by March 31, 1999 0 comments

The first thing I try to gauge when I meet a Website client
for the first time is: why he wants a Website. And I try to give him a realistic picture
of what to expect. Sometimes, I have no choice but to refuse the job if client
expectations are too wild. For example, one local courier company expected a foreign
collaboration in six months. It didn’t want to invest in a computer and an Internet
connection–it wanted the Website to do the trick!

Try unconventional ideas for site content. One company put
up its monthly house journal on the Web. As its contents were interesting and useful for
outside readers, this saved the company the effort needed for creating fresh content.

When designing a Website, you need to plan for users coming
in at low connect speeds too–14.4 kbps–and those using older browsers. After an
analysis of over a million hits across 15 of our sites, we found that less than one
percent hits came from browsers older than version 3, but IE and Netscape users were
almost equal in number. I know it’s quite a small sample, but I prefer working with
first hand information. Hence, design for version 4 browsers, but see to it that
older ones also work. A visitor with a version 3 browser should not miss out on any vital
information, or be stuck with not having navigational aids. And there should definitely be
no error messages popping up.

Now comes the feedback part. Once the site is online, do a
regular (monthly?) evaluation of the logs to create a visitor profile. This can be done by
using something as simple as a counter from www.siteflow.com.
You can also try gathering more information about visitors by using a feedback form. This
helps in improving the design and orientation of the site to suit the visitor. This
feedback can be used to create a mailing list too. (A word of caution here: Instead of
directly subscribing the visitors, invite them to join the mailing list.)

Finally, ask for links from every relevant or related site
on a reciprocal basis. Find out where your competitors’ pages are linked and request
for links from those sites as well. Several search engines let you search for all links to
your site (or to any other site). For instance, if you type link:pcquest.com in the search box at www.infoseek.com, you’ll get the Web
pages or sites that link to pcquest.com.

Checklist!

Here’s a little checklist for a company planning to go
in for a Website.

  1. Ensure that the domain name is really yours. This means that
    on the InterNIC’s whois database, the company name, address, administrative
    technical and billing contacts mentioned must be yours, and not that of your
    designers or Web hosts’. So if you ever want to shift your site to another host,
    it’s easy. You can yourself register your domain at http://internic.net if you know
    the IP addresses of domain name servers that will reference your site (usually, the DNS
    will belong to your Web hosts). But even if you do not know such a DNS, you can register
    your domain from http://site.register.com.
    The process is fairly easy and the information required of you is your company’s
    name, address, phone and fax numbers. You can also check for the availability of the
    domain name you want.
  2. You must ask the site designer how much space you’d
    need or would be given for the site at the host server. Normally about 5 MB suffices for
    most cases (which can also include a few minutes of real audio/video). Also find out as to
    how much will extra space cost should you require it.
  3. Find out whether you will be given FTP (file transfer
    protocol), telnet and CGI-bin access if you intend to update and maintain the site
    yourself.

  4. Check how many POP3 e-mail accounts will be provided
    (usually one) and how many forwarding e-mail aliases will be provided (usually unlimited).
    These are needed for receiving mails at addresses like employee@your company. com and
    distributing it over your internal network.
  5. The costs. Be very clear as to how you will be charged. Per
    hour basis (unusual in India), per page basis or a lump-sum for the site. If it’s per
    page, find out what constitutes a page and what it includes. I have come across various
    definitions of a page, and I find 5 screens of information with graphics a fair
    definition. Personally I prefer giving a lump-sum quote after the first briefing. Also
    find out from your designer as to what will be charged extra. Scanning photos, graphics
    like buttons, bullets, backgrounds, public domain CGI scripts like form mail (for feedback
    form) Guest book, message boards are usually NOT charged extra across the world. However,
    you will have to pay a lot more for custom made CGIs, Database programming, custom GIF
    animations or Flash animation, real audio and video.
  6. Verify the charges for hosting your site for the first and
    subsequent years and whether it will include maintenance and updates and how frequently
    can the site be updated.
  7. Shop around. Take several quotes before deciding on a
    designer. Ask for existing portfolios. Visit these sites personally. A good designer will
    almost never make a presentation or sample site for you before the contract is awarded but
    will be most eager to show off his/her work (most designers are a bit vain!)
  8. While briefing the designer, try to explain in as much
    details as possible if you have a mental picture of your site, or give examples from the
    net of the sites which you liked.

Finally, when presented with the mock-ups or betas of your
site, say exactly what you like, do not like, or want changed. There is nothing more
frustrating for a designer than to be told "Doosra site banao, isme maza nahin
aya!
"

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