- Let everyone on your staff and board give feedback on your design, and apply everyone’s preferences.
- Put someone in charge who doesn’t care about the website.
- Replace pages or menu items with PDFs.
- Make your mission statement about six paragraphs long and put it front and center of the homepage.
- Hide the donation forms. It also helps to make it really hard to use.
- Don’t apply any kind of strategy to the site. Just throw it up and assume you’ll get support.
- Make sure you don’t look “too polished,” because no one will give you money unless the site looks like it was built on a shoestring.
- Assume no one looks at your site.
- Put up a bunch of unrelated pages with an unclear and incoherent message.
- Design for your board members (or yourself) rather than your audience.
- Leave development to a volunteer.
- Leave design to a volunteer.
- Play hot potato with updating website pages. The biggest sucker is in charge of keeping it current.
- Forget about your other communications efforts. Never cross reference them. Never meet with the people in charge of putting them together.
- Make your decision on a web developer based on cost alone, assuming you don’t always get what you pay for.
Zen Garden by euart, on Flickr
It’s 9 a.m., Monday morning. The phone is already ringing as you download the dozen or more e-mail messages that came in over the weekend. Someone pops their head into your office and tells you that the main printer has gone down and no one is there to fix it. Can you? This is especially troubling, especially because a major grant report is due by noon.
A typical day for countless strapped non-profit managers who are forced to do too much with too little. It’s how most of our clients are, so I understand how challenging it can be to take on a new web development project. We guide our clients through the process, but it still takes collaboration and planning from everyone. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
The trick with any big project, is to divide the greater goal (building a website) into more manageable bits. I once read that the great cellist Yoyo Ma’s father told him to “couper la difficulté en quatre” (divide the difficult part into four pieces) when working on a difficult piece of music. That simple formula helps with almost anything that makes your heart palpitate.
Web projects naturally break into smaller phases, so it’s relatively easy to focus on what’s important right now versus what needs to happen by launch. Forget about launch. At the beginning, think about general goals, then fill in the gaps.
To take Mr. Ma’s advice literally, here’s how you can think of a web development project in four easy-to-manage phases:
When you’re in the Research phase, the other three phases shouldn’t even be registering yet. Instead, break Research into four smaller tasks that you can focus on sequentially, such as:
- Deciding who your ideal website audience is
- Asking representatives from that audience for their website wish-list ideas
- Asking your staff what their wish list is
- Deciding who will be part of your website team (internally and externally)
If any of those seem like too much work, divide them into four tasks. Keep going granular until you feel like you can check off each item amongst the rest of the responsibilities you have each day. Websites are vitally important, but so is running your organization.
Focus on only what you need to when you need to, and you’ll see that you can accomplish more than seemed possible in the beginning.
[Image: Flickr user euart]
Never one to turn down a free bagel, I sent away for a coupon from my friendly neighborhood bagel shop. They e-mailed it, as promised, but without any regard for the way most e-mail programs by default disable images. Because the entire thing is an image, I couldn’t tell what arrived in my in-box, and I almost deleted it before recognizing the subject line.
Here’s what I was looking at:
What happens if you go picture-bonkers
The lesson? Use images judiciously in your outgoing messages. And always make sure you use ALT text in case pictures don’t display.
If you don’t know who’s visiting your website, you can’t accurately guide them to the information they’re most likely looking for. That’s why before you begin planning a new website project, you should do a little demographics research. Your research into who’s using your site – the people who make up the segments of your audience – will prove invaluable when you begin working on a web building (or rebuilding) project.
The best way to do this is to take it to a literal extreme by creating a user profile, sometimes called a persona. We use these in web development to help us imagine the many ways visitors will use a website and to know how different visitors’ needs differ. Think of it as a character profile for a book. You should know things about the person’s age, gender, financial background, job description, computer set-up, nationality, etc.
It even helps sometimes to associate that persona with a picture and a name. That might help solidify the fact that real people go to your website, not just traffic numbers.
Here’s a sample questionnaire you can use to begin thinking about the people who visit your website. Copy and paste is into a document and fill in the blanks. Flesh it out if you think you can come up with additional important characteristics.
Website User Profile
Other important demographic characteristics:
Job description and responsibilities:
How often will this person use the website:
Computer and software capabilities:
Tasks they will perform on the website (be specific and list in order of importance):
The Talance team will be at Drupal Design Camp Boston this weekend at MIT. We’re looking forward to sharing designing and usability ideas with others who work on Drupal. We’ll also be talking to nonprofiteers and Drupal newbies to pick up insight into how we can help you better. Stay tuned for special reporting of the event.
Give us a shout if you’re interested in meeting up!
One of the first questions we ask during the kickoff of a new project is, “Who’s taking ownership of this project?” It’s incredible how many times that answer is, “Nobody.”
Unless you plan to let your website turn into a ghost town, put somebody in charge. Appointing no one as the website manager will have one of two outcomes: no one will do anything and your site will rot, or someone will do everything, but you’ll never respect or realize the amount of work they do.
Being a website manager is a big job. Bigger than you may realize. This is often the go-to person for all questions and updates for the website. If anyone wants something done, it falls to them. And the job doesn’t end. When the web development project is over, you take over updates and maintenance.
OK, now I’ve convinced you that you need to appoint someone as the website manager, and that their job is an important one. But who to appoint? Look for someone who …
Knows a little (not not necessarily a lot) about how web pages are built
Contrary to popular belief, whoever manages your website does no need to be a techno-wiz. If you need any heavy lifting done, it’s usually easier and cheaper to ask your web development company to help out. Of course, providing you have a good relationship with them. The majority of updates to your site will be tweaks here and there, which are mostly text changes. It is helpful if your web manager knows what a P-tag is and has monkeyed around with a content management system or two.
Is wildly organized
To work well with a computer, it helps to think a little like a computer. I’m still talking carbon-based life form, but that life form should be very organized. This person should be keep schedules and be good at documenting methods for updates and changes. They should have systems for organizing copy and pictures. They should remember passwords. They should be good at follow-through.
Is a good promoter
Your manager extraordinaire should also be savvy about promotion. Even if you have a marketing person on staff, your manager should know something about how to submit your website to search engines or repost blog entries. It’s helpful if they’re familiar with Facebook or Twitter, because they can help broadcast your message to a wider public. They can also be looking at new ways to promote your mission beyond what you might think up.
A good web manager can pay for themselves several times over. You’ll be glad you started taking this position seriously.
How many times have you sat down in a hairdresser’s chair and said, “Surprise me”? Not often, I’ll bet. All but the most adventurous (or foolhardy) have at least a minor plan when they have their hair cut.
Now, why would you subject your website to the same risky random results? Any time you’re planning to launch a new website or overhaul your existing one, have a plan. In the biz, we call this a project brief.
There’s no real right or wrong way to write a brief, as long as you capture information and make it easy to deliver information to a web developer. One risk is to make the brief too, well, brief. Err on the side of too much information, and then you can edit down what’s superfluous with a web professional.
There are a few items that you should always include in a project brief, however. Here are a few:
Some organizations are understandably cagey with this information, but know what you have to spend and what’s reasonable for the site you want. Make sure to share this information with your developer, at least a general ballpark. A budget of $1000 will get you a very different website from one that costs $10,000. Tip: No website is free. Even the free ones.
If you absolutely must launch a website in time for a big event, to fulfill a grant requirement or for some other reason, note it down. Look a year into the future and plan for any deadlines, vacations or other scheduling requirements that might affect development.
Put into a paragraph what you are and what your organization does. This will help you focus your needs with the website, and it will help any developer better understand how you work. It’s also useful if you include ways you differ from others in your industry.
It goes without saying to leave out the jargon, right?
Next, provide a profile of the people who you serve. These are the people who visit your website – or who you wish would visit your website. Note their age, location, gender, website connection speed – whatever you can do flesh out who will be using your website. People who fit the 60-80 age range use websites differently than those in the 15-25 age range.
Sites you like, and a few you don’t
Start a list of the websites you’ve seen that you really like. Maybe you like the color palette or layout or some kind of functionality. Any time you see a site, add it to your bookmarks so you can pass this information on.
Similarly, make a list of the sites you don’t like. This can give a web developer valuable insight into your preferences as well.
Your primary tasks
List how you’ll be using the site on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. This can help you budget your own time when it comes to managing the website, and it also helps prioritize the information on your website.
Your visitors’ primary tasks
What things do you want your visitors to do when they come to your website? Put yourself into your audience’s shoes, and make a prioritized list of the things you want them to do when they’re at your site. This might be registering to volunteer, donating money, picking up event information. It can be helpful to ask your audience what they’d like to do at your website.
The day I bought my mother a cell phone, she cried. Believe me, they weren’t tears of happiness. She looked at all those buttons and numbers and codes and had a little meltdown. We put the phone away and gave her a new cordless phone instead.
My mom is 70, and while there are plenty of hip 70-year-olds e-mailing pictures of their grandkids around and doing online banking, not all of them are. To many people of my mother’s generation, the online world is utterly confusing. They look at websites with no history and with no idea how to navigate.
At the same time, more people are moving into a 60-and-older age bracket than ever before. These are the people who will be using your website. If you’re a non-profit, these are also the people who may be looking for ways to donate their money and time.
Make it easy for them. Here are a few things to keep in mind when presenting a website to older viewers:
Put the most important information up top.
This should be a given no matter what age demographic your audience is. But in studies, older users failed to scroll down the page because they didn’t know it was a possibility.
Explain things in plain English.
We’re all guilty of using too much jargon, but sometimes we don’t realize how much. These are all terms that may confuse: user, content, URL, homepage, browser.
Use a search tool.
Studies have shown that older audiences are more likely to use a search tool to find items than younger people. One possible reason is that younger users are more accustomed to conventions of placing items on a page or within navigation.
Provide a text resizer.
This makes it easy for people with visual limitations to increase the font on the page. Some older users find anything less than 12 points a challenge to read.
These tips are common sense. Follow them, and your website will be easier to use not only for older people, but for everybody.
Honestly, who feels like delving into those voice mails and uncompleted projects this early in the week? Fill your cup of coffee and watch these five great little movies that will help polish your tech education.
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