What Clients Need To Know About Web Site Design:
An outline for dialog between designers and clients

© M. Blair Ligon, all rights reserved world-wide
updated 2010.02.22


01. Setting Up a Web Site
02. Why Design for Search Engines?
03. Search Engines: How They Think
04. Writing for the Web
05. The Role of the Webmaster
06. Your Communications Hub
07. Business Content
08. Self-Promotion Through Service to a Larger Community
09. Designing Navigation, Hierarchy & Structure
10. What the User Sees
11. Evaluating Site Results
12. Managing Contradictory Principles In Web Site Design



1. Setting Up a Web Site

What's in a (Domain) Name?
Every company or individual should own their legal name (if it's still available!)
If you own more than one name, several names can point to a single web site.
Tip: avoid names with characters that can be easily confused such as '0' or 'O', and especially '1', 'l', and 'I'.

How Domain Names Work?
Your domain name (e.g., somecompany.com) is distributed over the Internet by a number of different organizations, but a registrar must be hired to manage your name and maintain your ownership of the domain name. The name can be moved from one registrar to another, but that can be problematic, so be careful to pick an established registrar with good terms and a reputation for service.

Hosting Your Domain
After your domain name has been registered, a hosting company is hired to make your web site available under your name on the Internet. Your site will be stored on and delivered from the hosting company's server system. Uploading to your hosting company's server requires that you get a password, user name and DNS address from the host.

e3motion can help you with all phases of choosing a name and setting up your site.

2. Why Design for Search Engines?
Are you trying to attract new users? OR Does your site exist to service and reassure existing customers?

Existing Customers
Even users who are familiar with your company and web site will occasionally use a search engine to go to your site. If your site ranks high in the search results, users will have the impression that your company is competent and contemporary.

New Customers
Search engines are a powerful way to drive new users to your site and your message.

Constraints and Creativity
A site developed to attract search engines gives the wording and design consistency and focus. Search engines are not our masters, but understanding how they "think" provides a very useful set of constraints on creativity. An understanding of search engine ranking strategies empowers your team and streamlines decisions with a common design standard.


3. Search Engines: How They Think

Longevity & Search Indexing
The date your site went online is recorded on the Internet. Search engines always read this date and use it in weighing how early a site will appear in a search page(s). All other factors being equal, older sites score higher in search engine page rankings. So get out there and build a site today, don't wait for perfection.

Search Terms: Describe Yourself, Describe Your Clients.
What are the typical search terms that will lead to your web site? Terms typically reference: geography, market, audience, services, products, problems and solutions. If possible, try to reflect both your company and your audience in your web copy.

Redundancy, Metafiles & Verification
Is your designer talking metafiles?
Search engines compare the text of your metafiles to the text that is visible on the page. Every word in the metafile should appear in the text. Search engines compare text and metafile to verify that the metafiles are legitimate search terms. (In the early days of the web, designers placed highly searched terms, such as "sex", in metafiles on a site to 'fish' for viewers on a flowers or financial site, for example.)

TIP: To see the metafiles of any web page, change the view in your browser to "source". The metafiles will be among the first items in the now visible web code. (I didn't put metafiles on this page because I don't want competitors to access this content too easily!)

Importance of Word Order to Your Content
In what order will your users tend to use search terms?
Search engines index web pages higher when they contain search terms in the same order as the terms appear in a search. It is helpful to write copy and metafiles that follow the typical search pattern.

Importance of Page Order to Your Content
In what order will your search engines tend to search pages on your site?
Search engines index web pages that contain search terms in the order that terms link from the home page. Search terms that appear on one site's home page will outrank those same terms when they appear on deeper pages in another site. If content is critical to a search, put it on the home page.

Incoming Links, Page Rankings and Google
e3motion will create links from e3motion.com to your site-- this creates a path for search engine "spiders" to follow and index your site. Spiders start at a few huge institutions' sites (such as government or IBM) and follow their links out across the Internet, indexing what they find....so if no one links to you, you're an island, isolated. Why links from e3motion.com? The e3motion art and design business has generated many links from government and public sites that spiders follow to reach e3motion and its linked clients. Many web site service providers will also offer tools to promote your site by submitting your name directly to search engines.

Google is special in that it also uses a map of ranked links to your site to determine your site's status in a search. In other words, links from higher-ranked sites to your site help your page ranking more than links from lower-ranked sites. This is one of hundreds of criteria Google uses to rank a site.


4. Writing for the Web

Be a Word-Mill
A big part of the designer’s job will be rewriting and organizing copy. Clients do well to generate a lot of copy quickly with the understanding that much of it will not actually be used. The same goes for photos. Just send the designer a ton of words and pictures and suspend your judgments about how useful any specific content might be -- as one of my professors constantly intoned: "Great design involves a lot of waste."

Don't fear redundancy! Your high-school English teacher might have taken off points for reusing the same words and phrases, but the web (and print ads) can award points for redundancy. Why?-- because the search engines view redundant text as confirmation that your site is authentic and focused.

Talk conversationally about the services and products offered by your company--  informal language and verve is something we can use to punctuate technical, dry copy (like mine!).

Lists and Scenarios
Are you in the business of solving problems? Isn't everyone?
A scenario of a real life problem and your solution provides a list of search terms that will be used by someone else with that problem. Experience has shown that telling a real story can uncover more great search terms than brainstorming.


5. The Role of the Webmaster

The Master Archive
The webmaster is responsible for maintaining a current copy of the live site safely off-line. If there should be damage to the live site, the webmaster will be able to quickly upload the entire site without having to locate and trouble-shoot problems on the live site. Or if there is a need to change your web hosting company, a complete copy of your site's file structure allows the webmaster to upload the entire site to a new provider without having to collect and reassemble the hundreds of files that can make up even a simple web site.

The Broken Site
A web site is a complex bundle of interacting code. Changing one character in one web file can affect not only the appearance, but also the functionality of your entire site. The webmaster is responsible not only for keeping an archive of the live site, but also copies of the site at various stages of development so that he/she can compare archived code to misfiring flawed code.

Coordinating the Team
If more than one person is creating or altering web pages, it is very easy for team members to inadvertently overwrite one another's work. It is often the webmaster's job to not only monitor team members' efforts, but to take responsibility for uploading new content to the live site. Team members often submit pages to the webmaster for review rather than uploading directly to the live site.

The number of cross-links within a site increases exponentially. If you have a three-page site with 2 cross-links on each page, there are 6 cross-links. If you have a ten-page site with 9 cross-links on each page, there are 90 cross-links to check and manage. A twenty-page site with only ten cross-links per page, generates 200 inter-page cross-links. Add links that work within pages and links to other sites and a 'simple' ten-page site can have hundreds of links to follow.

Changing the name of a single file can then require the reprogramming of dozens of links across the site. The webmaster has the tools and techniques that allow him/her to update all the affected pages without opening and changing each individual page or link.

Advising the Team
A single web page may be controlled by several other web files—especially if remote .css files are used to control appearance or provide common elements (such as navigation or contact info) to multiple web pages. The webmaster generally is the person who has the best overview of how the site functions as a whole and how the various pages and files interact. Rather than spending an afternoon on trial-and-error, e-mail the webmaster. I say e-mail, because organizing your thoughts about a problem to level of the written word, puts you in the proper mind-set to deal with the underlying language of the web—written code.


6. Your Communications Hub

Providing Contact Info: E-mail, Voice and Snails
Web contact pages should provide info for company e-mails, telephone numbers, and snail-mail addresses. If there is a person who responds to a specific client need, state that clearly on the contact page.

Live Chat??
Live Chat is a type of instant messaging. Companies that have a very large customer base use instant messaging in their call centers.

Guestbooks allow visitors to leave contact info, questions and comments on your site. E-mail links to a particular person or department may be more useful for your company than a guestbook.

News, Calendars and Special Events
Your web site can be used to post schedules and calendars. Frequently updated News, Calendar and Special Event web pages are another tactic to encourage search engines to index your site.

Identity Verification for Field Employees and Salespersons
Web contact pages that post employee portraits can function as a way for your clients to verify your employees' identity and status.

On-line Tools: Calculate, Aggregate, Diagnose
Would your company benefit from the development of on-line tools?
Mortgage, real estate and other financial companies are putting on-line calculators on their web pages. Shopping carts that calculate shipping and taxes are commonplace on retail sites. There are web sites that can diagnose problems with your health, your car, or your web pages. Companies must do a cost-benefit analysis before committing to the implementation, development and maintenance of a virtual tool. Virtualization of software tools can keep users coming back to your site.

Levels of Privacy and Security

  1. Open: Available from the main site
  2. Unlinked: available to search engines, but not linked into the main site; you can give this address to customer (and they can give it to someone else.)
  3. Hidden from robots and spiders: Unavailable to search engines, and not linked into the main site; you can give this address to customer (and they can give it to someone else.)
  4. PW protected: You can give this password to an employee or customer (and they can give it to someone else.)
  5. Encrypted: stored info that requires a current password or key to access in any way.
  6. Local: hey, the person in your office is your biggest security concern.

Collateral Advertising
Collateral' is the marketing term for a collection of coordinated advertising products, such as brochures, postcards and the web. What are the collateral modes of communication currently used by your company and how could they be enhanced and made more productive by support from the web? Printed paper? E-mail? Telephone? Meetings? For instance, you can reduce printing costs by printing a single document or ad that refers clients to the web for current information or schedules. Telephone ads can refer customers to your web site as well as providing a phone number.


7. Business Content
Reduce telephone time, let the site speak for you.

Here are some examples of common functions for a business site:

Services And Products

Put as many employees as possible on a site-- pictures, bios, job description, etc. This greatly increases the chances that a new customer will call. ---it's also  great for morale and self esteem.  (e.g., most real estate sites market the agents as much as the properties)

Company History And Culture

Inventory And Catalog

Sample Contracts

Calendars and Schedules

Terms Of Credit And/Or Payment

On-line Forms


Company Announcements

Company News Releases and Awards

Employee Handbook

Emergency and Safety Procedures

Human Resources And Morale Building
Nothing builds morale like putting someone's picture on the site.

Your site attracts potential employees even without direct references to employment on the site. The web site is where your future employees get their first impression of your company. A web site that accurately reflects your company will increase the number of quality resumés from job applicants.


8. Self-Promotion Through Service to a Larger Community

Free White Papers, Education, and Public Service
Many companies publish 'white papers' and other free information on their site. A white paper typically describes a technical real world problem and its solution. White papers are a public service, and not only do they attract searches, they attract visitors to your site who may be potential customers, collaborators or employees.

Outgoing, Incoming & Reciprocal Links
Outgoing links to other sites help to validate your site with search engines (such as Yahoo) that base their ratings primarily on your content rather than your traffic. Providing useful information encourages other sites to link to you-- and those links from other sites are the basis of much of your Google search ranking-- so we want as many links as possible from other sites to your site. If you have an associate with a links page, offer to link to their page if they will reciprocate with a link to yours.


9. Designing Navigation, Hierarchy & Structure
The design of the average page in print or on the web should be developed first, then the front pages. Colors and ornament are derived from the utilitarian aspects of the average page. Don't try to force average pages to match a homepage.

Respect common web navigation conventions

Organize content before finalizing a navigation system

Provide feedback to the user

Ornament and backgrounds as an aid to navigation


10. What the User Sees

Every Computer Is Different
Expect every computer screen to show a different version of a web page. Text must be in a form that allows variation or search engines (and blind users) cannot read it. It's tempting to tune a web site to look best on the CEO's personal computer terminal, but your site needs to look it's best on a typical user's computer.

Designers often use code rather than actual images to create navigation elements. This code will almost always vary in appearance, depending on the viewer's computer. So why use code rather than pictures?-- code is much easier (cheaper!) to change across a site and it downloads much faster than images made of jpeg's or gif's.

Screen Size
What will be the typical monitor size of your users? Will your site be viewed on a desktop, laptop, or cellphone?

People with large monitors tend to use multiple windows of comfortable viewing width, not single, newspaper-sized windows. So we design for a normal document window, not the entire screen. How a site works on a small screen or hand-held browser is of more concern to the designer than how it would work on a very large monitor.

The maximum comfortable line length for web copy is about 8". Longer lines tire the eye and make reading more difficult. Lines of copy longer than 8 inches won't print on a standard sheet of paper at 100%. Many people even find 50 characters (about 10 words) or less per line to be the most comfortable reading line length.


11. Evaluating Site Results

Prioritize Goals such as:
Create a positive customer experience
Create an informative customer experience
Generate direct responses from viewers
Generate a high number of page views
Compete successfully for search engine placement
Drive users to your site

Evaluate Subjective/variable Measures:
Quality of responses from viewers
Placement on search engine results pages
Searches using your metafile terms
Comparisons with peer sites

Prioritize Quantitative Measures:
Number of direct responses from viewers
Reports from ISP's on page views
Reports from web page placements services
Google™ PageRank™

Using Measures:
Establish baseline data
Record data/journals regularly
Compare to past data
Be skeptical
Discard bad data and strategies

Remember: You can't think outside of the box unless you've got a box.


12. Managing Contradictory Principles In Web Site Design
Here are some complex design topics you can discuss with your web designer:

Get It On-Line Vs. The Design Process
There are advantages to using templates from your hosting company and there advantages to using a designer.

Bigger Is Better Vs. Small Is Beautiful
Strategies that attract search engines may run counter to strategies to enhance user functionality.

Less Is More Vs. Less Is A Bore
Different audiences have different expectations for the web experience—are you a TV or a Kindle™?

The Big Picture Vs. For-Want-Of-A-Nail
It's difficult to be a detail-oriented person who makes the site function flawlessly and also be a visionary who keeps great ideas from falling through the cracks.

The Web Site As A Work In Progress Vs. "Is My Tie on Straight?"
Your web site is never actually finished. Don't wait for everything to be perfect and complete. The sooner you get something out there, the sooner search engines will be indexing your content. At the same time your site is representing you to the entire planet from Day One.

Don’t Drink The Marketing Department's Kool-Aide®
Hey! We are the marketing department! Traditional marketing ideas may not be appropriate for the web. "Giving it all away" might be a lethal strategy for brick-and-mortar stores with fixed periodic costs, but a winning one for a web site that has an up-front cost, but few maintenance fees.