Greg Gore is Vice President of Praxis International, Inc.
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Tackling the 10-Step Process of Building a Successful Web Site
by
Greg Gore

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Businesses and individuals are launching web pages and web sites at a dizzying pace. There are now approximately three billion web pages on the World Wide Web. With so much content available, competition to attract and retain clients, visitors and surfers is fierce.

For advice on how an individual or business can build a successful web site, one need look no further than The Vanguard Group of Malvern, Chester County's largest employer. Beyond being one of the nation's premier mutual fund companies with $550 billion plus in assets managed, The Vanguard Group is an acknowledged leader in Web site design. Its site, www.vanguard.com, which cost upwards of $100 million to develop, has received accolades from such publications as Forbes and Harvard Business Review and has won a Webby award for site design.

Tim Buckley, Principal, Web Services at the Vanguard Group says that building a successful web site is a ten step process. "Many companies fail in their web site design because they don't understand the process. Essentially, they start at step four instead of step one," he explains.

The Vanguard ten-step web design process begins with:

1. State your clear business objective. At Vanguard, the traditional objectives have been increasing client trust, client retention, and reducing expenses incurred by clients. "The client rules," Tim emphasizes.

2. Define your target audience. Vanguard's web site targets two groups: individual investors who invest for the long term and institutions interested in Vanguard's funds and defined contribution services.

3. Survey potential users on needs. This step can be accomplished by e-mail, mail, or phone. This is a difficult step because potential users often cannot visualize a need for something new that they have not seen or experienced in the past. "For example, we didn't know we needed microwaves in our kitchens until they became available," Tim comments. "We have found are target audience is interested in convenience, candid communications, and online guidance."

4. Brainstorm capabilities that meet needs and objectives of potential users. "From my experience, this is the step where most companies begin," reaffirms Tim. "When brainstorming, we have been tempted to include the weather, a mortgage calculator, and many other 'nice-to-haves' on our web site. But, these services were available on other web sites and did not fit the basic objective for our target audience."

5. Prioritize your objectives and capabilities. Focus on issues of payback, feasibility, and expected demand as they relate to your objective and target audience.

6. Knit your prioritized capabilities into a cohesive experience. Be sure to include traditional channels if you have them. "By integrating our web site with our traditional channels of doing business with our clients, we have built a tremendous synergy. This approach offers significant advantages over Internet only companies and companies who do not integrate the web into their total business plan. Currently, 50% of our customer transactions are web-based, and this percentage continues to increase. Log-ons per day are in the range of 75,000 to 100,000," adds Tim.

7. Test your web site with users and potential users. "Present a prototype of your design to focus groups and incorporate their feedback. Then repeat the process," urges Tim.

8. Build your site.

9. Measure success rates and capture feedback. Vanguard measures success in several ways. For example, the number of clients viewing a form and leaving the page before completing or downloading the form is one measure. Vanguard also ensures its site meets its "performance engineering" standards in terms of load time, graphics, accessibility, and the like.

10. Refine your site. Since its launch in 1995, Vanguard has made several substantial revisions to its web site. Most recently, the Vanguard home page was redesigned to separate personal investors from institutional investors thereby providing quicker access to services of interest to each group.

Using these ten steps, you are now ready to begin designing and building your own web site.

__________

The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (www.GregGore.com)

This column was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on January 3,, 2001. Greg Gore can be reached at gg@GregGore.com.

2009 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved.