Volume 8, Issue 4, July-August  2004

Website 101
Nine Tips to Building a Better Website
by Scott Frazier

If your website isn’t attracting enough traffic, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate. Why is a good website important? Consider this: the average rising high school freshman in America today has grown up with the Internet. Most of them were toddlers when the elusive space first starting catching on among the public, and they were all in elementary school during the surge of the “dot-coms.” We’re nearly past the “Do you have a website?” phase and, with each successive generation, more companies are expected to develop a website.

So, what does it take to have a well-designed and effective website in the window film industry?

Web-Speak
B2B: Business to Business. Refers to a website that sells products primarily to other businesses.
B2C: Business to Customer. Refers to a website that sells products mainly to customers.
Bandwidth: Rate at which data can flow to and from the server.
Browser: A client program (software) that is used to look at various kinds of Internet resources. Examples: Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera.
Domain Name: Unique name that identifies an Internet site. Always has two or more parts, separated by dots. 
FTP: File Transfer Protocol. A common method of moving files between two Internet sites. Also a special way to login to your Internet site for the purposes of retrieving and/or sending files.
Host: Any computer on a network that is a storehouse for services available to other computers on the network.
Search Engine: A database and the tools to generate that database and search it. 
Server: A computer and/or software package that provides a detailed kind of service to client software running on other computers. The term can refer to a particular piece of software, such as a WWW server, or the machine on which the software is running.
URL: Uniform Resource Locator. The standard way to give the address of any resource on the Internet that is part of the World Wide Web (WWW). A URL looks like this: http://www.sitestar.net. The most common way to use a URL is to enter into a www browser program, such as Netscape, Lynx or Internet Explorer.

1. Planning
Before launching into the creation of your company’s website, take the time to plan out not only what your site will look like, but also its function and goals. That is, what do you wish to accomplish by having this website? Determine your goals and set priorities. Do you want to share and distribute information? Influence people in a particular direction? Define or polish your company/corporate image? Serve as an online retail storefront? Improve customer service?

Whatever you decide, it should be consistent with your offline materials. This doesn’t mean that your graphics and images have to be identical with more traditional media, but they should be consistent with overall branding, style guide, usage of colors, etc.

In the planning stages the budget for your website should also be decided. Take into consideration the nature of your business along with your finances. Professional execution of your website is very important. Generally, the larger your investment, the greater your return. To spread your investment over time, you can also grow and expand your website over a period of several months. 

It’s essential to pay close attention to what design options and functions you want for your website. Think of your website as an automobile, the more options your automobile has, the higher the expenditure. In developing the budget for your website consider your requirements and expectations, the level of complexity and aptitude required for your website’s intention. Consider having a budget for your website, and look into spending the same amount in its development as in advertising it.

2. Gathering Information
Once you’ve decided on the function of your website, gather the information that you want to include. This may be company information, including history, news and events, officers, board members or “meet the staff” data and press releases. Whether or not you plan your website to be your company’s online storefront, it’s going to be an advertising tool, so also consider putting up existing company or product brochures, sales literature and price lists. Also promote products and services offered and remember that you can post order forms, applications and enrollment forms online as well, without making them interactive. A large portion of the public is able to download and print forms, which can be mailed or faxed to you.

3. An Organized Website
A single website may not be enough to present all the information you want to publicize, in which case you may need to link additional pages or sections to your opening page. The best way to do that is to plan it out ahead of time and create a flowchart, if necessary, to show what you will put where, and ensure the site is visitor-friendly. If possible, for each additional website/category, create a separate text file for your designer, or at the very least, organize a copy of the information you gathered for the site, as well as any graphics, according to your flowchart. Help your designer by including detailed directions, where necessary.

Remember to keep your site so it can be navigated easily. Build a menu structure that is consistent with industry standards: local menus (for a page or section) on the left with global menus (overall site navigation) at he top and/or bottom of each page. Keep as much information as possible “above the fold”—above the cut off point at the bottom of a monitor.

New York Window Film Co. Inc.
URL: www.nywindowfilm.com

Who designed the site?
There are many free layouts offered on the web. For this site, Fred Pesce, a manager at New York Window Film, chose one of those layouts and adapted it to reflect the company’s particulars.
Why did the company choose to go that way?
When we decided to start a web site, I was getting prices ranging from $3,500 to $6,000 +. And that was just for set-up, forget about maintenance. So I decided to learn html and do it myself.
What did it cost the company?
About $200, not counting monthly ISP costs or domain name renewals. They’re about $300 per year.
For what kinds of marketing does the company use the site?
For all of our products and for any inquiries.
What benefits has the company observed by having a website?
It gives us the ability to show our wares, answer potential questions and show our list of almost 2,500 residential references. A 3,000 commercial references list is coming soon.


4. Keep it Straightforward and Accommodate Audience
While you’re organizing your website, keep your audience in mind. The more specifically you can itemize the needs of the people reading your web pages, the better you’ll be able to meet those needs. Who will be using your pages? Customers? Your employees? People familiar with the subject matter? Keep in mind that people do not read website content the same way they do offline media. Try to keep your paragraphs short (no more than two or three sentences), build white space into your content, include links in your pages and don’t try to tell your whole marketing story on your site.

Periodically add new information. Unique information that changes on a regular basis can motivate return visits, and don’t be afraid to utilize outbound hypertext links. Links to other websites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.

The inclusion of short, online forms makes it easy for visitors to inquire about your products or services while they are still online. Simple e-mail links work well, but online forms can generate almost twice the response. Short online forms often request the basic information: name, company name, a way to reach the person and a text field to write a question or comment. 

Keep your website fairly simple. An effective website will download in less than ten seconds and be under 40K in size. Anything larger or longer to download and a potential customer may lose interest, especially if he has to wait for graphics to load. Along this line, design your at 800 x 600 resolutions, which is the size an average user has. If your graphics are too wide or too tall, they won’t display completely, forcing the user to scroll (and users don’t want to scroll).

Ensure a good reception with high-quality graphics, good design and good writing. If the site acts as a point of purchase, make credit-card acceptance a high priority; doing so will make your site seem more legitimate and less like an underground store operation.


5. Choosing a Web Designer
Whether you’re creating the website in-house or outsourcing it to a professional web designer or company, your website’s designer is one of the most significant elements of your Internet presence. The web designer should know the importance of an advertising model that is compelling to your needs. To achieve that effect for your website objectives, make sure the designer has the credentials in constructing websites with leading technologies, understands how to integrate your company vision with a clearly defined set of goals and has the ability to create a website presence that is versatile to your growing needs. For example, if you plan to use the website to include direct sales, hire a web designer who is especially experienced with e-commerce.

6. Register Domain Name
Designing a website is one thing, getting it up on the web is another. Your domain name is the website home; it is where visitors will find your company online. It is the “name” part of a uniform resource locator (URL) and it is one of the crucial parts of your website. For example, in the URL http://www.sitestar.net, the domain name is sitestar.net. It is possible to have multiple domain names and have them all lead visitors to one website. This can be done with a domain pointer and is an excellent way to increase your visibility and bring more visitors to your site. For example, an online clothing store could use a domain pointer to have clothes.com, jeans.com and shirts.com all point to one primary account.

However, because domain names are unique to each website, it’s a good idea to think of several names you’d like to use or different spellings, abbreviations, etc., in case your first choice is already taken. 

Accutech Tool Co.
URL: http://www.tinttools.com/

Who designed the site?
The husband of one of the employees—it was an in-house job.
Why did the company choose to go that way?
We just did it to get it up. We’ll be setting one up for another company, too. We do all of ours in-house.
What did it cost the company?
We pay monthly fees to keep it up and running, but a price estimate is not available.
For what kinds of marketing does the company use the site?
Bascially both sales and information.
What benefits has the company observed by having a website?
Nothing specific. It’s just one indirect way of advertising.


7. Choose a Host ISP
You’ve got a domain name, but to get your website on the Internet and accessible to the viewing public, it will need to be hosted; that is, essentially stored on a server for Internet access. Being hosted is how your site gets online. It is always nice, but not always necessary, to have the design team and the Internet service provider combined within same company.

A web hosting company can charge you for the service in four different ways: a flat-rate hosting fee, by how much hard drive space your website uses, how much traffic (bandwidth) your site receives or by how many files you upload per month. If you anticipate high traffic on your website or plan on updating your site often, this could become expensive. It’s usually best to go with a host who offers unlimited bandwidth, transfer and hard drive space. 

When you’re shopping for a host, consider asking the following questions:
• What has their downtime been?
• Are there any bandwidth restrictions, and if so what are they?
• Do they offer a secure server for online transactions?
• How long have they been in business?
• What else do they offer?
• What kind of connection do they have?

8. Search Engines and More: Marketing and Promote Website
When your website is up and running, your next goal is to build a large and steady flow of site traffic. Generally, 3 percent of every 1,000 visitors to a website will purchase something directly from that site. For you to achieve this, your site needs to be properly marketed and promoted.

Search engines are one way to get visitors to your site. Those that exist are numerous and diverse; each with its own traits, search methods, constraints and demands. Accommodating your website to these allows you to get the most out of using their services. To improve the findability ratio of your web page, it needs to be aided with meta tags, keywords and frequent (i.e. monthly) submissions to search engines. In brief, meta tags are used by the top search engines to index websites. They are lines of text in your web page code (not seen by people viewing your web pages) describing your website to many search engines in order to properly place your page in their listing. Meta tags contain the keywords associated with your products and services. Keywords are the words people commonly use to look up websites that offer certain products and services. Keywords should also be in your website title and web page headings. Without the use of meta tags and keywords, your site, quite possibly, may not be found. There is no one solution to this; not search engines, not meta tags or keywords. Internet success is a process, a lot of ideas that combine to create a large cash flow. You need to be consistently listed in the top 10 to 20 results of a search engine query because most users will find a result they like in the top 20. Being listed 21 or beyond means many people may miss your site. You need to have links pointing to your website; the more the better and you need to learn to maximize advertising/promotion/marketing techniques. At the very least, utilize your offline media to promote your website, and vice versa. 

9. Maintaining Your Website
Without constant attention, websites become cobweb sites. Websites need to be updated in content, graphics, search engine listing and response to visitors’ feedback. Determine how much time, money and effort you can devote to refining your Internet presence, for it is important to update your website on a regular basis to draw repeat visitors. Keep visitors coming back with fresh information and new features. Website maintenance helps keep your site effective.

Regularly check the external links in your site to make sure they are working (connecting). To make this job easier for big sites, use an automated mechanism to do your link checking. MOMspider is a publicly available example of such a tool. Periodically re-register your website with search engines. For best results, re-register every few months. Re-register your site any time you make major changes. Search engines should revisit on a regular schedule. However, some search engines have grown smart enough to realize that some sites only change content once or twice a year, so they may visit less often. Re-registering after major changes will help ensure that your site’s content is kept current.

Respond to visitor feedback. Pay attention to the feedback of your visitors, respond to it, act on it and thank them for taking the time to help you. 

Track your visitors. Use statistical software to track your site traffic and find where people are going within your site. Use the information to adjust the content or revise your site design.


WINDOW FILM

© Copyright 2004 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.