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
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,
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 http://www.freewebspace.net
reviews different providers.
- 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
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
, and other
what would be ideal: online surveys
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
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
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
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
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
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
website at any point during the planning process. Just make sure to regularly
update it and keep it current.