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by Webnme on Sep 5th 2011

Web Site Planning Tips - Your Features

Picking the Right Features for Your Web Site A-Z

This is not an all inclusive list of potential web site features.  Rather it is a starting point for your discussions with your web developer.   Your web site should include features that drive visits, promote your business or site purpose, produce income, enhance navigation, and serve your needs.    Talk to your web developer about any specific needs you have and make sure that your site includes all of the features needed to make it a success.

Advertising

Ads are a critical source of income, but are not going to generate enormous amounts of revenue right out of the box.  You need around 20,000 page views a day to generate $30-$50/month in ad revenue.  More page views equates to more revenue.  This means that ads succeed when content succeeds in drawing people.

Ad placement should be where it gets attention without disrupting the site.  Most have found that ads at the top are fairly effective and that good sized 300×300 pixel ads on the side work well.

Google’s AdSense provides more income than Amazon as a rule.  Similarly, Amazon provides more revenue than specific affiliate programs and ads, which are usually only going to pay when somebody buys a specific product or from a specific vendor after clicking on an ad on your site.   Generally affiliate programs have limited or little value for a small site with few visitors or one that is just starting up.  You need thousands of daily visitors before you will see much payoff from ads that only generate revenue only after the purchase of a specific item or an item from a specific vendor.

If you do use affiliate program ads, you will want to make sure that the products in your ads match the interests of the audience for your web site.  A web site about travel with travel related ads stands a better chance of generating revenue than a travel site with ads for home repair items.

For accounting purposes, you may want to have a dedicated account for Amazon and Google that can be used to collect ad revenue and provide reporting.

Along with ad revenue reporting, you can use Google Analytics to see who is using your site and where traffic is originating; e.g. ads, links, facebook, etc.

We also have to be careful to follow any terms of services for ads, which generally include limitations on the number of ads displayed, limits on the number of search boxes, prohibitions on having search by other providers, and so on.

Round-up — considerations and tips:

  • Ask whether giving up space on your site is worth what you may earn in ad revenue.

It may be that your valuable web real estate is better suited to promoting your own products or services if you are a business and you may want to do more to keep people on your site to buy from you instead of following an advertisement.

  • Don’t be afraid to shop around for the ad arrangement that gives you the best return.
  • To make your business more ad-worthy, make sure to keep statistics on visitors to your site and how long they stay there.
  • Update frequently to attract visitors – more visitors means more ad-clicks
  • If you try to get ads from a company and are declined, fix whatever presented an obstacle to them and try again.
  • Ads work best when placed prominently on a site.  Don’t put them at the bottom.
  • If you are seeking advertisers keep a space open that with an image that says advertise here.

Automated RSS Feeds  RSS Feeds Description

Many sites use RSS feeds to reach a larger audience.  An RSS feed can be read by a customer via a web browser or desktop application without the need to visit your site directly.  With WordPress you can enter the Feedburner arena where speed of delivery is faster and where there is search for related content and thus an improved chance that your content will be found by those who rely on RSS for updates to content.  (You need a Google Feedburner account for this to work.)

Automated Twitter Tweets

Twitter Description

Twitter is extremely important these days.  You do want to start attracting followers.  It is a mini-blog for announcing changes to the site that is aggressive – going out into the community instead of waiting for them to find you.  You can setup a WordPress site to include automated tweets that go to a Twitter account of our choosing every time there is a change to the site.

For example you might want to grab a Twitter account with the same name as the domain name and then tweet every change to the site.  Not only that, the same account would be used to tweet anything you find of interest on the web every day whether or not is related to the site in order to get more followers.   If you get a few hundred Twitter followers, you will be driving some traffic to your content.  You may also get some valuable feedback.

To make the automated tweets work, you will need to get public and private keys from the Twitter API site, which is easy.

            Display Your Tweets

If you use Twitter, you may want to make sure to display your latest Tweets on your website to encourage visitors to follow you on Twitter for the most up-to-date news from you.

            Display Other Tweets

If your web site focuses on a specific topic, you may want to display tweets from other sources.  For example, if you have a gaming site, you may want to display tweets from leading game companies so that your visitors can get the latest information without the need for you to post a few lines for every single new development in your area.

            Sample Display of Tweets on a Web Site

The illustration below is a sample of some tweets (Twitter postings) that I made in mid-August.  They show up on my web site and if a visitor finds them interesting, they may decide to follow me on Twitter to see what I have to say in the future.  This in turn may bring more visits to the web site.

 Sample Web Display of Twitter Feed

Blogs

Blog DescriptionWhy have a blog?

In a nutshell having a blog for your home page positions you to tell visitors the most important recent news or events related to your business, hobby, or interests.  A visitor coming to your site will not have to sift through a lot of navigation to find the most recent information you have published.  If you have a business, it may be a great place to announce special offers, announce new stock and products, explain why customers ought to consider a new or replacement product, and so on.  If you are doing a site as a hobby, it is a great way to let visitors know your latest news.  In either case, your blog can help your visitors find critical information easily.

Be aware that blogs require commitment.  If a blog is untouched for more than a few days, it is going to look like a site that doesn’t update regularly and there is less reason to return.  Once you start a blog, you should add content daily or as frequently as possible to draw visitors to your site.  Skipping a day here and there is not fatal, but after a few days it may look like the site is pretty stale or worse that the site is in danger of closing down.

While blogs are a great asset on your web site, they aren’t always the best solution for your content.  Blogs are best suited to making announcements and presenting news items.  They do not work well for stories or articles that span several web pages.  A story or article published in several parts via a blog will reads backwards.  That is not a natural way to present or to read an article or story.  Experienced readers will go to the beginning of the article or story, but others may not find their way.  Stories that need to be read in a specific sequence may be better suited to static pages with navigation links that help the reader go to any page in the article or story.   You can set up static pages from the WordPress console with a few clicks and you can create chapter or book sections and then have subsidiary pages with that chapter as the parent page.  This allows multi-page navigation menus to work nicely.

Forums

Forums Description

Not every web site needs or should have a forum.  However, if you want to build a community around your web presence, it may be something you should consider.  A forum can offer you a place where your visitors can discuss topics of interest give you feedback, work through self-help with products, and more.

Forums do require time and commitment to be successful.  It may take months to build a critical mass of participants who want to use your forum on a regular basis.  During that time you will need to participate in the discussions daily to encourage involvement and contributions from your visitors.  New forums rarely, if ever, succeed without substantial involvement by the owner and for small sites it still may be rough going.

Forums add an overhead requirement for an administrator, who can update the software, assure that all the settings are adjusted properly, manage user accounts, resolve technical problems, and manage moderators.

Ad revenue is likely to be minimal until you have several hundred or thousands of users participating in the forum, so you should anticipate that the forum may not generate enough income to cover the overhead costs and be prepared to handle that as part of the site’s overall overhead expenses.

For many web sites, the best solution is the Open Source bulletin board software produced by phpBB.com.   Forums created using phpBB software can be customized with canned themes or with individual designs that match the overall design of a web site.

PHP Web Site

Follow Me Buttons

Follow Me Buttons

If you have a presence on any social media site, you should provide visitors with links or buttons to help them find you.   Buttons or links can be custom designed to your needs.  Here are some that I use on some of the sites that I manage:

Sample Follow Me Buttons Illustration Depending on how active you are with social media sites, you may want to have links or buttons for:

Images and Gallery Considerations

A website devoid of pictures is unbelievably boring to most visitors and will not encourage return traffic.  Use pictures when appropriate to help convey your message.  If you are not sure what the right balance is between text and pictures, visit some of the web sites you like best and see how they are handling images.

Plan your pictures to sell your ideas and products.  Having a picture is not enough.  It has to work with your content and not detract from the message you want to convey.

Copyrights

Respect copyrights to images.   Unless the creator of the image has explicitly granted rights to use an image or has made the image public domain, any image that you find on the web should be presumed to be copyrighted.   The rule of thumb is to create your own images and use them to avoid copyright infringement.  However, if there is an image somewhere on the web that you really want to use, please ask the owner for permission to use it before adding it to your web site.

Image Storage

Images consume a lot more storage space than text and may require you to give some consideration to a separate image hosting source, if your hosting arrangement limits how much storage that you have available.  If your web host only provides limited storage, you may want to post your images to an image sharing website like Photobucket.com.  You can display your images on your site even if the image is located on a different web server and use their storage space to augment your own storage space.   Most of image sharing sites offer substantial free storage space.

Image Gallery?

If you plan to have a substantial number of images on your web site, you may wish to have an image gallery to help visitors find images quickly.  A gallery can be a page or several topic pages with thumbnails images linked to the larger image.

Images and Lightbox Displays

Lightbox Description

A gallery page with small thumbnails can be scripted to present a Lightbox showing the full image when the visitor clicks on the image.  Clicking the thumbnail image produces an image in a window above the page using a gliding animation.  Clicking outside the Lightbox returns the visitor to the page they were browsing without the need to use browser back buttons making navigating your images easier.

The images on the following two pages show:

  1. A web page with several thumbnail images where the page has been scripted to present a Lightbox
  2. The resulting Lightbox window displaying the full sized image on top of the web page.  The Lightbox window has a black background to distinguish it from the typical white background of a web page.

Lightbox Example 1  
 Lightbox Example 2

Integrated Content Management Capability

There are hundreds of content management tools available to help make it easier for you to manage your web content ranging from free to very expensive.  The best tool for you depends on your needs.  You may be able to use a free tool and do very nicely or if you have complex requirements for multiple-person authoring, article approval, metrics, file-sharing, and records archiving, you may need a more expensive solution with more capabilities.

For many sites, free Open Source tools can help you manage your content without the need to engage a web developer on a permanent basis to update your content for you.  That saves you money and gives you more direct control over your content.

There are two tools that are very popular and worth noting:

Joomla

Joomla Website

Joomla is the most popular open source content management system on the web.  Approximately 2.7 percent of all web sites use Joomla.  Joomla keeps track of all of your content including text, images, video, music and more.  It allows an web site owner to manage content without any technical knowledge or skills.   You can learn more about Joomla by visiting the Joomla demo site at http://demo.joomla.org/

WordPress

WordPress Web Site

WordPress is a versatile Open Source platform designed primarily for personal blogging web sites.  However, hundreds of plug-ins have been developed that allow the expansion of WordPress to include features and capabilities that include everything from social media integration to databases.   Hosts like Aplus.net provide readily available tools to install WordPress using a MySQL database at a low monthly cost of $10/mo for up to ten sites allowing you the option of doing your own advertising and customization.  I’m up to my maximum of ten, but am going to buy another bracket of ten sites to be able to host more.

In addition WordPress has hundreds of ready-made themes that take care of the lion’s share of coding allowing you to get up and running faster.  Sometimes, however, a simple template is best because the chances of it being updated are reduced.  Updates usually require reapplying all custom code which is time-consuming and in the interim can leave a site looking a little odd.  I have a theme in mind that I’ve used elsewhere, but we can try different things too.

I highly recommend consideration of WordPress as a solution.

Mobile Device Friendly Mobil Device DescriptionContent needs to be available to devices like Android, Windows, and iPhone smart-phones and pad type devices for maximum reach to customers.   Special formatting requirements make it difficult support mobile devices, if you are hand-coding a site.  WordPress has a wonderful plug-in that does this automatically.  It detects the type of connecting browser platform and adjusts content display to match the capabilities of the device.  With WordPress, your site can easily be mobile device ready.

Navigation

Navigation is addressed in the section on Design Considerations later in this guide.

Online Stores and Sales

Unless you have a lot of capital available to invest in an online store, you are better off to look at third party solutions for direct sales to customers where the third party vendor handles credit cards and transaction details.  Many hobby websites and small business sites sell items via eBay and display their eBay listings on their primary websites.  Others may use sites like Amazon Webstore or Yahoo Merchant Solutions to sell their products. (They have the advantage greater customer exposure for a small business)  Still others use integrated online store services sometimes called shopping cart services.

There are dozens of good shopping cart service packages available for use with a variety of available features.    If you plan on going this route, you will want to make sure you carefully define what your requirements are to find the service that best matches your needs.   You will also want to consider the type of fee arrangement used by the shopping cart service vendor.  Some offer flat rate services, some require a percentage of sales, and some require a combination of both.

Sample Considerations

  • Ease of setup
  • Integration with your website
  • Customizable design
  • Electronic delivery for virtual goods
  • Can you change prices
  • What payment methods are supported
  • Support for coupons, special discounts, and discount codes
  • Data storage – who stores sensitive customer information (if you have to store that data, it triggers a lot of security requirements and may have more liability)
  • SEO and marketing tools included
  • Who handles billing and payment inquiries
  • Reports on sales and transactions

Search Engine Optimization

SEO Description

Unless you potential visitors can find your site easily, you may have an uphill battle in making your web site a success.  Unless your potential visitors have been provided an address via a marketing approach, you are going to be relying heavily on people finding your web site via a popular search engine.

To have the best chance of showing up in a search on Yahoo, Bing, or Google; the site should be designed to be optimized for search engines.  This includes the type of coding used, the navigation, the theme used in WordPress, and providing an XML Sitemap to the search engines that tells them exactly where your content is located.

Many WordPress themes and plugins are available to help assure that your site is optimized for search engines.   These can be easily integrated into your web site to increase the chances of a casual web surfer finding your web site.

Site Search – Google Custom Search and AdSense

WordPress and other web solutions usually offer an integrated search capability.   You can use these on a site that does not include advertising and have a satisfactory result.  However, if you do use advertising, you should consider using a customized search capability that integrates with your advertising.  If you use Google’s AdSense, it is very easy to set up a customer search box that returns search result pages that feature advertisements that link to your AdSene account.  Instead of using any host built-in search capability, you may be able to increase ad revenue by using Google Custom Search linked to an AdSense account.  (You should be aware that the Terms of Service for the search provider usually include a limit on the number of search boxes on a page and require that they be the exclusive search provider for your site.)

Social Networking and Comments Social Networking

Integration of social networking is critical to getting the word out for your site.  You want people to be able to share links via facebook, Twitter, etc.  With WordPress you can integrate follow me buttons at the top and bottom of each page or post that allow people to pass on information about your site via social media.

If you are a small business, you should also consider having a presence on major social media web sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube where you can brand those pages with your logo and provide links back to your primary site.

If you have a Facebook page for your business, for example, if a person comments on your page or clicks on the “like” button, the comment or “like” will show up on that person’s page where friends can see it, which may get more people to look at your Facebook page and ultimately your primary website.

You can also regularly update your Facebook page with links to articles you publish on your primary web site to drive more traffic to your site.

Along with using social media, you may want to consider offering visitor the ability to comment directly on any page you have on your web site.  This can help build a relationship that includes return visits.  If you do offer a comment capability, you will also need to make sure that your comment system has protection from spam comments where people try to post links to other commercial sites in the comments rather than offering a relevant comment on your topic.

Comments and Spam Protection

As soon as you enable comments on a website you will get a flood of spam comments.  The ratio of bad to good comments is almost 1,000:1 these days.  The only way to get around this is to use a spam protection service and a CAPTCHA scheme that will attempt to sort out what is from a real person and what is crap from a spam-bot program.

CAPTCHA is the screen you get that asks you to type in characters that are shown in a picture, usually twisted and partially obscured with the thought that a bot program will not be able to manage to fool it.

WordPress uses Akismet for spam protection.  For personal blogs and sites it is free.  For commercial sites including those that feature advertisements, a paid license is required at $5 a month.  None of the comment CAPTCHA programs will work without it.  This is a necessary expense for a commercial site.

Static Pages

Static pages can be created in WordPress and most content management system.   Creating them and editing them requires no technical skill.  You just have to remember parent-child relationships so that they end up in the right place on your dynamically generated menu.  You can use static pages for content that is not likely to change often or for content not suitable for a blog.

WikiWiki Description

A Wiki is great if you want people to contribute information to describe something or help others.  Anyone can edit this area of the site and there will be a history of who has changed what.  It is the encyclopedia part of the site.

If you have a long story with unique terms and want to build more background outside the story, a Wiki can be used to provide all sorts of background to a story and illustrations that would otherwise clutter up the real story.

If you are a small business, a Wiki can offer customers a place to get how-to information where they can update the articles themselves with their own “tricks of the trade”.

About Webnme

The developer's first experience with computers was with Fortran IV. Wow that's ancient. After graduate school, he taught history for a number of years at a community college before attending law school and becoming an attorney. In 1997 he changed careers to become a web developer/designer with an interest in all things web related. He currently maintains several dozen websites including a family of websites for a non-profit corporation that gets over five million page views monthly. This is his developer website. The opinions expressed are his own.

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