What We've Found

More and more people are turning to the Internet to find information and get answers to questions. As a result, it’s assumed that every group is going to have a website. While some see it replacing printed literature, be careful, since not everyone has a computer nor does everyone feel comfortable surfing online. But if a website is easy to navigate and shows a complete, honest picture of the organization, it can be another effective outreach tool and an ongoing perk for members.

Just the Facts

Websites consist of an address called a URL (Uniform or Universal Resource Locator). The first screen that appears is called a homepage, and it may have a table of contents pointing visitors to other files and images, audio recordings, videos, mapping, and/or project information. Web pages are written in hypertext, referred to as hypertext markup language or HTML. The purpose of a site might be to provide information, to solicit support, or something else.

The best websites are those that are built by a team that includes professional writers, designers, programmers, and subject experts. The site should answer the original inquiries that led someone online as well as spark new questions and engender more interest. It is very important to keep sites continuously updated: content refreshed, links between pages and to any other websites checked, images changed, etc.

Posting a website requires saving pages or files to a server. Larger companies, government agencies, and organizations have their own servers; smaller groups usually buy space or find free space. For example, space may be available along with a paid email account, in exchange for allowing banner advertising, or because of a group’s nonprofit status. There are many alternatives worth researching; one place to look is, which reviews different providers.

Tech Guidelines:
  • 130K should be a web page’s maximum size, including all images.
  • A good screen size is 1024 pixels wide by 768 tall, but making your site elastic allows it to work with most resolutions.
  • Each image, sound file, or applet should be less than 20K.
How To Do It

1. Think it through
Seek out different people and ask them some questions: Does the target audience have access to computers and is this an acceptable method of communication? Who will be responsible for the content and the ongoing technical management of the site? What should the contents include? Do we have the financial resources to do the work and keep the site updated? Are there alternatives?

2. Decide on content
Begin by looking at what your group is already doing: newsletters, brochures, posters, and other mailers. Brainstorm what would be ideal: online surveys, live chat sessions, etc. Check out other the web sites of groups who do similar work and those that are considered cutting edge. Prioritize contents based on technical capabilities and cost.

3. Map out navigation
Plan the website before creating it, keeping it simple and consistent. Similar to an organization chart, show how the relationship between screens, or pages, and how they will be connected. Diagram the flow on paper.

This is also the time to plan for how viewers will get around the site. Include a table of contents so people can choose what’s most pertinent to them. Provide place markers—a "you are here" sign—that shows the path they have followed and an easy escape out to select another topic. If a website is going to contain a large number of pages, get expert advice. This is a critical step to plan and keep organized.

4. Write for the medium
Web writing is more than taking printed brochures and articles and putting them online. While this material can be used, it should be adapted. It’s estimated that only 10% of viewers will scroll beyond the first screen of text, so break the text up and put a table of contents so viewers can choose easily. This type of writing is referred to as "basic."

There are two other types of web pages: splash and scripted. Splash writing is brief and concise. A splash page offers readers choices to more in-depth material but still communicates a message. Scripted writing is taking full advantage of the medium, getting a reader to interact with the text and graphics such as through a game. There are a minimal number of words on those types of pages.

5. Design a look
Create a layout that is consistent. This means use a style that is similar to existing printed pieces and uses the same logo. It also means making sure each page within the website looks alike: same background color, navigation links always in the same place, and contact information (name, address, phone, email address). Keep in mind that viewers may not sequentially go through your site. Every page needs to be a stand-alone from the whole.

6. Make it visual
Capitalize on the medium by making use of icons and images. Don’t assume icons will be intuitively understood; provide a label or pop-up window description. Photographs and images need captions. Just as with print, however, make sure photographs, maps and drawings strengthen the content and are not just for decoration making a file too large.

Because images and special effects such as animations use a lot of memory, use them sparingly. If a screen takes too long to download due to large files, many people won’t wait to see it. A good rule of thumb is to design for the slowest system; that means dial-up modems as opposed to cable modems or DSL.

Be sure to also do research on "web colors." Certain colors work better than others on computer monitors, or video display systems. Try and avoid deeply saturated primary colors (red, green, blue); they are prone to smearing or bleeding, making the image difficult to see.

7. Build it and test it
Bring the elements together using a web page software program. Then once the graphics, text, and links are combined, test the site. Make sure every link works and every image appears. Also have someone who was not involved in the writing proof the text for typos, flow, and accuracy.

8. Post it
Follow the instructions according to the web software, the host server’s protocol, or the advice of a technician. Be sure to consider protection measures and submitting the site to search engines. Then let folks know about it. Issue a press release and write an article for a newsletter, and add the website address to business cards, brochures, and other printed pieces.

A location on the World Wide Web that has information about a topic, an organization, an individual, or products.

Use It If...
  • You have the creative resources to write and design a site and the technical knowledge to post and manage a site or the financial resources to do it.
  • You have an ongoing need to present detailed information, provide a forum for exchanging ideas, and share updates, announcements and news.
  • You want a central place where everything the group produces, such as print publications, press releases, and speeches, can be easily accessed.
  • You have information to share about a topic that is not covered anywhere else.
Forget It If...
  • You do not have the resources to write, design, and technically manage a site or keep it updated.
  • Your constituency has expressed no interest in looking online or has said they do not want to receive information electronically.
  • You know of another website that has a similar purpose. Approach that organization about including a section describing your group, making a banner or other addition highlighting your activities.
Timing is Everything

Launch a website at any point during the planning process. Just make sure to regularly update it and keep it current.


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