Some things should never change
I’m not keeping track but I imagine that it has been nearly ten years since I first wrote about designing for the World Wide Web. Web design in 1996 – and we use the term design as loosely as a happy hour necktie – was as different as Beck from the Beatles. During those early days, capabilities were limited by browser functionality and download speeds. Time’s fun when you’re having flies and a decade later, I have witnessed an incredible evolution having been involved in the launch of literally hundreds of web sites– some modest, some massive, some stellar, some not so much…
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE: The one thing that all of those World Wide Web sites had in common– whether it was the first site we developed or the last– is the way that they started. They were all carefully planned and organized with clear objectives of usability and functionality.
After out team proposes an Internet mission and site architecture to a client it is often reacted to by a committee of decision makers that pulls a site out of the stars and down to Earth. In the worst cases it lands in a swamp.
As your business considers a site redesign, take a tip from someone who has soared through the astral belt and seen sites shrivel due to the tightening of the corporate belt.
INTERNET MISSION: “Isn’t that the same as our traditional marketing mission?” you may rightly volley. “Not exactly,” I would return. Although your web site has the same goals as your real world marketing efforts– to educate potential customers and to develop sales, the medium is unique enough to adapt to a wholly different mission statement and strategic plan. In more than ten years of modern web marketing many companies – especially smaller players like those in the Route 422 business corridor – still haven’t gotten their arms around that difference and their sites resemble their capability brochures with all of the interactivity of a line card.
Your company’s web mission should focus on addictive content and usability. Often the first impression potential customers have of your brand; your Internet presence should hit visitors between the eyes with the most critical information right away while maintaining consistent style, layout and functionality. Because the web’s impact can no longer be denied, your site’s development might very well supercede printed collateral… Something to consider when preparing your marketing budget.
According to a recent New York Times article, users spend less than thirty seconds reviewing a landing page and a business must encapsulate exactly what they do – their mission – in very few words. That hardly leaves time for positioning – why, what your company does is better than other companies that do the same thing – but those few words must be impactful, positively positioning your enterprise on the global stage. Your Internet marketing mission should define the efficient delivery of your brand, your offering and your position in a memorable, effective presentation.
SITE ARCHITECTURE: Not only will a well-defined mission help guide your site toward success, but also adhering to a defined, approved architecture will guarantee usability and functionality for users once they arrive.
We attack site architecture with a flow chart and web design standards. The detailed flow chart defines the site’s structure as an interactive tool using multimedia and linking, while standards ensure consistency of content presentation using style sheets and guidelines.
This is a lot of preparation to create a strategy for a successful site but your company can develop solid site architecture if you remember the World Wide Web’s reverse pyramid model of content publishing. Simply stated, the broadest, most demanded content is weighted heavier and displayed earlier defining your site’s categories. Users can and will drill down for more specific information as they require it, but by allowing broad categories to create your site’s architecture, the navigation will evolve naturally.
With all of the other variables that touch site development, you still might come up with a handful of mud if you develop in-house but a strategic plan, defining your site’s mission and architecture will at least allow you to reach for the stars.