Anatomy of a Web Site: The Key Components You MUST Have!
This article is designed for Beginners.
I know what you’re thinking:
Web site "anatomy?" That's obvious! I've seen hundreds of web sites!"
But, let me ask you something:
“If you were designing your OWN web site, where would you start? Do you know what pages & content to include…”
- …to continuously generate the most focused traffic to your site?
- …to keep your visitors engaged?
- …to meet Google’s strict “disclosure” policies?
- …to create a sense of trust with your readers?
For example, do you know…
- What page(s) you absolutely have to have to keep Google from “blacklisting” your site?
- How to create content to keep prospective clients feeling safe and secure, and wanting to hire you?
- The 4 common types (models) of web sites?
- Which model is best for your business?
- What is “Optimal User Experience” and how it effects your web site traffic?
- The “best” navigation structure?
- Who’s your audience?
Convinced this is critical information? …..
GREAT! Let’s look at each of these elements one by one…
Who’s Your “Audience”
If you don’t know who you are “talking to” (your audience…AKA your clients, prospects, customers, readers…), you shouldn’t even start! Understanding your audience is the first step to planning all elements of your web site, including:
- General Content
- Navigation structure
- Interactive elements
- Your “voice”
- Your Site Aesthetics (colors, style, layout, “look & feel”)
There are a number of techniques to determine this information…It’s all part of your initial planning and assessment process in defining your business niche. You must know what demographic(s) you are targeting to even have a viable marketing strategy.
There are several common “models” of web sites. These “models” have to do with the overall purpose of the site. There are some “special-purpose” sites, but for our needs here, I’ll be discussing the four most common business site models.
For most readers of this site, the Freelance / Small Business model is probably the best approach, but it’s possible you’d want to consider the Passive-Income (P-I) Model. There are are some unique advantages and challenges to this latter type of site. If you’re interested in learning more about this model, check out my article introducing the P-I Model. I also discuss the pros and cons in detail in a dedicated article in this Series.
The third common model is Corporate sites, which usually exist solely for corporate, high-level branding purposes. They usually contain media releases, corporate bio’s, and perhaps special causes they support. There is usually very little in the way of interactivity (visitor engagement) on these sites.
The fourth & final common site model is the Storefront: think of Amazon, Lowe’s, Kohl’s, Best Buy, etc. You’re no doubt familiar with one or more of these sites, and can likely think of many more examples of such retail sites. This is a special model of site, not to be confused with a freelancer’s site selling services or even a small number of products, such as photographs or original art. The major difference is scale, and this is a huge difference in the actual technical architecture of the site.
Requisite PAGES: Keeping Google Happy
- About PAGE: this keeps your visitors happy, and goes a long way to easing their concerns about “dealing with a stranger.” [This link opens a new tab where you can read more about Online Transparency and building trust.] Your ABOUT page also is the place to detail your qualifications for whatever service you are promoting. If you have a team, you can and should post their pictures, titles and qualifications as well. If you have a physical location, you should also include your physical address, and can place a map and directions on this page as well as your hours of business. And, don’t forget to publish your phone number and a link to your contact page (see details on this page below). But, don’t ever link to your email…you will get tons of spam (unfortunately there are bots out there that are mining [collecting] email addresses).
- HOME: It should be obvious that every web site has a Home page. Most experts agree this is the most important page on your site, since it is the first impression of your site, your business and you that many visitors will see.
- Contact PAGE: This page contains a contact form, where your site visitors have a chance to connect with you. It substitutes for email, and usually should only ask for minimal basic information (since most people are reluctant when asked to provide “too much” personal information).
- Services / Products PAGE(s): This is also obvious, but highly variable, depending on your niche and your business model (what you are providing to your clients / customers). If you are a Service Business, you may be able to adequately provide sufficient information to your visitors in only a few pages. If you are offering products, you might want to consider adding a “Shopping Cart.”
- FAQ (optional): The actual content of this page is debatable…There are at least two camps on how to create the FAQ, if you offer one at all. One view is the “traditional” FAQ, where you list common questions from people who are considering doing business with you. If you are an existing business, you likely already have lots of these questions on hand already. Another view is that you treat this strictly as a marketing document, where you only list questions whose answers will steer the prospect to you and you alone. (For my view on this, watch for my (future) dedicated article on FAQs, which is part of this Series — a link to the article will be added here when the article is published).
The Usability Factor
Have you ever read an instructional manual for a foreign-manufactured product?
We live in a global marketplace, and products and replacements parts come from all over the world, many from non-English-speaking countries. They try to explain things as best they can, but some of the words, especially our English idioms, just don’t translate very well. Which makes it really tough if you are trying to troubleshoot a technical problem or install a complicated mechanical part!
Besides the language, these manuals suffer from having the wrong people write them. They are usually written by technical writers, who inherently understand what they are writing about. They are NOT writing for the consumer.
Keep this in mind when you plan your web site’s “navigation structure” or MENU system. What may seem “perfectly clear” to you — since you know what your site is all about — may not make any sense to your site visitors.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Lay out your site content on paper (or in a mindmapping program).
- Write out the different categories of content (big picture, top-level).
- Make an OUTLINE of your site’s structure, starting at the top-level pages (HOME, About, Contact, Services/Products) and then fill in the 2nd-level pages. Continue down the “Structure tree” until you have reached the lowest level.
Once you have several different possible structures, take a look at them side-by-side. Evaluate if any of them is confusing or ambiguous. Ideally, show them to friends or associates who don’t know what your site is about and ask them to grade them for “usability.”
If you are totally stumped about how to organize your site, take a look at competitors’ sites, or other web sites in your industry / niche. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel, unless you can improve on it!
Actually, looking at favorite web sites BEFORE you lay out your site structure can be a great way to avoid “complexity problems” in the first place. Find some web sites you particularly like. They don’t have to be in your niche or industry. Take some time to figure out what it is you like about them:
- Are they easy to navigate?
- Do they have a great uncluttered design?
- Are they FUN?
- Are they easy to use?
- Are they different in some way?
Following these steps will make sure you get your web site off to a good start…But wait! There’s more. These are just the planning stages!
Links to new articles in this Series will be posted here!