Your Internet strategy defines how you will use the Internet to pursue your mission, accomplish objectives and expand your outcomes.

An experienced Web developer can help you define and hone your Internet strategy, but you should develop your own answers to some strategic questions.

Mission. Achieving your objectives with visitors requires that you convey a sense of your mission. Decide clearly how to make the Web site relevant to what you're trying to do.

  • What kind of Web site is congruent with your mission?
  • What tone will accurately convey your mission to your visiting audience?

Audience. Knowing exactly who will visit your site is essential.

  • Are they businesses or consumers? What are the demographics, seniors or young people? How affluent are they?
  • Do you want consumers to make purchases, or are you aiming at distributors and resellers? Or do you want to attract consumers for brand development then send them to a dealer?
  • Are your customers local, regional, national or global? If global, are other language versions desirable?

Audience relationship. Will you use the Web site to manage your customer relationships? If you don't know many characteristics about your customers and their Internet habits and preferences, find out.

  • What kinds of relationships do you currently have with them?
  • Would a focus group or survey of users be useful?

Positioning shift. What view does the target audience have of the company now? If you don't know, maybe you should consider some polling.

  • What image would you like to have in the marketplace after the Web site is functioning? Define how you think the Web site might contribute to that shift.

Measure success. Imagine the site is successful. What will it have accomplished for the company in three months, six months and one year after it is implemented?

  • How exactly will you quantitatively measure the Web site's success?

Current Web presence. Do you have an existing Web site? Have you had any means of measuring its success? Analyze whether limited success with an existing site was a result of concept, content, design or marketing.

  • The developer should understand whether the existing site has been effective, and whether it should be used as a building block or discarded altogether.

Objectives. Finally, identify some objectives you want to accomplish with a new Web site.

  • Do you want to build your brand or conduct online commerce?
  • Will you provide customer support through technical information or provide a conduit to your in-house staff?
  • Will you build relationships by providing information such as handy tips and humor?

Try to think a little out of the box but keep your goals achievable.

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Mary Ann Chapman, owner of Fanfare House, Inc., provides Internet strategy consulting, top-level Web site design, and browser-based back-office integration design for small- and medium-sized businesses.