ISSUE 545: The high tech office- April
It pays to plan ahead before creating a
company Web site
five or so years since the Internet exploded onto public consciousness,
the majority of Canadian businesses don't have their own Web sites.
Most of the ones that don't have a vague feeling that they're missing
out on something important. Despite the massive number of newspaper and
magazine articles, it's still worth pointing out three big myths and
three key words of advice.
* The Internet
is the future. You have to do something about it right now! The
reality is that while half of Canadian homes have computers, half
don't. While online sales are growing, particularly direct sales
between businesses, e-commerce remains a small part of the economy and
will remain so for quite a while. Even well-known Internet businesses
such as Amazon.com have yet to show a profit and many
businesses have found themselves disappointed with the results of their
access is fast and convenient. It looks that way on the TV ads, so
it must be true, right? Despite the growth in high-speed cable and ADSL
phone line connections, most home users access the Net using
conventional modems. Again, this is going to remain the reality for the
foreseeable future. For these users, the Information Superhighway is
more like an unpaved logging road. If you want these users to access
your Web site, design it with them in mind. Otherwise, potential
customers will click on their browser's Back button and try the next
link in the search engine's list, your competitor. And speaking of
search engines, the third big myth is:
* Build it and
they will come. There are, by some estimates, well over 350 million
Web sites up and running. And search engines have catalogued only a
fraction of these. One survey last summer suggested that the best of
the bunch knew about 17 per cent of the total.
Based on the reality of these myths,
here are some words of advice:
* Plan. As
with any other business venture, the more you've thought out what you
want, what you need, how you expect to accomplish it and how you'll
measure success, the more likely you are to get reasonable results. In
the first wave of business jumping at the Internet, many of the biggest
businesses created Web sites that lacked focus. They were on the Web
because, well, they thought they had to be on the Web. You can do
better. Think about what you hope to accomplish, who your target users
are. A site that is simply informational can be successful, but will be
different than a site aimed at directly generating sales. A site aimed
at consumers, mostly modem-users, should be different from one aimed at
businesspeople who will mostly access the site using a faster corporate
network. Will success be measured directly in increased sales or
indirectly by your mailing out less-expensive printed material?
Remember your users. Make sure your site loads quickly and is easy to
navigate. Can real users easily find their way to the information or
the actions you want them to find? Too many businesses waste their
users' time with a colourful home page that displays a big (and
slow-loading) graphic of the corporate logo, with words saying, in
effect, click here to go someplace useful.
When you first see your proposed Web
site, you'll typically see it loaded right off the hard drive, on a
powerful computer with a monitor showing millions of colours at a high
resolution. Try it on the sort of computer you imagine your typical
user might have. If you want to reach home users, set it to 256 colours
at 640x480 pixel resolution. Do your graphics look unacceptably grainy?
Do you have to scroll from side to side to read a line of text? Design
for your potential users' hardware, not your designer's.
Virtually every Web page I've been
involved with has ended up being extensively redesigned. Plan on it
taking a couple of versions before you get it right.
Without active publicity, a Web site is as useful to your business as a
boxful of brochures sitting in your car. Put your address on your
business cards and letterhead and on all the print material and ads you
generate. Trade links with business partners. Advertise their sites in
exchange for having them do the same for you.
Don't wait for the search engines to
discover your Web site. Each allows you to submit information about
your site: name, Web address and keywords to help categorize your site.
Put effort into generating that list of keywords. A number of services,
such as Submit-it! (www.submit-it.com), can simplify the process
of letting multiple search engines know about your Web site. *