Web Design and Development

WEBSITES

The most evident form of publishing is in the use of web technologies and websites.

A visitor may be a prospective buyer of a product, service or content, or may be there for some other experience. Knowing what that experience is worth helps identify the value of every visitor and to identify the value of each event on the site.

A site needs to have clear goals, and these will be reflected in the way it is built. The site may be developed to do a range of things, such as offering sales transactions or a racting trials or sales leads; it could be developed to encourage interaction or community, or downloads, or it could be designed to promote awareness or for opinion forming or other purposes. Some sites are specifically made to work on mobile phones, others to be loaded on CDs, and so some sites are created to be platform specific. But they should all be designed to be optimized for search engines.

Websites should always be monitored to make sure they are available, are not slow to download, do not have broken links (the dreaded 404), work with all browsers (at least all the versions of Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome) and are up to date. These are the basic elements of having a respectable reputation online. A failure of any of the above and visitors (well over half of all the people who will have any sort of relationship) will think much less of the organization.

Websites, e-mail and SMS are the last bastion of corporate control online, and for most organizations even that is tenuous. Corporate control can be a much-abused privilege, with many claims in words, graphics and sounds being hype, bling and 20th century corporate/marketing speak.

Most websites still have the feel and look of a brochure. They may be full of colour and design features but are not, in themselves, an experience.

Of course they should have good clear layout and should be well designed and will offer easy navigation. These things will be tested under controlled conditions, of course (won’t they!).

But it’s worth looking beyond the facade:

  • The style and content of websites and the way they are presented need to be coherent.
  • The design should allow the developer and webmaster to control the style and layout of multiple web pages all at once. Developers can define a style for each HTML element and apply it to as many web pages as they want. To make a global change, simply change the style, and all elements in the site are updated automatically. This form of design is called ‘cascading style sheets’ (CSS), and should be adopted for most websites.
  • Every page of a website is potentially a ‘landing page’, the page that will be the first one people encounter, and all pages have to be presented as such.
  • Every page will tell a story to visitors and to search engines (yes, search engines also read the text).
  • Every page should be engaging and should offer an elegant exit, either to keep the visitor on the site or to offer a worthwhile place to go next.
  • Every page will require explanatory texts in the ‘meta data’, the code that lies behind the page and is ‘read’ by a web browser and search engine, including a title and keywords.
  • Most pages will have a capability to allow visitors to bookmark the page in social sharing networks. Many will facilitate interaction such as comment.

Put together, the pages should tell a coherent story. The values of the organization need to come out as an overriding theme, with key values more explicitly and frequently expressed. This does not mean that some slogan or pat phrase has to be on every page; far from it. If you really want to bore a visitor to death, add ‘We value your custom’ on every page. Visitors and search engines are quite capable of inferring such values from more rounded and interesting content.

Most online campaigns will have added content on the website (or microsites). This means that special ‘landing pages’ will be needed for the campaign to be coherent.

We think of websites in their traditional form, but of course there are many forms of website. Indeed, most of what we regard as social media is really another manifestation of the almost ubiquitous website. From YouTube to Flickr via MySpace, they are all websites, and most have generic equivalents available for the practitioner to copy, adapt or change. Some of them are available as open source so ware that can be adapted and changed.

When designing web pages, it is worth considering their application on different platforms. Does your new site look good on a mobile phone? Can it be used on a CD? Would you put it on a touch screen at an exhibition?