Web Page Design Decisions
Your Business or Organization Will Need to Make

So your'e a business owner or organization director trying to design a system of Web pages? Small business? Non-profit organization? Chamber of commerce? Christian ministry organization? Association? You have unique needs. This document will guide you through the process. When you're finished, you'll know a lot more about what goes into Web page design. You'll also have a set of design decisions to guide your own HTML adventures, to give to your local Web-page designer, or to send to me so I can design pages for your organization.

Together we'll examine together these 12 decisions:

Finally, we'll look at cost ranges.

1. Purpose: Why Do You Want to Do This?

You'll save a lot of time and money by being honest with yourself right here at the beginning. Just why are you doing this? What do you hope to achieve? What is your purpose?

"The World Wide Web is hot. Everybody is getting a Web presence. I'd better do it, too, or be left behind." This may represent your thinking, but you need more focus.

We want potential customers to learn about our company, and gain a favorable impression of us.

We want to develop a qualified list of prospects for our goods and services.

We want to sell products directly from our Web pages.

Begin with patience and the long-term view. Your business results from the World Wide Web may be immediate and spectacular. Then again, you may not make much of an impact. Be ready to soar, but realize that some products and services don't lend themselves to this medium. Talk to your Web designer about how similar types of businesses are using the World Wide Web.

2. Index Page and Site Organization

Some people call this a "home page." I like to think of it as your "storefront" on the World Wide Web marketplace. It provides an index to the set of pages which describe your business or organization.

Your web-page system will have several main sections, such as:

One of the first things your Web designer will do is ask you what you want to display on your site. This will help you be prepared to explain your concept. Take a few minutes right now to sketch out your thoughts. Include the following items:

3. Site and Domain Name

Now you need to determine a tentative name for your Web site. You may just want to use your existing business name. But your Web site focus may be broader or narrower than your organization name implies. In that case, look for a name that is descriptive, unique, short, and memorable.

Now give thought to your domain name. You may presently be using your Internet Service Provider's chosen domain name. Mine is "webcom.com". You may be able to select a domain name which is related to your site name, if the best names are not already taken. You can find out which names are still available by using the whois command command from your shell account on your host computer. At the prompt system prompt of $ or whatever, type whois garlic.com to see if garlic.com domain name has been taken. Now try the name that you'd like to use and see if it has been taken. You may have to try several variations until you find the right domain name.

You don't have to change the domain name, but it gives your site its own identity. Instead of having to type in http://www.webcomc.com/~alauck/, perhaps your customers would only have to type in http://www.success.com to get your site. Currently, the fee your Internet Service Provider pays for a new domain name is $30.00. The may charge you a bit more for his trouble. In my area, the going rate is about $30 for a domain name registration.

You need to plan on at least four weeks lead time to register a domain name, so get started with that right away if you plan to do it.

4. Main Graphic to Highlight Your Site

Your "index" or "home" page needs a graphic to look inviting. Think about it as the sign over your storefront that beckons your customer inside.

No graphic. Just use headline text. This is the easiest way to go, but dull.

Clip art graphic. Perhaps you have access to black-and-white or color clip art from a program such as Corel Draw®, or Word for Windows®, or Microsoft Publisher®. Make sure your image is copyright free; you don't want your company to be sued. Check first! Then convert it to a GIF image.

Scanned-in graphic. You may already have a company logo or an artist's drawing. You can scan this in and convert to a GIF image.

Customized Type Fonts can be developed from programs such as WordArt® within Word for Windows® or Microsoft Publisher®. You can combine text and graphics in MS Publisher, then, using your clipboard, transfer the image to Paint Shop Pro® or L View Pro® to save as a GIF image.

Scanned in photograph with type superimposed. You can find some great sky collections on the Internet, for example. Download one of these and superimpose your company's name over it. You can do this using a combination of Paint Shop Pro® and perhaps Windows Paintbrush®. Or you can let your Web designer do it for you.

Customized computer art by a computer artist. This may cost you a few bucks, but the right graphic sets the tone for your site.

Image map combined with customized computer art. The customer clicks on the subject in the graphic which interests him or her. Image maps are cool, but start to get expensive, since they take more programming skill, and require a special interface with your host computer.

A few pointers:

Okay, let's get back to the hard decisions which face you.

5. Background Color or Texture

You want to set your Web site off from all the rest. One way is with a well-designed graphic. The other is with a background texture and/or color.

Plain gray. This is your entry-level color scheme. All browsers can display it. The novice HTML writer can do this without even trying.

Colored background and lettering. If you know the right codes, you can easily change the background color so that the better browsers such as Netscape Navigator® 1.1N and others can see it. Make the letters a contrasting color.

Textured and colored backgrounds are proliferating on the Web. This is similar to the tiled wallpaper used in your Windows® desktop. Both texture and color will make your site special. But you have to be very careful that your text is easily readable when you're finished. If they can't read it they won't stay. Don't let the background overwhelm the text, but subtly complement it.

6. Basic Page Elements

If you have lots of information you need to choose between long or multiple pages.

Long pages. These are good if you expect people to print out or download your pages for future reference. You can index these to internal "bookmarks" to help your customers find their way to needed information. Netscape's "Handbook" is a pretty long file treated this way. The drawback is that long pages of 40K or more may be more than you customers will want to wait for. Webmasters mutter words like "bandwidth" and shake their heads.

Multiple shorter pages. Here your index links jump to many shorter pages that treat just one subject each. It doesn't take as long to view, but if you think people will want to download or print out 10 different pages, think again.

Check below the elements which you want to include on every page:

Page title which displays at the top line of your Web browser is very important because it often shows up in search engines such as Web Crawler®. Make this descriptive, using key words that people might use to find your page.

Top-of-page graphic. A small graphic at the top of each of your pages helps unify your Web pages. You can use a smaller version of your main "index page" graphic. Or perhaps a banner at the top of the page with your company name and a small logo. I always call this something like "banner.gif". That way if I want to change it, I don't have to alter every page. Just upload a new image with that name. Do you want this top graphic: centered, upper left, or upper right?

Page background. Textured and colored backgrounds unify your pages. I call this something like "bkgrnd.gif" so it can be changed easily.

Headline Type. Decide what size to use on these "sub-pages" and use it consistently.

Text. Go very sparingly on the headline typefaces. Use the normal typeface instead. It looks more modest. There is such a thing as overkill.

Last update. I usually include something like "This page last updated on December 26, 1995". I change it every time I make a change in the page, so I can tell at a glance if recent updates have affected this page or not.

URL address. You don't have to include this, but if you expect people to download or print out your page, such as the text of an article, you'd be wise to include a line like "The URL of this document is http://garlic.com/rfwilson/smal-bus.htm" or some such. That way they'll know from the printed page how to get back to your Web site.

Jump lines. If you have a complex site, you may want to have one-or two-word designations which will allow your customer to jump to another section of your Web site. Most common is a "home" or "top of page" jump, sometimes using "clickable images" or "buttons."

The power of the Web is its ability to link to any other page in the world. But be very careful. You've just got the customer in your store. Don't quickly send him away. Resist your impulse to show off your knowledge of cool sites until you've got your customer's name, address, and hopefully his order. This is business.

Signature. Sign your pages so the author is apparent (e.g. Produced for Success Unlimited, Inc.).

E-mail address, which when clicked takes your customer to a "mail to" form which allows him or her to send you e-mail, such as "E-mail feedback to alauck@interramp.com"

7. Finishing touches

Horizontal Rules. These don't take any extra time to download. They can be varied in length and width if you know the codes.

Graphix lines take a few seconds, but can spice up your page, especially if they are coordinated with the color scheme you have designed. Don't overdo it.

Colored balls, arrows, and pointers are also available. But be careful. A little color goes a long way. Don't just add these to show off.

"Updated" or "New" markers draw your customers' attention to items you may have added recently. How about "Sale" or "Special"? Again, don't overdo it: only one or two per page. More than that defeats the purpose.

8. Photos and Graphics

You'll want to illustrate your products or services to help tell your story. Or you may want to put your whole catalog online. Remember to use the <IMG ALT=> tag so customers who don't have graphics will know what the image shows. Here are a few decisions.

Color Images. Color grabs people. Tell your story through a few pictures. Obtain professional-quality photos of your products locally. Then send your Web designer the photos. In my area I can get a color scan of an 8-1/2"x11" page for about $8.00 (but 8-1/2"x11" is way too big to display). Keep the size of these down so that your customer doesn't have to wait all day to be able to see them. He may just click to another site and be gone. 20K to 40K is the acceptable range for people with 14.4K modems. You need to be able to resize or crop as needed so your photos are sized appropriately for the page, and don't take too long to download.

Clickable thumbnail images are one compromise. You show the picture in a thumbnail size image. If the customer is interested he or she can click on it to display the larger photo. You can also give the image size, such as 57K, so the customer has an idea of whether or not he ought to choose this option.

Type of image is important, too.

GIF iimages can be viewed by all browsers.

JPEG images compress better and thus load faster, but can only be viewed by newer browsers such as Netscape. But in a few months, all browsers will probably support JPEG images. Be patient.

Clickable images which offer a choice of JPEG or GIF are another way to go.

Here's another decision. Do you want ...

A rectangular image with color to the edges.

Transparent areas around your graphics. Your Web designer will know how to make transparent backgrounds which make images appear to "float" over the page. Do-it-yourselfers can accomplish this using L View Pro®.


Video clips

9. Forms to Get Orders or Customer Response

You need to connect with your customer. These are options which return information from your customer to you by e-mail.

Guestbooks. You can entice potential customers to sign your guestbook and perhaps receive a free gift. Their answers to key questions help you qualify them as a prospect to pursue by telephone or direct mail (or e-mail, for that matter). If you work this right, you might even be able to sell the information to mailing list companies. Just don't make your potential customers mad at you.

Requests for Information. Have a place for name, address, phone number, etc., as well as check boxes to request information on certain products or services.

Order Forms. Ideally, you take the order right on-line. The problem is that in mid-1995, a method of credit card information security is still in the design stage. You might want to use a combination of an order form and an 800 number. Former customers could order on the basis of credit information they have previously given you. Or you might have a page which contains an order form your customer can print out, fill out manually, and mail in with a check. By the end of 1995, the problem will have been largely solved.

Your choices will also include how you get the information sent to you by e-mail. This requires CGI (Common Gateway Interface) programming--that is the really tricky part.

Hire a consultant to write your CGI script for you.

Employ your Web designer to take care of this for you. Some Web designers have highly tuned programming skills. Others develop partnerships with programmers to get your job done the way you want it. Your designer will also work with your host computer system operator to set up the program in a cgi-bin directory.

10. Uploading and Testing Your Pages

Arrange with your Web designer for some procedure to view new or modified pages before they are committed to the Internet.

Getting all interested parties' stamp of approval before the pages are loaded on your Web site is critical to saving time and expense. Check that the design meets your approval and that all information is correct and up to date.

11. Registering and Advertising Your Site

If you build it will they come? Only if they can find you. There are several ways of registering your site. Index your site with all the major Web index servers.

Signature. Subscribe to mailing lists and news groups likely to include potential customers. Actively involve yourself in the discussions, but don't overtly "push" your product. Let the "signature" at the end of your e-mail message do that for you. Use something like:


SUCCESS UNLIMITED, INC.                 Joe Schamole, Owner

          Your choice for Advertising Specialties

Pens - Mugs - Flyswatters - Refrigerator Magnets - T-Shirts

          Visit SUCCESS UNLIMITED for free samples

=========== http://www.success-unlimited.com ==============

Participation takes some time and work, but it's worth it, since you are targeting your marketing efforts on those most likely to purchase your product. This is your job, though your Web designer can help you find the right mailing lists and news groups.

Web search engines. There are a dozen or so Web search engines for the Internet such as Lycos®, Web Crawler®, and Yahoo®. Resister your "index" page with each of these.

Links from Related Pages. You may find some people in a complementary business who will agree to reciprocal links with your page. Or one-way links for a modest fee. You know your industry better than your Web designer. You need to explore the Internet for yourself.

Links from Industry Index pages. There may be an "advertising" page which links all related pages at no cost. Tell them about yours.

Send brief "press release" announcements to services which announce "what's new" on the Internet. You just might hit it lucky and have hundreds of people see the announcement and flock to your site--if you're selected for the weekly "scout report.".

Place your Web site address or URL on all your display ads, literature, stationery, and business cards. This will attract customers to your site to learn more about your business and your products.

12. Maintaining Your Site

Once you get up and running, after testing all your links and correcting the inevitable errors, you need to keep your Web-site current. You'll need to think of how to handle:

You have choices here, too.

Let your Web designer do it. Provide for your Web designer to update your pages.

Have your Web designer train you or a staff member how to update files, especially if you have some computer talent within your company. With this option, you'll need to use the Web designer in the future only for major changes.

Keep your Web designer on a retainer to maintain your pages monthly or as needed. This saves you or your people from having to become experts on HTML. Your Web designer becomes part of your team without being on your payroll; hire him or her as an outside contractor.

Ignoring long-term page maintenance is not a realistic option.

Determining Cost Ranges

Do it yourself is, of course, the cheapest so far as cash outlay. You need a word processor that will code HTML documents. However, the hidden cost is your time. To be any good, it will take you at least 20 or 30 hours of study and practice. And you'll be constantly tinkering with the mistakes you've made--or leave your site forever mediocre. Time is money!

Small businesses and organizations. Simple web pages with modest graphics and a guestbook will probably cost you $100 per page or more when averaged over the whole job. Few Web designers, however, will give you a binding estimate, since each project has its own unique challenges. You can cut costs by supplying diskettes to your Web Designer of materials you have already typed into your computer. For an outlay of $300 to $1,500, you can get a set of professionally-designed pages. You'll save time up front by incorporating this Web Design Decision Sheet in your design plans with your Web designer, since you will have thought through the basic questions already. This is the price niche that I am trying to serve for small businesses, non-profit organizations, associations, and governments.

Medium sized companies may spend from $1,500 to $10,000 on Web page design. They are probably paying for the expertise--and overhead--of an advertising agency specializing in Web page design. Custom graphics, image maps, and CGI programs can be expensive.

Larger corporations may expect to spend from $10,000 to half a million or more. Sometimes you can see the difference, sometimes you can't. Animation, video clips, and sound can cost a pretty penny--but they can attract people who might be your customers.

Web Page Design Decisions for Businesses and Organizations
Independent Systems Development
Al Lauck

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