Websites: Message & Image

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Web Site Series, Essay 01: Message & Image

I’ll be running a six-part series on web sites–what to know, how to make your web presence successful, and other points to consider. In case you didn’t already know, I’ve been professionally designing and developing web sites for about ten years, and I’ve been programming computers since the mid-eighties when they didn’t even come with hard drives. (Ah, my Commodore 64 days… *g)

I’d like to go into greater detail on these points, and will be 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 providing credit, okay?)

A Creative Brief is a document consisting of a series of questions that help the client–and, subsequently, me–figure out the precise goals of the web site and how best to achieve them. The six main sections are:

1) Message and Image
2) Marketing and Promotion
3) User Interaction and Content
4) Aesthetics and Competition
5) Technology and Hosting
6) Content Administration

So, get out your pen and paper, and let’s start with today’s topic:


1. What is the message you wish to convey to your target audience through your web site?

If you were a bar, the message might be: “We are a fun, cowboy-themed club where y’all can come get your line-dancing on.” If you were a hospital, the message might be: “We are a safe, respected environment filled with caring professionals ready and able to help your child fight leukemia.”

But you’re not–you’re a writer. Doesn’t matter. You still need to know what message you want your web visitors to take away when they visit your web site. (If you don’t know, chances are good their overall/first impression will be something entirely different!)

2. Define the overall goals/purpose of your web site.

To provide information? To collect contact emails? To promote your upcoming book signing? To sell your new release?

Know all your goals. Put them in a list. Arrange them in order of importance.3. Is there an active positioning statement for the product/brand? If so, what?

The product is not your book. The product is you. And the brand is what describes you.

A “positioning statement” is a marketing term for a single sentence describing what you do, for whom, and why (what need you address/solve.)

Ex: I write wacky paranormal romances for commercial fiction readers in order to entertain, cheer, and amuse them.

What do you write? Who for? Why? (Why from the reader’s perspective, not yours.)

Now, you need one for your web site. (The above was a Career Plan bonus. *g)

Ex: provides authors with contact information, story excerpts, and writing tips.

4. What is the core benefit of your company/product to the consumer?

In the writing world, why should the reader plunk down $8 for your book? Or check it out from the library? Or even bother flipping through if a friend foists it upon them?

Is it scary? Hilarious? Riveting? Literary? Entertaining? Educational? Thought-provoking?

What does the reader get out of your stories?

And now ask yourself: what does your web visitor get out of your web site? Is it the same thing, or something different? Why or why not?

5. Who is your target audience? What are their online preferences and connection speed? Why do (potential) customers choose your books/blog/website?

Ann B. Ross has a different target audience than Christopher Paolini. The former has adult readers who may prefer larger type and might have slower internet connection speeds. The latter has younger readers who may be using fast school computers and appreciate a more graphic-intensive web site.

Who reads your books? Who comes to your web site? Are they the same people? What are their demographics (age, income, gender, location)? What are their psychographics (values, lifestyles)? What are their web-browsing behaviors (brand loyalty, purchasing patterns, bookmarking and revisiting habits)?

6. What kind of image do you want to portray?

Remember, if you don’t decide this in advance and purposefully execute a plan to achieve it, web visitors will make their own interpretations. Determine your image carefully.

Ex: professional, formal, light-hearted, expert, conservative, imaginative, creative, humorous, caring, fun, silly, hip, girly, manly, childlike, progressive, friendly, casual, serious, trustworthy, knowledgeable, dark, mysterious, inspirational7. Do you currently have any logos, slogans, or graphic design elements that you wish to incorporate into your web site? Are there any other graphic or photographic considerations you have before creating a web site?

If you decide to create a slogan, list your idea(s).

EX: “Stephen King: The Master of Horror”, “Debbie Macomber: Wherever you are, Debbie takes you home”, “Sherrilyn Kenyon: Mad, Bad, and Immortal”

Graphic considerations for my web clients often include custom photography and corporate colors. In your case, you might want handdrawn elf artwork to compmlement your fantasy series or soft pastels to better reflect your flowery romance, etc, etc, etc.

Decide, and add it to your list!

NEXT: Marketing

This article first began as an August 27, 2007 writer blog post.

Erica Ridley