joke in this industry is the one where the client calls
the Webmaster and asks, "How much does a Web site cost?"
The Webmaster answers, "That depends. What do you want the
site to do?" to which the client answers, "I don't
know-what can you do with a Web site?" The Webmaster
responds, "That depends. How much do you want to spend?"
Web sites are so new that no one knows
what they should cost. There are reports of people
spending tens of thousands of dollars to put up a few
pages. Then you hear about the high school sophomore who
puts up 12 pages for $400.
What Kind of Site are you Building?
Although the joke above may stretch the
issue, it is often the case that prospective owners have
little idea why they want a Web site. They just know that
they need to be "on the Web," or that management has
decreed that they "put up a site."
One of the tasks of the expert Webmaster
is to help clients define their purposes in putting a site
on the Web. These purposes can be considered at three
- Level One: Goals-The overall business
purpose of the site. "We want to sell our product
through the Web."
- Level Two: Objectives-Measurable
indicators that a goal has been met. "We want to sell
$100,000 worth of our product by the end of July."
- Level Three: Milestones-Measurable
indicators that test whether the objectives will be met.
"If we are going to sell $100,000 by the end of July, we
must have the site complete and announced by the end of
There are at least three goals an
organization might have in setting up a Web site:
- Direct action-as a result of visiting
the site, users will do something, such as place an
order for the product.
- Delayed action-as a result of
visiting the site, users will remember the site and come
back when they are ready to take action (such as buying
- Indirect action-as a result of
visiting the site, users will do something that does not
necessarily involve the Web.
A First-Cut Storyboard:
Many clients are not sure why they want
a Web site so it's impossible for them to set objectives
or participate in the design process. Here's a process the
site developer can use to help clients clarify their goals
- Learn about the industry. Form an
opinion about whether the company should expect direct
action, delayed action, or indirect action.
- Visit similar Web sites. Use Lycos,
Yahoo, and other search engines to find existing sites.
- Visit online mailing lists and UseNet
newsgroups that relate to the client's industry. Visit
mailing lists and UseNet newsgroups that relate to
Internet sales and marketing. Check the frequently asked
questions (FAQs) and archives of these groups to see if
anyone has told a success story (or reported a failure)
in this industry.
- Examine surveys such as ActivMedia's
review of the Web to find out what this industry can
expect on the Web.
- Present the results of this research
to the client. Describe a realistic scenario based on
the research and make a recommendation for a goal.
Present a rough storyboard, called a Web treatment,
of the proposed site.
Marketing experts use the acronym AIDA
to describe the marketing and sales process:
On the Web, "attention" translates to
visits. A site can't be effective if no one visits it.
Three ways to bring in users to a Web site are:
- Have the site listed in databases and
directories (not just the usual ones but also
- Present the URL everywhere-on
business cards, stationery, in print ads-anywhere the
- Get the site talked about. This
"talk" can take the form of reviews in print magazines,
conversations in UseNet newsgroups or in online mailing
lists, or people meeting at the water cooler.
When users arrive at the site, hold
their interest. Whereas lots of sites use impressive
graphics, sounds, and even animation, most experienced
Webmasters acknowledge that the most effective
interest-holding tool is content. We use content
here to mean information that is of use or interest to
users, even if they do not take the desired action.
In a Direct Action site, the goal is to
bring users to the point where they decide to take action.
In the example of the Displaced Cajun page, by the time
users find their way to the order form, they have had a
grand tour of mouthwatering Cajun recipes. Many of these
users have decided (one hopes) to order some Cajun food.
In a Delayed Action site, the site
should bring users to the point where they make a decision
to remember this site. They may bookmark the page or enter
it in a site-monitoring service such as URL-minder.
An Indirect Action site combines many of
the features of a Direct Action and a Delayed Action site.
The Webmaster wants users to find out enough about the
product to make a decision, but users can't take action
on the Web site.
Often, an effective strategy is to turn
the Indirect Action site into a Direct Action one: offer
users a form to fill out that allows them to register
their interest. These registrations are later turned over
to people who qualify the user and close the deal. For a
commercial site, these "closers" are called salespeople.
For, say, a political party, the closers might be
volunteers who follow up with users to help them "get out
It is the responsibility of the
Webmaster to help clients set realistic objectives for
their site, based on their experience and research.
Irresponsible Webmasters promise everything, deliver
little or nothing, and leave a trail of angry clients
saying that "the Web doesn't work."
Professional designers don't leave their
clients at all. They build effective sites that meet
objectives and work to maintain the site to enhance its
To help clients visualize the
recommended site, the Webmaster can use presentation tools
to prepare a treatment or storyboard of each page.
Usually, the first graphic should show a high-level view
of the site: where is the home page and what can the
visitor access from there? How many "layers" are there to
In the sample site, the realtor wants to
attract people to list their homes with that company.
Signing a listing agreement is not something most folks
are likely to do over the Web, so a reasonable goal is to
have people call the realtor and schedule an
appointment-making it a Delayed Action site.
If the site is successful, users might
be interested in filling out a form on the Web site to
tell the realtor they are interested in the realtor's
services-making it a Direct Action site.
Refining The Concept:
Once the client decides to move forward
with the project, the Webmaster gathers information from
the client for each of the pages. For example, what makes
this realtor unique? Why would someone choose this realtor
instead of a competitor?
Many clients are able to supply print
ads, brochures, and other collateral material to help the
Webmaster get started. Although the Webmaster may need
additional material to provide effective content, existing
copy is a good place to start.
The Webmaster should also get started on
graphics at this point. For many sites, the only graphic
needed may be the client's logo. The client should supply
a clean copy that the Webmaster can scan into the