6.1 Understanding Websites, A General Primer

The Golden Rules of Good Websites

When building your website, just keep these four rules in mind, and you should be alright. When in doubt, contact a pro to make sure you’re giving your site the attention it deserves.

1.   Your Website is the Hub of Your Chapter

It’s where every part of your communication strategy meets—clickthroughs from your search engine ads, folks who heard you on NPR and want to learn more (dream big!), reporters checking you out for a story, users who clicked from your Facebook page for more information, or people who picked up your literature at your event last week.

For most people, their first contact with a brand will be through the web, and many of those first contacts will be at the brand’s website. Your site needs to make sure that those who stop in get a great first impression, and find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

2. Your Website is NOT a Brochure, Update Regularly

“Brochure site” is web industry jargon for a static site with no interactive features, just information dumped onto a page, usually with the indifference of a lunch lady doling out sloppy joes. It also references the fact that most of those sites are updated about as often as print pieces.

It does not have to be this way—it cannot be this way for your site to be successful. Your website is easy (and free) to update—so do it! Add a new blog post, tweak your bio, upload a new photo.

Do whatever it takes to make that site always feel fresh and cared for. Keeping your site updated will also help your chances of ranking higher on major search engines, which use frequency of updates as one of the criteria for boosting ranking.

3. You Must Be Mobile

With mobile and tablet viewing averaging around 50% of traffic for websites, you can’t afford to have a site that isn’t optimized for viewing on all devices. Most quality themes for self-hosted sites will be optimized for mobile, as will the themes at a website builder like Squarespace.

4 . Repeat After Me: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU

See how that’s in all caps? That’s because it is the most important thing you’ll ever read about building a website. The greatest sin on the internet is vanity, and most website owners we work with are guilty of it.

While most vanity is expressed on the internet as absurd selfies posted to social media, when you run a brand on the web, vanity is the assumption that users are visiting your site to hear what you have to say, rather than coming for their own reasons.

To keep users on your site, and turn them into chapter supporters or members, you have to think first about what they want and why they are visiting, rather than focusing on only your perspective.

This does not mean being all things to all people. You’re looking for qualified traffic—users for whom your mission resonates.

THE WEBSITE BUILD PROCESS

A good website will have five phases. These apply even if you’re doing the site yourself with a website builder, and any professional worth their salt will have you go through some version of these phases. They help iron out what you need, what your users need, and how to join those needs in an effective website strategy.

Discovery

This phase lays out the basic knowledge that will form the building blocks of your site. If you’re working with a web professional, this will help them understand your brand, your mission, your personality and your prospective users, so that they can design a website that helps you achieve your goals.

This is equally important if you’re working solo because it will get you used to thinking like a business with a goal-oriented mindset. You can use a simple discovery questionnaire like this one (from my agency, Well Design) to get started.

Good discovery focuses on your goals, understanding your market and understanding your users.

Information Architecture

Information architecture is just a fancy way of saying, “how you organize your website.” You must decide how visitors to your site would like to see the information you want to present, and how to best meet their needs with the structure and content of your site.

During this phase of planning, you should create a simple visual representation of your content. This could be as simple as a bulleted list of the content, with the outer bullets being the top level pages, and the inner bullets being the lower-level or “child” pages.

For more information, be sure to check out The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Information Architecture on UX Booth.

Content

Using your information architecture plan from the previous step, you will create content for your entire site. Please see section 6.2 for the Impact 100 Website Model and Suggested Content.

Design

If you are working with a professional designer, they will generally give you a couple of different design directions to choose from, and you can combine and revise them into something that works for your brand.

If you’ve gone the self-serve route, such as a website builder or self-hosted websites that use templates, (such as WordPress, Joomla! and Statamic) you get to be the designer.

Need an assist with designing your own site? Use templates for WordPress and other website systems from online stores like ThemeForest, TemplateMonster, or StudioPress.

Once you get rolling with these templates, particularly in WordPress, they are really quite simple to use and design with.

And if you need some inspiration, check out design awards sites like Unmatched Style, Awwwards or Behance, or simply search for “website design” on Pinterest.

Development

A custom website will then be coded by your web professional or agency. Website builders and self-hosted websites will have the templates already developed for you, you’ll just need to do the required setup to use the theme with your site. Processes for getting the theme installed on your site, as well as the amount of setup once the theme has been installed, vary with provider or platform you’ve selected.

Testing

This can’t be stressed enough. When the site development is done, test it. After every revision during the development phase, test it. When you’re hours from going live, test it again. And don’t only test things that have changed—test it all.

Test each page, each link, each product. Test the site in the four major browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and IE11+) to make certain that users can see your site and brand as you intended them to. Then grab your tablet and mobile and start all over again. Testing is grueling but absolutely necessary.