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Outside Help for Your Web Site

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If you’re redesigning your
organization’s Web site, there comes a time, no matter how good you are, when
it makes sense to turn things over to a specialist. Although you may be able to
choose among an alphabet soup of technologies—from CSS to XML, using the latest
Adobe InDesign (www.adobe.com)
or Macromedia Dreamweaver (www.macromedia.com)—to improve the appearance and
performance of a Web site, there is a risk that you will not use them
appropriately.

 

A Web site “shouldn’t be too
fancy, too cluttered, or too noisy,” said Leigh Weber, president of the
Independent Computer Consultants Association (ICCA), echoing the views of many.
“An effective Web site is easy to use.”

 

Weber points out that when people
go to a Web site, they typically take only seconds to decide whether or not to
stay. Barraging visitors with flash and withholding substance is one way to
ensure that they leave. Another is to design your site from your perspective,
starting with your organization’s accomplishments or history, rather than from
the visitors’ perspective, starting with their needs and how you can serve
them.

 

Help in Hiring

 

In going outside for help, your
choices include Internet service providers, graphic designers, Web consultants,
Web design shops, technology consulting firms, traditional advertising and/or
public relations agencies, and interactive agencies.

 

In deciding which type of
specialist to use, listen to Socrates: Know thyself. “You need to define what
type of site you are,” said Weber—whether, for example, the site is primarily
informational, interactive, or e-commerce.

 

Each requires different technical
skills. Informational sites can be put together by graphic designers with Web
experience. Interactive sites can require database or instructional design
skills. E-commerce sites call for database skills as well as knowledge of the
most appropriate e-commerce software packages available.

 

There are various ways to find Web
help. The ICCA’s Web site (www.icca.org) lets you search by skill keyword and by
geographical area. Or visit Web Design Plaza (<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>www.webdesignplaza.com
), where you can
home in closely by using pull-down menus to choose the type of Web site yours
is, the services you require of a consultant, the features you require for your
site, and your budget.

 

If you want an attention-getting,
award-winning Web site, one option is to use an agency responsible for
attention-getting, award-winning Web sites. Interactive, advertising, and
design agencies behind the Web sites honored in the last Webby Awards (<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.webbyawards.com
)
include:

 

·      Biggs-Gilmore (<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.biggs-gilmore.com
)

·      Crispin Porter & Bogusky (<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.cpbgroup.com
)

·      Critical Mass (<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.criticalmass.com
)

·      David Day & Associates (<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.dday.com
)

·      Xylem Interactive (<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.xyleminteractive.com
)

 

Checking Qualifications

 

In choosing a developer to work on
your site, look critically at the developer’s own site. Some go overboard on
the face painting, making it more difficult to get to the content. But maybe a
site boasting the latest technological bells and whistles will project just the
image you want.

 

When talking with prospective Web
designers, don’t get snowed by buzzwords. Make sure you understand what they
mean and whether the technologies behind them are appropriate for your site.

 

Ask for a list of URLs of the Web
sites the designer has worked on, along with contact information for the people
responsible for these sites. Talk to them about their experiences with the
designer.

 

If you’re looking to redesign your
site, ask for a critique of it and for examples of how the designer would
improve it. But first weed out outdated or otherwise extraneous material; that
step can save you money on the redesign later.

 

Ask about the consultant’s or
agency’s fees. Some charge on an hourly basis, others assess a one-time lump
sum, while still others use retainer agreements.

 

Get an estimated time frame for
completion of the project. It typically takes several weeks to several months
to build and test a site. If your designer works by the hour, ask to be alerted
if the project is going over budget.

 

Avoid the common mistake of
focusing too much on initial development and not enough on long-term
maintenance by asking about arrangements for maintaining the site. A consultant
can handle maintenance for you or provide the tools and training so you can
handle it in-house.

 

Most important, make sure that
anyone you’re considering hiring listens. You don’t want to wind up with a
cookie-cutter site. Your site should be carefully crafted to meet your specific
needs and goals. Good Web consultants, like any good consultants, ask as many
questions as they answer.

 

Reid Goldsborough is a
syndicated columnist and author of the book <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway
.
He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or http://members.home.net/reidgold.

 

 

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