Thursday, August 28, 2008

Preparing Your Company For A Website Project

Your website project will require you to do some upfront work in order to be armed with the necessary tools to execute a smooth project process.

Your responsibility starts with understanding the purpose of your website. Is your website used as a sales tool, an information resource, an online store…etc? Once you understand the purpose, we can begin working on the strategy and identify the elements to bring it to fruition.

Since each project is unique, and preparation will vary, we’ll stick to the basics.

  1. Understand the services – It is important that you and your organization get a clear understanding of our services. We will certainly do our best to educate you during our initial conversations, but you’ll need to make a conscious effort to understand the depth and scope of the services we offer. In addition, by understanding our services, you’ll feel more comfortable speaking with us regarding our recommendations, and how they apply to your organization.
  2. Tell us about your company - Please provide us with a document that describes your business, the purpose of the website, and your goals for the project. This information is usually in the Request for Proposal (RFP) document, but if one wasn’t created for your project, now would be a good time to do so.
  3. Prepare your content – Preparing new website content is a great opportunity for you to look at your business goals, focus on your users needs, and condense your content, making it readable and easier to navigate.

    In addition to the words on your pages, you must also be thinking about the architecture of your content. You want to do so with two approaches; the top-down, and the bottom-up. The top-down approach has you focus on the big picture and objectives of your content. You’ll be looking at the top level navigation and making it simple and intuitive. In addition you’ll want to think about the labels you use for navigation. Make certain they are clear for your users and not your employees. Once you have top-down clarity, you’ll need to look at your content from the bottom-up. This approach looks at the details of the content. It includes reviewing the page titles, making the content web friendly (using short paragraphs, bullet lists, text styles, and imagery). Here are a few resources on writing user friendly web content:

    Formatting Rules to Live By
    10 Tips for Good Web Writing

    The best way to organize your content is through a site map. This can be completed in outline form, or a diagram. Once you have organized your content, we can then begin to make our recommendations regarding your website architecture.
  4. Prepare your website hosting information – If you have an existing website, you are currently using a third party to host your website, or you have a dedicated server. Make certain you understand the hosting requirements of your new vendor. If you are using a Content Management System, they require the website to be hosted on their servers because of security and support reasons. You also should have all of your account information for your existing provider ready, as well as your registrar information (where you purchased the domain). By not having all of this information ready, you can slow the process of the project, because sometimes it takes a few days to get all of these issues worked out.
  5. Think about the purpose of the website from your clients’ perspective – It is important that your organization begins thinking about how you will present your website message to clients in the easiest, friendliest, and most pleasing manner. To do so, start thinking like your clients not your employees. This is referred to as the “user-in” approach. Businesses have a bad habit of throwing everything they can on their homepage, never thinking about how their users process this information (“organization-out”). This often yields an unorganized layout and too much content. The user-centric methodology is a challenging process that must pay close attention to the needs, wants, and limitations of your websites end users at each stage of the design/content process. A properly-executed process requires your educated assumptions of how users will interact with your website, and the testing to validate these assumptions. Start by answering these questions.

    Who are the users of our website?
    What are the users’ tasks and goals?
    What are the users’ experience levels with our website, and our competitor’s websites?
    What functions do the users need from the website?
    What information might the users need, and in what form do they need it? How do users think the website should work?

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