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The Least You Need To Know About Websites

If you've been involved in website projects before, you already know all these things, but may appreciate a refresher. If this is your first website project ever, please read this in its entirety. Over the years it has become clear that people who ignore the following basic principles encounter problems that could have been avoided had they been working with knowledgeable support from the beginning. Lucille Design wrote these basics in the hopes that any potential clients can avoid those possible pitfalls. The following applies to all website development and redesign projects, meaning all projects, regardless of their size, scope or budget.

  1. Architecture really matters.

    A website that is exquisitely designed, gorgeous to look at and chock-full of relevant information may or may not be a true success. Visitors must be able to find what they are looking for, in a matter of seconds, or they will not utilize any of that fabulous information or linger to experience the site you have worked so hard to produce. Determining the number and names of menu items (categories of information, if you like) and the logical organization of all the material presented on the site is as much an art as a science. Consider that there are people who make a living consulting with grocery stores about what to put on the ends of food aisles. How your information is positioned on the site is both a strategic marketing decision and a reflection of how well you understand the way your customers (clients, funders, etc.) perceive your products (services, mission, etc.)

    Don't assume that you can successfully define the architecture for all of your varied visitors without soliciting input from other people, or that the organization of the site can be made-up "on the fly" or at the last minute. The design of the site hinges on these menu choices, so architecture decisions should precede design decisions. If you know you need to transport 5 people, you design a sedan or an SUV, not a convertible. People often get caught up looking at potential colors for a website. Colors are a lot easier to change than structure. In the beginning, concentrate on how much weight (how much text in particular) your website needs to carry.

  2. If you don't already have a logo, you're probably going to need one.

    Yes, you really do need some unifying graphic theme that can act as a visual frame of reference for your website. This could be as simple as your organization's name in a distinctive type font, but a graphic that conveys values or meaning beyond words is preferable. Lucille Design does design logos – see the portfolio for samples.

  3. To make your website available to the public, you need a hosting service.

    To be accessible on the World Wide Web, your website has to "live" on a server connected to the Internet. Hosting decisions do not need to be made at the outset of the design process, but you cannot make the site publicly available without a hosting agreement in place. Lucille Design does not provide hosting services, but can refer you to several reputable service companies that have been hosting many of her clients for years. The cheapest is often not the best. What you save in pennies you may be spending in dollars in the form of "down time" or poor tech support. A good referral is worth its weight in gold.

  4. When considering what "address" your website should use, proceed with caution.

    The URL or address of a website (such as is analogous to an 800 number: it's how your customers reach you; there is a premium put on names that are memorable, as this increases the marketing value of the name; already established businesses are understandably partial to URL addresses that closely resemble their legal names, and as such, should take pains that others do not use these addresses in their stead.

    It is a marketing coup that United Parcel Service, commonly known as UPS, has "1 800-pick-UPS" as the phone number to arrange a parcel pick-up, as this nicely plays off their name and is easy to remember. Someone else procuring that phone number is not grounds for a lawsuit, however. Likewise, anyone could purchase if Wells Fargo Bank were negligent enough to allow their modest registration fee for that name to expire. Because companies put a premium on valuable URL addresses, some opportunists use software to monitor which URL addresses are being searched and considered by prospective owners. They buy up recently searched addresses, hoping to sell them to you at a higher price when your development committee has finally reached consensus on the decision, only to find the address now unavailable.

    Consider potential addresses for your site carefully, get feedback on these names from as many people as possible, then arrange them in your order of preference before you check on their availability. If the name you want is available, buy it immediately.

  5. Cross-platform and cross-browser compatibility are a big deal.

    Lucille Design carefully checks sites for compatibility across browsers and on both Macs and PCs. Browsers are constantly changing, and new browsers are constantly entering the field. Consider your audience carefully, and if possible, as your website matures, ask him through a survey which platform and browsers they use so that you can continue to tailor your site to both your existing and your intended audiences, rather than leaving this to chance.

  6. There's no point in having a website if you keep it a secret.

    This is painfully obvious, of course, but that doesn't make it any less true. Unless you have purposefully built a site designed to draw visitors through internet advertising alone (an expensive proposition which requires an ongoing commitment to search engine optimization), most of your website visitors will be people who have already come in contact with your organization through some other means, if only through someone they know. Your website address should appear on all stationery, business cards, print newsletters, and all email correspondence, as a bare minimum. A campaign to announce the website's availability is highly recommended, as are continuing and varied incentives to visit the website.

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Unsure of the process?
See our From Start to Finish: The Making of a Website
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These terms new to you?
Try this Glossary of Web Terms
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Specializing in non-profits, small business, individual artists and philanthropy groups.