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Assemble (and then Structure) Content ]

Content is the foundation of any web site. No exceptions. The rest is just fancy window dressing (literally) with aids to navigating the content. Bringing together existing information and beginning to generate new documents should begin as soon as possible and will probably continue for the life of the site. The content is probably at least categorically defined by the time you have a site map.

Content is what will bring visitors back to your site. Unless you're putting up a web-site to announce a one time event (like a Y2K+1 party) or to make a publicity related statement which will expire in the near term, you will want repeat visitors. Differentiate yourself from an on-line version of a commercial by providing a service to your visitors. At a minimum you may serve visitors by explaining the best way to use your product; at a more advanced level you may facilitate a forum of discussion which advances your field of expertise.

We are not just talking about mega-site portal, and no you don't have to buy Time-Warner to be successful, but you do need something beyond fluff or people will just back away from your site. If your site is to present collections of graphic art, then collections of graphic art will be the content. If your site is promote your expertise or product, your content has to be derived from that expertise or product, and everything else is aesthetic. Almost everyone has hit a site where either introductory graphics frustrated them, or advertisng hype annoyed them and for which they promptly left. By contrast, almost everyone has a few bookmarks to sites which, although a bit plain, offer some good information or references. Which scenario would you rather find yourself in?

Getting Started

Start by documenting everything you know about your products and services. Don't worry about the format of the information you're recording; whether you use Word or text files, or even a spreadsheet, the process of converting information to useable HTML later is fairly straightforward. It's even possible that staying away from HTML during these phases will keep you away from the temptations of applying formatting on the fly, and allow to more easily create a consistent look and feel later on.

Try to go beyond a web based re-intepretation of existing advertising materials and think about what people may want or need to know in addition to this stuff. If they're on your site chances are they're either already aware of your advertisements or have found you as the result of a search which will land them on a page with information indexed below the fancy introductory graphics you've displayed at your site entry.

Case Study Continued - Dave assembles Content

Dave has been running a weekly ad in the community newspaper for three years now, so he starts by pulling out his files with art submissions and ad copy going back 150 weekly issues. A careful review of this encyclopedic collection yields some useful information for the web site: Dave's address (the phone # changed last year) and the concept that Dave sells nice flowers. Dave ran the ads as a reminder to the community of his presence, but word of mouth enforced his reputation for wedding arrangements.

Dave needs to list and describe the products and services he provides. Maybe Dave has pictures left over from the last trade show he attended, or from some of the more impressive work he's done in the past. He may then choose to elaborate on a great number of things ranging from what works best in this climate for keeping cut flowers fresh, and what vitamins to feed your cactus, through to how to make a dramatic statement at a garden party installation comprising 36 arrangements and evoking an art-deco feeling. You get the idea. Dave may even want to allow a mechanism for feedback or collaboration on the information he's put forth.

Structure the Content

In order to better facilitate the later processes of creating and maintaining links between your various documents and images some thought should be given to the underlying directory structure of your files. The site map you created earlier may be suggestive, but you need to consider the maintenance and eventual growth of your site.

This becomes very sites specific, but I'll make a couple of general recommendations. Create folders for each category of information at the root level, and create a separate folder at the root for any one type of files which will be shared across the site. It's probably worth taking a stab at creating this structure on paper before you start creating or moving files, and it's also worth keeping it up to date, especially as your site grows.

Case Study Continued - Dave's Directory Structure

Folders on the root directory:

  • admin: containing such documents as privacy policy, copyrights, site map
  • arrange: for flower arrangement products and services
  • decorate: for site installation and decorating services
  • flowers: products and any info about specific cut flower breed, e.g. carnations by full and half dozen, Rosaceae info
  • plants: products sold 'alive' and info about breeds, e.g. window box ivy sampler,
  • care: tips on how to keep cut flowers fresh, specifics by breed
  • green: tips on keeping growing things alive, e.g. bonsai for everyone, removing cactus thorns
  • tools: tools of the trade - products and tips
  • vessel: pots and vases, e.g. mexican clay pots, cut crystal
  • holidays: appropriate plants, gifts, seasonal favourites
  • elements: logos, navigational items (buttons etc.)
  • pics: for pictures inteneded for site wide use
  • contact: info about the store, about us (the employees), history etc.

File naming/organization conventions:

Be clear on the basic conventions you'll use to avoid headaches later. Decide whether your basic pages will have .htm or .html exrtensions (it doesn't generally matter, just pick) and how you intend to name pictures. You need to decide whether documents based on user input (such as collaboration on techniques) should reside within an informational category because it's specific to that category or reside separately because it spans categories. (For example: Dave may put a discussion about the hardiness of different ivies in the /green folder mentioned above, but would choose to place esthetic discussions about colour combinations in a separate root folder because its applicable to flowers, arrangements and decorating.)

Next: Link your documents

 

 

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