13Sep

Down in the trenches: Educating your users on what their website is for

Posted by Elf Sternberg as Uncategorized

I recently got a full-time job and have had only limited time to dedicate to doing freelance, but I’ve been working on finishing up three clients, one of which I’ve had for a long time, and sending them merrily on their ways.

The most recently acquired of these clients is an interesting challenge.  They’re lobbyists.  Small time, state-level, but still: lobbyists.  They have a popular constituency they represent (they’re not a corporate interest), and their constituency has certain special needs that a Section508 specialist like myself can help with.  And they have no real idea what a website is for.  Their current website is basically a junk drawer of pages, maintained with Microsoft FrontPage, with whatever was most recently in mind what winds up on the home page.

It won’t be enough for me to move them to a CMS with an original structure.  I’m currently offering them 15 hours of design and development time (they’ve used only four, and so far so good), and 5 hours of training, and I’m realizing as I talk to them that more than just “This is how you use WordPress and WAMP,” I’m going to have to discuss what it means to have a web presence.

Home pages do a lot of heavy lifting.  First, they inform new users about who you are and what you do.  That should be first and foremost on any home page.   The navigation and initial buttons should also guide new users to more about who you are, what you do and, most importantly, never scare anyone off.  Convincing your clients use the home page properly is priority #1.

Then, for the purposes of this client, the website informs people who are interested in what lobbying efforts are being done on their behalf (or perhaps on behalf of interests to which the visitor is opposed).    These are your regular visitors, the ones who want to get your monthly email newsletter, but no more than that.

And lastly, the website helps organize the distributed network of grassroots citizenry who are passionately interested in what the lobby is attempting to achieve.  These people want both direction and a free hand in participation.  These are the people who want to comment on your posts, participate in the conversation, and give direct feedback.  They don’t need help finding anything– they want to find it, they’ll search for it.  Just make sure it’s there, findable, in the right navigation bar or footer.  Anywhere obvious will do, so long as it doesn’t clutter the experience of the user.

The challenge now is crafting a website that appeals to all three of these groups.  It can be done.  And it can even be pretty.  It’s not pretty now; it’s very raw, but the low-vision support is in.

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