Mom was a whiz at jigsaw puzzles. She would kneel on a chair at the dining room table with 2,000 tiny, irregular pieces spread across the wide expanse of polished oak. Humming in the glow of the incandescent light of the chandelier over her head, she would move with almost mechanical precision as she organized the pieces by color. Starting with the pieces that had a straight edge, Mom would then begin the construction process. The louder she hummed, the faster she went, her arms following the rhythm of the song, her fingers providing emphasis at the appropriate time by tapping a piece on the table two or three times.
Creation of a successful web presence is similar in many ways to completing a jigsaw puzzle. Each element has a different size and fits with the other elements in a random pattern that when completely assembled presents an easily identifiable end result. To complete the process swiftly without losing any of the elements, it is a good idea to set them all out on the table in front of you.
The truly costly part of web development is labor. Giving credence to the Principle of the 6 P’s (Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance), you can keep cost low, minimize frustration, and achieve the end result you are seeking by knowing, understanding, and assembling the elements of a successful project in advance. The elements are:
Goal: Your goal must be crystal clear. Why do you want this website? Is it to establish credibility in the marketplace? Do you want to create an image of size or substance? Do you want to provide answers to common questions or to efficiently deliver instructions, definitions, or current news about your products or services? Do you want to get contact information, or do you want to sell something?
Target Market: Is it the residents of your hometown, your state, the US, North America, the BRIC countries?
One Visit vs. Multiple Visits: Do you want to build a relationship, or will you be satisfied with a single or infrequent visit?
Image: Is it important? Do you want to appear better/more successful/larger/more efficient/more diverse than your competition? What is the image you wish to present?
Presentation: Is it visual or text-oriented? Do you want to show people how your product/office/service looks, or do you want to provide detailed features and benefits? If you want to focus on imagery, do you have high-resolution photos or renderings? Has the text been written?
Organization: A website should read like a book. There should be a natural path that leads the visitor through the content from introduction to action. Each page of the website should build toward the ultimate conclusion in an efficient and logical manner. That plan should be laid out in a schematic diagram that identifies each page and its relationship to every other page.
Layout: Do you have specific thoughts regarding the style of each page? Do you want the style to be consistent or to vary? Image across the top? Navigation below or above the image, at the top, bottom, or side of the page? Do you want to split the navigation and have it in two places?
Contact: Do you want a simple email message, or do you want a registration form? Do you want the contents of the registration form delivered to a database? If you are using a registration form, do you have additional questions beyond basic contact information that you would like to ask?
Bells and Whistles: Do you want an animated (Flash) introduction or design element on each page? How many languages? Do you have a video you would like to present? Do you want music? These elements must be planned/assembled in advance.
Deadline: Is this website part of a larger marketing plan? Will you be placing advertising or scheduling presentations to introduce the website? Is there a season you wish to catch or some event that will occur in conjunction with the website introduction?
Domain: Do you own and control (i.e. Do you possess the username/password issued by the registrar?) the domain? Is it properly configured to allow concatenation (accessing the website using either www.domain.com or domain.com)?
Hosting Services: A domain name is an alias for an IP (Internet Protocol) address. How many domains will be sharing your assigned IP address? It is in your best interest to keep sharing to a minimum, because the performance or failure of one website can affect the performance of all websites sharing that IP address. If your website will include animation or video presentations, does your hosting company provide special streaming services that will allow a pause free presentation?
Email: How many email addresses will you require? You should have a list that includes the way you would like the address to read and a password for each address. Do you want actual email boxes or forwards to existing email boxes? Email addresses like, email@example.com, should be avoided, since those generic addresses are targets for spam.
Once you have a firm grasp of all the information contained in these 13 points, you are ready to sit down with the professionals and have them help to assemble your puzzle. It is in your best interest to have a team that includes a graphics designer, a web programmer, and an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) specialist sitting at the table with you. Their individual skills are equally important. Future posts will address and expand upon each of their roles.