By Joshua Lucas


Issue # 6

Wednesday, April 8, 1998


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Bill, the owner of a local hardware store, feels like his brain is overloaded with information. Over the past three weeks he has researched his competition, split his customers into one of two categories ("professional builders" versus the "weekend do-it-yourself crowd"), and surveyed his customer base to fill in any gaps in his knowledge. All of this information gives Bill the confidence to launch and maintain a successful web site.

What Bill needs to do now is to begin to map all of the information he has gathered into a plan for his web site. One of the first things Bill needs to realize is that there is not just one site he can create.

With all of his information about customers and competitors, there could be many different options that could become a successful web site. How can Bill figure out which is the most beneficial?

He could easily ask his customers to preview his upcoming web site (he could have even have asked his customers when he was first surveying them.) Bill could get their e-mail address and let them know when it is ready for previewing. He could even have two or three different designs waiting for them; this would give great feedback.

One idea to encourage customer feedback is to offer a small discount for their help. The beautiful thing about this is that it doesn’t have to end once the site is launched; you can create a base of testers to tap into whenever you want to impliment new ideas and features. Some customers may be interested in helping without extra incentives. Of course, the longer you do keep customers testing, then more than likely they will want something in return. . .so be prepared for that contigency.

Once Bill has all his information gathered, he needs a way to map it. While you could spend money on a professional charting program, all you really need to use some skills you probably learned in Kindergarten!

Take a big piece of paper, and nice black marker. At the top of the page, draw a square which will represent the home page or the first page of the site. From there, begin to add squares connected to the home page in a tree-like fashion. Think of the different categories, which your information has fallen into; every block of information becomes a new page, somewhere on the branch, like this -

Rough Sketch

"Lucas, Joshua Lucas". . .writes for a living. By day he writes software, and by night he weaves words. Josh has coded in Java, C, C++, and Perl for some of the hippest and most recognizable companies in the US, including The Gap, Starbucks, Nike, and Nordstroms. Josh's rich experience, coupled with his diligent daily research, places him as close to the "cutting edge" as you can get without falling off. He and his wife recently moved from Los Angeles, CA to Boston, MA.



On a big piece of paper, you can sketch out your site using boxes to represent web pages. Start with the different groups you put your customers into as the different sections under the Main section. Then put yourself in their shoes and ask what information you would like to see there. And don't forget to keep sending me topics you'd like to learn more about!

For Bill, the categories off the first page should be broken into two sections; one for professionals, and one for the do-it-yourself crowd. This would give Bill the chance to give both groups a different message that would keep them returning to the site, without alienating the other group.

For example, for the professionals, Bill could have new products that will make their jobs easier, or a section where they could give each other advice on questions they might have. For the weekend warriors, Bill could post the dates of up-coming sales, or a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section, which would put together many of the questions which Bill and his team gets asked every day.

The most important thing for Bill to realize is that a web site is a flexible solution. It is one that might change many times from the beginning to the end. Information can be displayed and relayed in many different ways, and with many different ideas. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Show your customers your ideas first, and don't be afraid to get their feedback. After all, the site is for them! This is the beauty of the web.

NEXT WEEK: The Next Stage



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