Every enterprise today has a Website. Of course, not only businesses have a presence on the World-Wide Web. The Internet is populated also by non-profit organizations, governments & government agencies, and many, individuals.
What do these have in common? Only the World-Wide Web.
Are you thinking about creating rebuilding your current Website? If so, why?
Your Website involves a considerable investment of time and money by you and your developer. If this question is not answered at the start, the project is doomed.
Your Site—Your Business Plan
Your Website must serve one primary purpose: To further the goals of your business or enterprise. Your business plan should specify the goals, methods, and metrics you use to measure your success. Your Website should not be an afterthought or an an adjunct glommed onto your organization simply because everyone has one. Your presence on the World-Wide Web should be thoroughly integrated with your business plan. I always ask these questions of potential clients:
- How does your organization earn money?
- How can your Website help your company earn money?
- What elements of your business plan must be supported by your Website?
- Who are your primary competitors?
Every element of a Website is integrally related to these primary questions. Those elements include:
- Business Communication—How you want to build your Customer Base
- Compliance—What Web standards must your Website follow (such as Accessibility)
- Customer Communication—How you allow customers to “speak” with you
- Visitor Behaviors—Define the information architecture needed to attract visitors to your profit centers
- Branding & Brand Positioning—Branding is more than a simple image or tag line
We answer these questions BEFORE we look at the techniques, technologies, or models used to design and build the Website.
Website Models or Types
Not every Website is built on the same business model. What are the basic models? I have to note now that these models are business models; the one you select should parallel the basic business model you have identified in your business plan. Additionally, these models do not depend on the technical form used to create the Website. In other words, you can have your site built using custom designed code, commercial portals, or an open-source Content Management System (CMS) regardless of the model you select.
Your Website can be the ultimate brochure for your enterprise and nothing more. Usually, brochure sites are composed of a set of static Web pages, each of which describes some different aspect of your organization. The material presented changes rarely, so it is fairly high-level, or generic, in nature. Visitors who read this content will get a reasonably good idea of what your enterprise is about.
Brochure sites are brochures. They tell the Web world: “We’re here! This is US!” That’s about it. The only interactivity is usually provided by e-mail (“Contact Us”) links and by polls, if used. This type of site works well with enterprises where interaction is not needed and that which you offer visitors rarely changes. If your content changes frequently or you need greater interactivity between your enterprise and those who visit your site, the brochure site is probably not your best bet.
E-commerce sites sell something—anything (anything legal, that is). E-commerce sites can be built around a Business-to-Business (B2B) or Business-to-Consumer (B2C) model, or they can be hybrids. They can be set up to restrict sales to predetermined, qualified, clients or they can sell to the unrestricted public, including other businesses and individuals. E-commerce Web sites typically include any or all of these elements:
- Instant, or private, messaging
- Marketing newsletters
- Customer Relationship Management
- Shopping carts & order tracking
- Payment systems
- Shipping modules & shipment tracking
- Ticketing or reservation system
I have built and maintained e-commerce sites for clients.
Social networking sites integrate applications or Web components that offer visitors the ability to bond in a virtual network. Website owners who provide these capabilities are interested in developing a mature customer base loyal to the enterprise. Frequently, customer-produced content can be used to perfect products and services, including the functions of the Website.
There are some legal and social issues to consider, of course. Some people will post anything that comes to their minds (and fingers); the site has to be managed so that slander and libel are not allowed to be published. Others are convinced that foul language is acceptable (well, they accept it; why shouldn’t everyone?). The First Amendment applies only to government; not all recognize that, however. So, management of social networking functions involves additional responsibilities.
Social networking elements that can be implemented in a Website include:
- Comments systems
- Personal blogs & photo galleries
- Ratings of content & products
- Privacy & data security or integrity
Almost every Website I create and maintain offers social networking services to registered site members. Unregistered site visitors are rarely accorded the ability to contribute content to any of these sites.