Who, Where, What -- Huh? Building Your Own Web Site Means Starting with a Few Basic Questions

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Eventually, even the most committed Web wanderers dream of settling down and building home pages of their own. So, this week and next, we'll be taking a break from our usual travels down the information superhighway and looking at a few points you should consider when planning a Web presence for yourself or your company. Even if you already have a site, you might want to follow along. Many of the questions we'll raise will also be helpful in evaluating and improving existing pages.

I like to begin the process of creating a Web site with the Five Ws of journalism -- who, what, when, where and why -- although not in the traditional order. Just as a reporter needs the facts behind a story before she begins to write, a Web designer needs to understand the purpose behind a site before he codes the first line of HTML. In both cases, a few minutes spent answering some basic questions at the beginning of the process can save hours of wasted effort later on.

We'll look at the why and the who of Web site planning this week and finish up with what, where and when in the next column. At that point you ll be well on the way to creating a site that you or your company can be proud of. WHY?: The first question you should ask as a potential Webmaster -- and the one most often overlooked -- is, "Why am I creating a Web site?" The answer becomes the mission statement for your site. Try to limit your answer to a paragraph or, better yet, one or two sentences. Think in terms of what you can offer your potential audience. The Web is a marketplace with a million niches. The more clearly you define yours, the more likely you are to be successful. For a bird lover, the answer to this question might be as simple as, "To share my tips for constructing birdhouses." For a company that sells birdhouses, it might be "To attract potential customers by sharing information about birdwatching." That's because a successful business site must be economically justifiable. Unfortunately Web sites are rarely stand-alone profit centers, so the payoff from a corporate site sales leads, improved customer support, better name recognition, etc. can be hard to quantify. Answering the question, "Why?" not only helps during the design process, but also makes it easier to measure success down the road. …

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