Building a better Web site

A great site starts with a great plan

Web surfers are ready to spend money. With a small investment of time and money your site can divert dollars from your competitors who aren’t online when the customer’s fingers do the clicking. In thisseries we’ll walk you through the entire pro-cess of creating a Web site-from concept to completion.

WHAT KIND OF SITE?
The most important question to answer is: Why do you need a Web site? Many businesses approach the Web without a clear idea of how it can enhance their overall business objectives. Do you want to interact with your customers or suppliers or both? Will you have visitors register on your site so you can build a database of potential customers? The answers will help you decide what kind of site best suits your needs. Begin thinking of the Web as an integral part of your business and treat it accordingly-not as an afterthought.

There are two basic kinds of sites, informational and interactive. An informational site can be as simple as a company logo, contact information and a listing of services. More elaborate ones may include a product listing with photos or a three-dimensional virtual tour of your offices. Although the cost and complexity of these sites vary greatly, they share a common denominator: users can get information by tapping into your site, but they can’t take any immediate Web-based action.

Interactive sites can range from a simple Web page with a questionnaire to full-fledged e-commerce that allows users to buy goods online.

Many companies are seduced by the Internet and assume they must have the biggest and most elaborate site, but if that doesn’t make sense for your business objectives, don’t do it.

“We wanted prospective customers to learn about our company and capabilities,” says Kevin Jackson, chief technology officer for Sentel (www. sentel.com), an Alexandria, Virginia-based BE 100s company that creates integrated wearable computers for NASA and people who need hands-free access to a computer when on the road. “By showcasing the software and hardware we integrate, we can prove how this information technology

supported our other core areas,” adds Jackson. Although Sentel is a high-tech company, its Web presence is simply a marketing tool-thus an informational site.

INFORMATIONAL SITES
These sites are fairly simple to create and can even be developed in-house with off-the-shelf software. Most small companies have the site hosted by a professional Web services company to avoid the cost of maintaining an in-house Web server.

You can add graphics, sound and even video and panning/zooming panoramas to the site to boost the sense of interactivity for your visitors. Although anyone can pop these things into a page with little effort, creating the content requires a competent designer who understands your strategy and how it translates to the Web. If out-sourced, “brochure” sites can cost from a few hundred dollars to $75,000 in design and consulting fees, depending on what you want.

A business card or billboard site is the simplest form of a Web presence. It can be a single-page that announces your company name, purpose and contact info

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ACROSS THE WEB