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Developing Web Sites

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Web Project Management Guide

Setting goals
Time estimate and team members
Content review and development
Site structure and navigation
Finalizing timeline and content
Visual design development
Production and proofing
Launch and maintenance

Content Review and Development

Review site logs and current content

Site logs tell you who is visiting your site, where they come from, and what they download. Your Web server keeps track of all of the site visits in "log files," but you'll want a software package to analyze those log files for you, such as AWStats, Urchin, or WebTrends.

If you are updating an existing site, make sure to check your Web stats. Which pages are rarely viewed? Is it because your audience can't find them or because they're not targeted to your audience? Go through each page of your site and identify outdated text and photos. From your focus-group research and competitive analysis, you'll have a good idea of what content might be missing from your site.

Additionally, your team might have great new ideas. This is the time to put together a spreadsheet that lists each current page name and who is rewriting or updating it as well as each new page name and who is responsible for content creation. If your content or audience demands photos, illustrations, or complicated tables, graphs, or charts, you'll want to plan as far in advance as possible for these items.

Writing for the web

Share good web-writing practices with content providers so they're focusing on usability and the audience. Talk to your writers about the differences between reading on-screen and on paper. And remember, throughout your site, you'll want to ensure a consistent voice. The following tips can help you write right for the Web.

Structure the text for rapid consumption

Readers scan the headings and links rather than reading all the text, so the most important information should jump out at them. Bulleted lists are useful for presenting key points, but don't get carried away; too many lists will make your site read like a PowerPoint presentation.

Write in modules

Smaller, conceptually related chunks make it easier for readers who skim to find what they want.

Use anchor links to help users navigate long documents

For example, use a table of contents at the top of pages and on separate index pages.

Be careful when using directional words

"Above," "below," "top," and "bottom" aren't necessarily meaningful in a hypertext document. Use "next" and "previous" only when you're certain that users have come from the previous page or know that they've landed in the middle of a linear document (as when the document is marked "page 3 of 13" or has other visual or textual cues).

Shorter is better

Limit the length of your copy. Text-heavy pages are uninviting, and some readers will skip them altogether. Edit your text down to a reasonable size (under eight hundred words per page), and use white space, graphics, and varying type sizes and weights to break up the page.

Use the TITLE tag

Make it easy for users to tell your pages apart by giving each one a distinctive, descriptive title. This is especially important for bookmarking -- try to use titles that are unique (e.g., "Job Openings at HyperMegaGlobalCorp" rather than just "Jobs").

Don't use "click here" or "more"

Links should be as clear as possible to a user who is tabbing through them with a screenreader.

Make pages printable when appropriate

Some types of documents are easier to read off-line (lengthy reports, for example). Offer versions of these designed specifically for printing (pdf, rtf, or HTML with black type on a white background and minimal graphics or navigation) for documents such as resumes, reports, receipts, etc.

Use active language

It's easy to become distracted on the web, so keep your readers engaged by addressing them directly (whenever that's possible) and using gripping language (wherever that's appropriate).

Give your site a voice

Create a strong identity and sense of place by developing a recognizable editorial tone.

Watch the use of jargon and TLAs

Will everyone in your audience understand these? (A TLA is a three-letter acronym.) Think about offering a glossary (hyperlinked, of course) for readers who aren't familiar with your terms.

Steer clear of buzzwords

Writing on the web tends to age rather rapidly, so avoid using overworked cliches and trendy buzzwords (just think how dated "Information Superhighway" and "cyber" are!).

Follow a consistent style

Make sure your Web authors share the editorial and structural style. Offer a template or example for writers to follow, assign an editor to review and unify all content after it's written. Keep in mind, you'll be establishing additional, separate style guides for good HTML practices.

Additional resources:

"How Users Read on the Web," by Jakob Nielsen
Example from Web Style Guide of print writing repurposed for the Web
Illinois Identity Standards Writing Style Guide

Next step: Site structure and navigation