The Virtual Activist

A Training Course


Part 3B:Web-based Advocacy and Outreach Tools -- Web Site mini-trainer

How to Get Web Space for Your Organization

Before a webpage can be seen by the public, it needs a Web address. Some Internet companies offer a limited amount of free webspace and provide users with various tools to begin building their webpages.

Example: http://www.geocities.com
Example: http://www.tripod.com
 

Non-profit organizations might also consider buying their own domain names. ICANN has a list of accredited companies that help companies and individuals register domain names. Most of the companies charge a yearly fee to reserve a domain, but may also offer a variety of free services, such as free e-mail, technical support, and website forwarding. Compare a few different services to find the one that best suits your organization. See How to Find the Perfect Web Hosting Solution.

Example: http://www.yournamefree.com
Example: http://www.webhosting.com
 

HTML

The main language used on the World Wide Web is HTML. HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language.

HTML is used on the Web for three reasons:
The basics of HTML are relatively simple. The structure of a Web page is:
 
<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE> Title of Page </TITLE>
</HEAD>
<BODY>
Put the body of the page here.
</BODY>
</HTML>
 
Most HTML commands use two tags, one at the beginning of the tagged text and another at the end:
 
<TAG>TEXT</TAG>

See HTML 4.0 Elements for a list of all the HTML tags.

Tutorials that teach the basics of HTML are available on the web. See About.com's list of HTML Tutorials, Tips, and Tricks.

Example: HTML: An Interactive Tutorial for Beginners
Example: NCSA's Beginner's Guide to HTML
 

Additional HTML resources:

For a list of common mistakes made on the web, see Jakob Nielsen's Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design.

The HTML code on a website does not all have to be coded by hand. There are programs that will convert documents of non-HTML file types to HTML. See W3's HTML Converters Page for information and links to different HTML converters.

JavaScript

JavaScript is an optional object-oriented scripting programming language that can be used to change colors or pictures as your mouse moves over something on your Web page, or for interactive menus, or for other tasks. JavaScripts are short programs that allow users to interact with your Web page. Not all browsers are capable of or enabled to run these scripts. Some people turn off this capability for security reasons because malevolent Internet users have found ways to exploit security holes in browsers with JavaScript. The security risk, however, is usually minimal. Do not create a web page with navigation based entirely on JavaScript.

Web Content and Accessibility

Focusing on content is the easiest way to make a site compelling and accessible to the widest range of users. There are a couple of things to consider in assuring the accessibility of your page to people with varying technology and needs. These are interoperability, internationalization, and accessibility to disabled persons.

A much more complete description of disabled accessibility can be obtained at W3C's technical accessibility guidelines at: http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/

An easier to follow, slide show based curriculum of the Web accessibility guidelines proposed by the W3C is available at: http://www.w3.org/WAI/wcag-curric/

Michael Stein wrote a great article called Focus on Content (reprinted with permission) that provides a brief methodology for creating content driven sites.

Web Promotion

Web site promotion and maintenance should be considered as you begin to design your site. In this section, we identify some of the things you need to consider.

Michael Stein presented an excellent outline called Success on the Internet: Creating An Effective Online Presence at a conference in June, 1999 (reprinted with permission).

Additional Tips

Other Web Tools

Password protected Web sites let you limit access to an entire site, or to portions of a site. This configuration can be useful for membership organizations that wish to provide dues-paying members with services or information not available to the general public. It can also be a useful way for an organization's leadership (Board of Directors, steering committee, etc.) to exchange information or discuss strategy.

Set up a page on your site with links to other Web pages relevant to your message. Whenever you provide a link to another site, contact that site's webmaster and ask for a reciprocal link back to your site. Reciprocal links can help drive traffic to your site from other sites, as well as enrich the content that you offer readers since you are pointing them to other relevant information. But keep in mind that these links can also drive traffic away from your site. That it why it's important to ensure that the links are relevant to your message, and to ask for a reciprocal link back to your site.

Set up a good META Tag for Web crawlers

Key words, page descriptions, expiration dates and other information about your page and site can be "tagged" with html code in the header lines so that they can be located by search engines such as Alta Vista or Infoseek. This will increase the chance of your site being located in a search. See the example below for more information on how to use Meta tags.

Examples: Web Design Group's FAQ (question 26) http://htmlhelp.com/faq/wdgfaq.htm#26
Examples: HTML Meta Tag http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/struct/global.html#h-7.4.4 (Note: this one best used by those familiar with HTML)
 

Do pro-active promotion to mailing lists and newsgroups

Example: NetAction Notes #32 http://www.netaction.org/notes/notes32.html
Example: Jakob Nielsen's Alert Box alert-box.txt
 

Enhance staff/board signature files to provide a friendly reminder for your correspondents

Examples: a few email signature (.sig, pronounced dot-sig) samples
 

Create campaign icons for linking with other sites.

Icons can be very effective in advocacy campaigns, and they may also help drive traffic to your site. The best icons are simple, small, and easily associated with the issue. They can also be integrated with other aspects of your advocacy. For example, the same graphic can be used on bumper stickers or buttons.

Examples: Any Browser Campaign http://www.anybrowser.org/campaign/
Examples: NetAction's Fish Campaign http://www.netaction.org/msoft/winfish.html
 

Be careful about the use of graphics.

Graphics can be used to enhance your webpage. However, the overuse of graphics will slow down your website and may distract users from the information on your website. Sites with low graphics are going to be more accessible than sites with high graphics or advanced features like video streaming. See NetAction Notes No. 33 for a discussion of the use of graphics on the web. Organizations can create their own graphics or use graphics from websites that offer free graphics for use on other webpages. Webcom's Index of Icons and Graphics has a list of these sites.

Regularly review your Web site statistics to analyze how your site is doing. Obtain statistics not just on your main page, but for other main "section" pages as well.

Examples: NetAction Sample Log http://www.netaction.org/training/sample-log.html
 

As you see in reviewing the sample log from NetAction's Web site, there is a lot of information that can be collected and analyzed. The Internet Service Provider who hosts your Web site may have a uniform way of reporting the statistics on your site, in which case you will have less flexibility about what information you can obtain and analyze.

Monitoring your Web site statistics is useful for a number of reasons. First, it can help you gauge the effectiveness of your Internet outreach. If the statistics tell you that only 150 people have visited your Web site in the last six months, you will probably want to consider other strategies, or possibly reconsider whether maintaining a Web site is the best use of your organization's resources. You can also use the statistics to determine which aspects of your site are attracting interest, and which are not. This could be useful when you consider a redesign of your site, or the addition or deletion of specific information.

Non-profit organizations may also find the Web site statistics helpful in convincing potential funders that your efforts are worthy of their support. For example, you can document the number of signatures on an electronic petition, or the number of faxes sent to a member of Congress from your site's fax server.

Next: Part 4: Membership and Fundraising