Planning a Great Web Presence

notebookLast night we guest lectured at an electronic publishing class at George Washington University where our colleague Kristen King is teaching. She is an educator, writer, and award-winning blogger who can be found at Inkthinker and on twitter @kristenking. The students were great, and a number of them worked for organizations with large websites that provided useful examples of do’s and don’t’s throughout the evening.

We led an interactive exercise to focus people on 3 essential types of information that you need when it’s time to refine or create your website (or blog). It doesn’t matter if you are a solo-entrepreneur or the lead on a large website—the fundamentals and process apply. You have to know:

1. What does your organization want from a web presence?
If you get in a car to drive to Chicago, and have no clue where to go or which direction to head—it’s unlikely you’ll arrive in a timely fashion. A web presence is no different. Knowing your goals, expectations, and what you’re trying to accomplish is mandatory. There are often many different (and conflicting) agendas in organizations. It’s important to take the time to reach an agreement about just what the organization wants to accomplish with a website.

2. Your target audience groups.
Who is your website (or blog) for? Hint, it’s not for you. It’s always for your audience. Resist the temptation to focus on how great your organization is. Focus on being the solution for your audience’s problems—the answer to their questions or challenges. What do you want to say to your audiences? How are you going to get your content out to them? What role can social networking play? How can you get your content to your target audience folks wherever they already hang out on the Web?

3. Your organization’s web competition and market.
Are you familiar with the market and your competition? If not, it’s time to get acquainted. Take a spin around the Web every three months or so to see what other people in your field are doing. What are they doing well and how can you do some of it better?

If you’re looking to redesign your organization’s website, like some of Kristen’s students, you need to assess your current site in terms of:

1. Usability.
Is it easy to find information? Is it easy to navigate? Do your users get so frustrated they just leave? Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think is a great place to learn more about making your site more usable and less frustrating.

2.  Functionality.
Does your website work as intended? Does search return reasonable results—could it be improved? Do all the links work?

3. Aesthetics.
Is the sight appealing? Are the color choices so bright that your eyes hurt to look at it? Aesthetics are important but don’t let the quest for a beautiful website make your website unusable.

4. Content.
Is the text well written and understandable? Do photos bring meaning to the text or were they just slapped into the website? Is video used appropriately or is it overkill? Smashing magazine published an excellent summary of “Clear and Effective Communications In Web Design”. It’s well worth the read.

5. Social Networking.
Are you using social networking effectively? Do twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, etc. help you market and get the word out about your site? How can you improve the way you promote your website? Take a look at our recent post on Social Networking for Business to learn more on using social networks.

Whether you’re starting a website (or blog) from scratch or looking to redesign your current one, don’t forgo the strategy and planning it takes to make your website (or blog) a success!