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Developing Web Sites: An Introduction
Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®

You've a great product or service but your only hope of making your product or service a success is to make it available on-line. We provide some common sense guideline and principles in ensuring your site doesn't let you down.

Visitors, Your Life Blood
Those new to web design will soon realise web design is not simply a matter of pulling a box of the shelf from your local computer store and clicking a few buttons. Web design is expensive in planning and development time and requires many skills to deploy and maintain successfully.

Design, Not Marketing
Remember that web design is distinct from Internet marketing. Many new to the Internet believe visitors will pour in as soon as the site is released. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why will people be interested in your site when they have thousands of others to choose from, and how do they get to know about your site in the first place?

No matter how great a site looks or what fabulous products and services you offer, web sites require money and time to effectively promote and maintain effective search engine placement. Ensure you have an adequate marketing budget and that your marketing research is integrated into your overall planning stage.

Make it Simple
The most important principle to keep in mind when publishing for a mass audience is to make your publication simple to use and understand. People will want to find out about your product and/or service fast when they're browsing and they're not interested in dancing logos or movie presentations.

The Big Secret
You want your web site out there now. You want a great site that brings visitors by the bucket-load and transforms them into customers. You want but you won't get so easily. Web site development is a publishing medium and developing a quality site is a long process. Here's the secret of creating a great web site: take time. The more time you give to planning and developing your design and content, the better your site will be. Software doesn't make a great site, people do.

Plan, Plan, and Plan Again
You'll need to make your site attractive. Making a site attractive requires a good eye for visual design so be honest, if your skills lay elsewhere you're going to have to pay for the services of a web designer. If you're buying in a web designer research their services well before you commit to them.

Be very clear about what you want from your site before you approach a web designer. Will your site serve a promotional requirement or are you planning to sell products and/or services on-line? Will your site have 'dynamic' elements (product lines, regular updates, changing content)? You'll need a designer/s who's capable of developing the site as you envision it. In short, your initial planning stage must be complete and you must be very clear about your web site's content, design style, target audience, marketing requirements, and budget.

Required Skills
The following skills are essential for developing an effective web-site (despite rumours to the contrary Database design is not essential to producing an effective site). When any element falls short your site's effectiveness will significantly suffer:

• Project Development: keeping your project on time and within budget
• Visual Design: developing attractive, relevant and usable web site graphics
• Content Editorial: writing and editing (see our article on Web Page Copy)
• Database Design: developing and integrating database elements
• Marketing Management: ensuring your site gets seen
• Maintenance: continuous web site development

Getting Technical
You've spent a great deal of time considering what you want from your web site, who it's for, and the technologies you'll need to deliver it (a simple html site or a complex database site).

There are a number of free web site development software titles that can assist in producing a quality site but there's a significant payoff when travelling this route. Free and budget web site development software either produce visually generic sites that look and feel like thousands of others, or requires a willingness and ability to dive into the world of HTML (the special tags used to create a web page) and JavaScript (a scripting language which is used to embed small
programs such as pop-up windows into the HTML code of a webpage).

Essential Tools
If you feel you're up to integrating the results from the following less expensive products into a single web site entity you'll save money but not time (which some may argue is money):

• HTML Editor: creates the special tags required for a browser to read your web page
• Image Editor and Optimiser: creates your images ready for Internet publication and ensures they are as small as possible for Internet publication
• Meta Tag Generator: ensures your site is indexed correctly by search engines
• Link Checker: ensures all local and external image and text links are working
• FTP utility: an application to transfer files from a local folder to your server

The All Round Solution
For an integrated all-round web site
development it's hard to better Macromedia's Studio MX (2002-2007). We use it to develop AbleStable® and have found it by far the best integrated solution on the market.

You may have further software requirements that Studio MX doesn't provide like a Sound editor. Your job here will be to revisit your plans for the site and choose the software according to its' needs.

Although Macromedia Studio MX seems to carry a hefty price tag it's great value as it consists of: Flash MX; Dreamweaver MX; Fireworks MX; Freehand MX; and ships with a developers addition of ColdFusion MX. The two applications that are indispensable are Dreamweaver MX to develop and deploy your site, and Fireworks MX to create and optimise images. The huge advantage of Macromedia products over others is the vast arsenal of additional plug ins for their applications (Macromedia calls these 'Extensions'). Most of these extensions are free and increase the Studio's effectiveness immeasurably.

Keeping Current
Your final and ongoing task will be to maintain your site. If you want visitors to return and recommend your site you'll have to provide a premium service. Here's a list of must do ongoing tasks:

• Ensure you have an effective feedback facility for visitors to report problems
• Check your links sitewide (internal and external) on a regular basis
• Keep your content current
• Add new material on a regular basis
• Regularly test your site for ease of use
• Resolve any reported problems immediately
• Constantly improve the quality of your on-line service

The Future of Web Design
During the early development of the Internet it was relatively easy for one person to develop and run a web site. As time passes and the Internet grows and matures new technologies are introduced and it is becoming increasingly difficult for one person to master all that's required to build a site that will hold it's own against the competition.

There seems little doubt that within ten years the Internet will be divided into two distinct areas. Those who sell and those who don't. Visiting a non-commercial site will be a different experience than visiting a commercial one as Internet specialisms increase and web site design becomes an ever more complex process of delivering interactive multimedia commerce-publications.

 

     
       
 
Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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