Reviewed December 5th, 2008 @ 09:36PM
Kevin Potts has done an incredible job of presenting the logical steps to make your site usable, accessible, and marketable. The web industry is a noisy one. Everyone has a website, and with the help of some text editors, anyone can theoretically create a website. There is, however, a big difference between simply creating a website and creating a usable website. I found the key to reading this book is to let yourself step outside of your projects. Take a look from the outside in and truly think about how to create value. Too many times we get attached to our projects and can become very narrow minded. The journey to creating a successful website isn't always an easy one. There are many decisions that need to be made before designs are created or markup is crafted. This book starts us at the beginning of that journey, and walks us through some necessary steps to creating a successful website that meets our business goals as well as connects and interacts with those around us.
The decision making process
The beauty of the web is that things can constantly shift and change. We are not working within a static environment. We have the ability to change on the fly and monitor and respond to our needs. The first 4 chapters set the foundation for creating a marketable site. Addressing your goals, visions, and needs, and setting up the proper building blocks to give you the solid foundation you need. These things include redesigning your site and your objectives, planning your platform and content management, gathering up your content, addressing accessibility issues to give your site maximum visibility, and setting up your site architecture and navigation. Within these items you find a way to tell your story. Chances are there are many other's out there with similar stories, so you need to take the time to plan properly.
Craft your words wisely. Understand the technology and the constraints. Ultimately, you need to understand your target audience and how they use the web. Without users, your beautifully designed site will be nothing more than decoration. Take the time to plan your architecture and navigation to match your user's mental models. You need to first realize that, in most cases, you are not your target audience. Step back and empathize with your users and their browsing habits. These chapters give you all of the little details you need to build a solid foundation. You now understand your goals, you have designed to the needs of your users, and you are aware of the proper tools to use (and to avoid) to let your story be heard.
It's all about the content
Now that we have the foundation, the next 6 chapters will walk use through some of the more common pieces of content found within an array of different websites. Pieces of content such as the homepage, an about us section, products and services - whichever it is that you happen to offer, harnessing the words that others have said about you, engaging your users through blogging features, and ultimately supporting your story and communicating with your audience. These pieces of content need to be structured wisely. No one piece should exist without the others. When done well, you will find ways to inter-weave your content between each of the different sections. Your homepage is a prime example of a page that has valuable real-estate and can be used to direct your visitors when you want them to go. The goal here is to not create your content in small islands, but to craft your content in a way that encourages scanability, readability, and interaction from your users.
Now we have build a solid foundation, and added our content on top of that foundation. Things are starting to fill out nicely and you are becoming proud of the the work you have accomplished. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. While things may look great, you still need to find a way to make your story known to others. That is, after all, the goal of this book, to market your website. Let's now look at some ways to get in the game.
Shout it to the hills
You have a solid foundation. You have a well crafted architecture and quality content. Now the time has come to release your site into the wild. The next 5 chapters walk through some steps you can take to become more visible. The first of these steps involve planning your server to respond to an array of different request from your users such as proper redirects, searching both outside and within your website, gracefully handling errors and respectfully guiding the users, and understanding the different contexts users may be accessing your content (online, print, devices, etc). Next up you want to cover your bases with the legalese. This can be useful in many cases to protect your business, your content, and your users. Having this in place comforts both you, the owner of the website, and the user visiting your website.
The next section compresses what could have taken an entire book. This is the process of SEO: optimizing your architecture, your content, and your requests to give you maximum visibility. This chapter gives you some very useful tips for understanding how search engines find your content, and how you can let them freely crawl your newly built website or a re-worked existing website. Careful considerations need to be taken in both instances. This leads into the last 2 chapters that discuss outbound marketing and online marketing. All of these come under the umbrella of telling your story inside of a very crowded Internet. These chapters give way to very powerful techniques to getting into the community and interacting within it. It is the art of building relationships with those around you - both websites and users.
Building a successful website takes time. You need to allow time nurture your website and watch it grow. As we recognized in the beginning, the beauty of the web is that we can constantly shift and change to fit our needs and goals. While this book covers a broad array of topics, it covers them in a very concise and readable manner. Whether you are a site owner with little understanding of how the web works, or you are a seasoned web developer trying to find the next steps, this book will be able to point you in the right direction. Kevin shows the very value of connecting with those around you, by providing a very useful appendix of useful resources such as books, websites, and articles that expand on each of the topics found within the book. If you do any marketing on the web, then this book will prove to be an extremely valuable resource both now and in the future.