Everybody says your business needs a Web site. But why? And where do you start? Here's an overview of the basic process and guidelines to help you be an informed consumer of Web services.

In the first column we talked about the importance of knowing the specific purposes you want your Web site to accomplish. This column will address how to describe your target audience accurately, which is the next step in the site development process. (Each of your Web site's purposes will involve a particular audience.) Describing your target audience is also an important step in the art and science of information architecture: Information needs to be structured for the people who will be using it.

Sometimes identifying the audience is easy. For instance, if online selling is one of your goals, you may be targeting people similar to your existing customer base. Presumably you already have some idea of who those people are (the demographics of your audience). If not, this is a good opportunity to figure out who's buying your products or services. Demographics include such things as your customers' age, average income, type of employment, level of education, etc.

However, your Web site goal may be to expand your customer base. Perhaps you've been selling primarily to business executives, but you believe your product would be of interest to college students as well. You've read that a lot of college students are online, and you may want your site to be designed to appeal to them.

Sometimes a site will have several target audiences. A start-up business, for example, might include information for customers, strategic partners, the press, job hunters, and potential investors. Each of these audiences has different needs that must be considered in the final design. A useful technique can be to create a composite persona for each audience - to describe a person, real or imagined, who represents a perfect example of the kind of customer you're trying to reach.

Perhaps the information for all your target audiences can be integrated into a single site, or maybe some of it should be linked to and built into a separate site. These are the kinds of decisions a Web development professional can help you make. The Web professional for this stage should have a good understanding of information architecture - how to structure information so that it is easy to navigate and understand.

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