically processed by a script), then you'll need access to either your own procmail or your own "alias" or ".forward" files. Ask your prospective hosting company what system is available to pipe certain incoming email to a script.

4. Promote Your Site

Spread the word!

Your web site can be promoted through traditional channels as well as internet channels.

Traditional channels include news releases, advertising, and mention on company letterhead and business cards. Your web site might benefit from traditional promotion just as much as your other products and services.

Internet channels include web site submission to search engines and directories, running your own email list, advertising on the internet, and participating in e-mail, newsgroup, chat discussions.

Just because your web site has been submitted to search engines and internet directories does not automatically mean it will be accepted. Manually submit your web site, especially to the top search engines and directories. Or hire someone to do it for you. Many search engines and directories now charge for submissions or for priority submissions.

Search Engine Watch at http://searchenginewatch.com/ has lots of information about search engines. Renee Kennedy's "Search Engine Optimization and Placement" at http://thewritemarket.com/seo-book.shtml and her search engine promotion tutorial at http://www.thewritemarket.com/intro.shtml are valuable resources.

5. Maintain and grow your site.

If your web site never changes, who is going to visit twice? Staleness is the grim reaper of web sites.

Update information. Check for broken links. Add new content. Keep your site fresh and growing.

Just because this step has the least number of words, does not mean it's the least important. It sure would be a shame to accomplish the other steps and have a nice, popular site, and then have all that slowly waste away for lack of attention.

Will and Mari Bontrager
Copyright 2001 Bontrager Connection, LLC "WillMaster Possibilities" ezine http://willmaster.com/possibilities/ mailto:possibilities@willmaster.com


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