IT intelligence: websites

Sue Fidler continues her series on website building with some functionality tips.

Now you have objectives, audiences, content and navigation, it's time to do the fun stuff: functionality.

You should at least be planning to have a site map, a text-only or print version and a basic search facility. Other site tools include breadcrumbs (navigation tools), large font options, terms and conditions, and copyright and contact details.

Administrative functionality will depend on your core activities, but should include email newsletter sign-up, applications, 'contact us' forms, volunteer sign-up, donating options, shopping and so on.

Can you integrate your database with the site and allow self-management for members, donors and volunteers? If so, now is the time to plan what it does and where it goes.

You also need to consider the Web 2.0 stuff, which includes blogs, RSS, forums, links to social networking or video- sharing sites and any opportunity for site users to add content or participate in the site.

However, resist the temptation to 'bandwagon'. You need to think seriously about your audience and objectives. Offering the wrong tools to the wrong audience is worse than useless; it will make the site look unused and put people off.

With interactive content, you need to think about what people come to the site to do and what you can offer them. Do you have enough stories to feed RSS, or the content for a blog? Can you seed a forum to get it started? Do your audiences have something to say or images to contribute?

Finally, do you have the resources to manage the site? If not, can you recruit volunteers to do it for you?

Functionality can make your site inviting and fun, and add a huge amount of colour. But it is also dangerous, because if it doesn't work or looks empty you will lose visitors rather than encourage them to return.

- Sue Fidler is an independent charity ICT and internet consultant.

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