All About Web Sites: Day 3 of 6

The web site series continues:
* All About Web Sites (MM blog)
* Website Series, Day 1: Message & Image
* Website Series, Day 1: Follow-Up Q & A
* Website Series, Day 2: Marketing
* Website Series, Day 3: User Interaction & Content
* Website Series, Day 4: Aesthetics & Usability
* Website Series, Day 5: Hosting & Technology
* Website Series, Day 6: Administration

(REMINDER: I’m discussing for the first time ever, my real-life Creative Brief I send to all potential clients. This is proprietary information, so please don’t copy anything I say without asking and/or providing credit.)

The next section on the Creative Brief questionnaire is USER INTERACTION & CONTENT.

Get out your pen and paper!

1. What is the one initial action you wish your target user to take from the home page of your web site?

The key here is two fold. First, whatever the whole point of the web site is, the user should be able easily follow through. Secondly, easy means easy for the user! Put that action right on the home page. The least amount of clicking the visitor has to do to get where you want them, the better.

Examples of desired visitor actions: click to view site map, read a story excerpt, view a trailer, comment on a blog post, email, call, sign guest book, purchase newest release, etc.

2. What is the primary action you wish your target user to take before leaving your web site? Is this the same action? Why or why not?

Perhaps the one thing you want them to do when they come to your home page is read all the awesome five star reviews you’ve been getting for your new release. Then, once they’re suitably wowed, you want them to buy the book before they continue surfing elsewhere.

So guess what? “Buy now” capabilities better be within clicking distance of all your new release marketing content!

Or maybe you’ve got a blog, not a traditional web site. The number one thing you want the visitor to do when the visit might be to read that day’s post. And the number one thing you want them to do before leaving might be to comment on that post.

So what do you do? You not only make commenting easy (most blog programs put a link right below or beside the post–make sure you don’t obfuscate the purpose of the link with overly clever re-wording!) but also give the reader a call to action at the end of your post, such as, “What do YOU think about circus carnies with dreadlocks and great teeth?”

3. List key elements or information you wish to have available on every page or section.

I’m going to put on my autocratic dictatorship hat and tell you a few I think are important.

Number one, you should have links to (at the very least) all the main sections of your web site present throughout. The reder should be able to get to anywhere, from anywhere. If you visit, for example, they’ve got access to all 42 primary shopping categories on every single page.

Number two, don’t hide your contact info. If you’re the regional Pampered Chef coordinator, consider having your phone number on the top of every page. Perhaps your email link is to the side or bottom of every page. If you prefer a contact form, make sure the link to that form is present on every page. Do not make the visitor hunt to find a way to interact with you or they will not interact with you.

Number three, if you have a large site with too much content to be able to link to every page from every other page, then create a comprehensive site map and link to that on every page.

Number four, if the primary actions you listed in questions 1 and 2 are not related to contacting you or navigating the web site, consider putting a method of acheiving those goals on every page. At the very least, every page should have a link to whichever page does let the visitor achieve those goals.

4. How many pages or sections (approximately) will your completed web site contain? Please list them below, and be sure to indicate which will be static, plain text pages and which will be dynamic, database-driven pages or shopping cart pages. Please indicate whether the emphasis on each page is high, medium, or low.

This is where you’d say something like, “I want six web pages. The home page will be of highest importance, with database-driven content displaying a different book cover each time the page is loaded, along with the appropriate reviews and buy now button. The contact page will have a form to email me, a form to email my agent, and a form to sign up for my newsletter. All three forms will allow the user to opt in to my reader database. The Books page will have 3 sub-pages for each of my 3 continuity series. Those pages will be static, containing unchanging book plates and back-cover blurbs.”

Or whatever. But you get the idea!

5. If this site will contain e-commerce, will you be using a free service such as PayPal? Do you have a merchant account through your bank instead? Do you have an online credit card processor? Please explain.

Let’s say you want to sell your books from your web site. How are you going to do so? Maybe you’ll link directly to Amazon or straight to your e-publisher. Or maybe you have a stack of them at home next to your dresser and you literally want to sell them yourself.

You might use a free or low-cost service like PayPal. You might set up a merchant account with your bank for true real-time credit card processing. Either way, you must know this in advance so your web programmer can develop the site accordingly.

6. What is the basic structure of the content, and how is it organized? Is there a content flowchart? If so, please provide.

While you do not need to have a graphical representation of your web site’s content structure, you should be able to provide the web developer with the detailed page hierarchy so your navigational system can be developed accordingly and all your pages link correctly.

Here is an example of what a flow chart might look like:

simple flowchart

7. Will the web site use existing content? If so, what is the source and who is responsible for approval?

This means, will you be writing your content yourself? Do you need a copywriter to create the text for you or tweak your existing content? Do you have an intern, assistant, or helper monkey who will be writing and updating the content?

However you decide to do it and whomever is in charge, the web developer will need to work closely with that person to understand the amount, content, and layout of the text for your web pages.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever been to a web site where it was difficult to locate contact information or hard to find a way to do whatever brought you to the web site in the first place? Or web sites where there really wasn’t much to do there at all, especially if you’ve already visited once? What are some ways typical visitor tasks could be made easier, more accessible, and more intuitive? What are some examples of content that would keep a visitor coming back?


  1. Cole - Reply

    You know I have been to websites where I haven’t been able to find a ‘contact’ doodaddy anywhere. That is sooo frustrating.

    I like the layout, thought process of what visitors are looking for. Thanks for sharing all of this!


  2. Celeste - Reply

    You are a genius! And so generous to share your expertise with us 🙂 I’m taking notes and waiting for the next installment. Thanks Erica!

  3. Sophisticated Writer - Reply

    Your website series is very valuable Erica. I’m taking notes.

    Your blog is always resourceful and fun to read 🙂

  4. A Paperback Writer - Reply

    I keep assuming that EVERY woman writer reads MSLEXIA, but I haven’t seen you mention it here, so possibly you don’t.
    I think it’s worth mentioning that MSLEXIA’s summer issue has tons of great info on the benefits and drawbacks of various net presence forms. True, they don’t go into the kind of detail about webpages that you have gone into (they don’t have the room), but they give a superb broad overview of blogs, websites, profiles, etc. and give tons of examples of women authors’ webpages done in different styles to reach different target audiences.
    You can order single issues and back issues at their website, so the summer issue should still be available.
    Really, this is the best writing magazine I’ve ever seen. It’s not swayed by advertising gunk like Writers’ Digest is. These people are serious about writing as an art.
    Okay, I’ll stop sounding like a comericial, but, Erica, your blog readers who are truly interested in websites ought to buy a copy of the summer issue.
    I can’t link, but copy and paste this address:

  5. lacey kaye - Reply

    Fabulous! And yes, I just had a problem yesterday trying to find something I wanted to see on a website. And I thought of you and this blog and I almost contacted them just to tell them to make it easier.

    But I didn’t… Because I’m lazy.

  6. Lenora Bell - Reply

    Wow, thanks for all the detailed information. This is so amazingly helpful.

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Erica Ridley