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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Planning your Site: The Who's and What's

The two questions you ought to ask yourself when you are planning to set up a new website, are: "Who will this site be for?" and "What do I want them to do?"

Determining your audience really needs to be the first step in any web design or online promotion project. If you are planning a business site, you will probably have some sort of a business plan, even it it is just in your head (though writing it down really *is* a good idea, I can tell you from experience!). Who do you want to sell your products and services to? Who is likely to buy them? What, in other words, is your target market? Those are the people you want to design your website for.

Are they older people or younger people? Educated? Professionals? Employees? Business owners? Stay at home moms and dads? Kids? Elderly? LIberal or conservative? Rich or poor? Idealistic or cynical? Are they likely to have visual impairments or disabilities? Is English their main language? Will they be able to deal with long chunks of text, or might it be better to rely more heavily on graphics or video? A lot of younger people are accustomed to take in information by audiovisual media - video tutorials, slide shows, comic style storyboards - rather than read through long reams of text. If you are targeting a younger audience, you might want to think about integrating video, audio, or perhaps even an interactive game into your site.

What is the visual style that would appeal to the people you are trying to get interested in your site? Colourful and playful, artsy and sophisticated, or down to earth and businesslike? More importantly, what are the keywords they might be looking for, and what is the information or functionality they might expect to find on your site? How computer literate are they likely to be? Will they be comfortable doing transactions purely online, or would it be best to leave a phone number so they can call you and chat you up? Or if you are targeting an overseas market, why not get your pages translated into their language? This is bound to immediately get you better search results, seeing that the vast majority of content on the web is in English - so any content in any other language will have much less competition.

Location is also important for your choice of a web hosting service. Search engines rank sites according to geographic preferences - if you are entering a search term in New Zealand, the search engine will assume that pages from New Zealand are more relevant than pages from overseas. It is the physical location of your web server that determines this: if you are targeting a local or national market, you should definitely choose a web host located in New Zealand. If you are targeting your products or services overseas, it is often a better idea to get off shore web hosting - if you are targeting a particular country, choose a host in that country, or if you're going for world wide coverage, you might be best advised to pick a host located in the US. Hosting is usually cheaper there, or at least, you tend to get more bang for your buck.

After you have figured out who the people are who will come to your website - a good exercise is to actually draw up a few "typical" personality profiles and even give them names - then you need to think about what it is you want them to *do*, once they have found your site.

If your site is an online shop, the obvious answer would be "I want them to buy something". But there are many other ways you can sell things over the net, other than getting people to click ye olde Paypal button. You could offer them a quote calculator, or ask them to fill in a form so you can get back to them with a quote. You can ask them to email you, or give you a phone call, or visit your store. You can advertise events and special promotions. You can use the site for your market research and introduce quizzes or polls to get customer information. You can get people to sign up for a newsletter and leave you their email address. You can ask people to tell others about your site - perhaps via Facebook, or Twitter, or Digg, or any other of those new fangled social media. Or you can even just use your site as a portfolio to refer people to for samples of your work, your cv and recommendations. You could also use your site to be blatantly political and get that opinion out there that none of the newspapers wants to print - though this option would be mostly interesting for non-profit organizations.

The point is, you have to ASK people to do whatever it is you want them to do - don't rely on them figuring out for themselves.

If you want to sell an item, put a Paypal button where people can see and click it, ideally right on your home page. If you would like for people to give you a call, put your phone number in bold on your front page. If you want to get emailed, put an email link. If you want people to sign up for something, set up a login system so people can't access all of the content of your page unless they sign up. If you want people to tell others, ask them to, and make it easy for them - Facebook, Twitter etc have applications that allow people to post links to their profiles at the click of a mouse.

Sometimes it is better to not be too much "in people's faces". If you have a new and innovative product or service, it might be best to get people to read up your information and recommendations first, before you try to get them to click that "Buy now" button. In those cases, think carefully about the click flow - the sequence of pages - that you want people to follow, and make it easy for them to follow that flow. A good web designer will be able to assist you with this. That is, in fact, what good design really is all about!

Asni: Multimedia Art & Design:: ::

Thursday, June 10, 2010

HTML Basics 4: Images

Another tag which is very common is the <img> tag - this embeds image files into your page. Imagine how drab the internet would look if it weren't possible to display images on a web page!

Images are separate files which need to be stored online separately, and then embedded in the HTML document. You could almost think of the image tag as another kind of link tag - except that, instead of opening a new document on a new page, it displays an external file as part of the page you are looking at. It is important to remember that all image files you are using in your website need to be uploaded to your server as well - unless they are already stored on another website, and you are pointing your image tags there.

In another blog, I talked at some length about the image formats that are used on the web - the most common are .jpg and .gif. Say you have written a piece of text for your web page, but now want to embed a graphic logo on the top of the page, and a photo next to your first paragraph. Both things are achieved with the same tag. The logo will most likely be a .gif file - which is more suitable for text and line art - say it is called logo.gif, and it will be stored on your own web server, in a folder called "images". To embed it in your page, you need to write the following line of HTML: <img src="/images/logo.gif"> - that's it! The part after the img src, between the quotation marks, needs to contain not only the file name but also the *path* to your file - directions for the browser to where your image is stored. In the above example, the file would be stored in a folder called "images" which is in the main directory of your web page (more about directories some other time!).

What if you want to use an image that is stored on a different website though? Say, your brother has taken some beautiful photos on his last holiday in Switzerland and uploaded them to his personal website, and you have asked him to use one of them to decorate your essay about dairy farming in Europe. In this case, you use the same tag, but your path is the full url of the image - that is, ithe precise location on the internet where the image file is stored. So your brother's website is called", the image is called "cow.jpg", and it is stored in a folder called "images within the main directory of your brother's website. The tag would then read: <img src=""> - as you can see, the tag itself hasn't changed, only the information where the image is located.

By default, images are displayed at the point in the site where the image tag is inserted, and displace text. If you would like to float it on the right or left side next to a piece of text, insert the following in your image tag: <img src="" float="left"> - this will display your brother's photo of a beautiful Swiss dairy cow on the left side next to the paragraph of text that follows it in the HTML code.

Asni: Multimedia Art & Design:: ::