Web 101 |
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Web sites commonly experience a life cycle. It's like opening a store. You are really excited when the sign goes up - but the idea is to get someone into the store, not just look at the sign. Once they are in the store, you want them to interact with you, not just leave. And you want them to come back again. A web site's usefulness (and return on investment) is directly related to how well it communicates and interacts with the visitor.
Growing a web site takes effort. From the planning stage through implementation there are a multitude of desisions to be made. Each decision affects the outcome. And, like a tree, web sites change over time.
Following material adapted from The Stages of Site Development
- The Seed Stage
- The first stage of Web development is usually the creation of a sort of company brochure. This will contain some pretty pictures, the name of the organization, the basic mission, and frequently a listing of the names of staff and board members. It may offer an email address to write to for more information. This type of site is seldom updated. It's like a seed - full of promise but not much happening yet. At this stage you haven't really established any relationship with the visitor. The greatest accomplishment of the seed stage website is that the site owner can say they are 'on the Web'.
- The Sprout Stage
- When you start adding content you approach more of an online magazine style of web site. Your seed has sprouted and the site starts to grow. You begin posting your newsletters. Project reports can add depth to your site. The public may bookmark your site as one to come back to later, or may download or print one or more specific articles from the web site. Sprout stage magazine style sites are updated about every three or four months. At this stage there is often a sign-up for a future newsletter, but no real plan to regularly communicate via email.
- The Leaf Stage
- Just like a tree, a web site at the leaf stage has lots of pages. The focus of the web site becomes active in that there is a serious effort to obtain email addresses, and to regularly communicate. There is a plan to send something to the addresses on the list at least monthly. The web site now has a targeted audience.The web site and e-mail activities are a critical part of outreach efforts. The content is much deeper than the magazine stage. The emphasis is on fostering the relationship between the organization and the members. At this point there is a commitment of time each week to web site updates, e-mail and e-newsletter management.
- The Harvest Stage
- The harvest stage site has grown into a community web site. It has the best of the earlier stage elements, and the web master has learned quite a bit about the visitors from looking at the statistics files, running some polls, contacting members on the elist. Features may be added that enable the communications to occur between the organization and the membership and between the members, themselves. Communication is more two-way ie more discussion based rather than broadcast-announcement style. At this point, there is a significant amount of time involved in web site management, and communications. It may take a dedicated staff person to keep things going smoothly.
- Plan for the future.
- Webs which start with a brochure-style web site nearly always move up to the magazine-style site within a year. Since much of the initial cost of a web site is in the initial design, planning for growth would be a wise choice. Most organizations will be satisfied with the return on investment for a web site that falls in either the magazine stage or the outreach stage. The critical issue actually becomes timeliness of site maintenance and updates.
- Don't put up what you can't maintain.
- Failing to plan time for updates is a web site killer. A good web brochure is better than a web magazine that never updates. A good web magazine updated quarterly is better than an outreach site that is always out of date.
- Plan features for the amount of visitors you attract.
- A real-time forum with no activity is much worse than a e-newsletter than comes out 4 times a year. Don't add feature that you don't understand or that your visitors won't use. You can always add the chat rooms later. Try out new features using free tools before laying out a lot of dollars on something that proves unpopular with your particular visitors.