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.
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.
The main language used on the World Wide Web is HTML. HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language.
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.
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.
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.
Interoperability merely refers to the need to make the site compatible with different Web browsers and technology. Consider how different web browsers will view your page.
View your page(s) with different browsers, and even different versions of the same browser, such as Netscape Navigator, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and AOL's older browser. For more info, see the Best Viewed With Any Browser Campaign.
Validation of your page is very important to ensure that any mistakes that might be overlooked in one version of a browser will be caught. For more information, read http://www.wdvl.com/Authoring/HTML/Validation/Why.html.
One method of achieving interoperability is by making multiple pages formatted for each browser, which can be very time and labor intensive.
An easier method is to limit the use of frames and high-end multimedia, as they're not widely adopted yet. Using fancy, advanced features of web-sites, such as large graphical images, photos, frames, Shock-wave animations, or Java applets, will reduce the number of users who can view your website, and will cause long download times even for those who can view it.
Create good "ALT" tags on your Web site for visitors with images turned off or text-only browsers, or create "text-only" Web pages.
If you can, survey your membership and watch your logs to understand their technological "level" so you can adapt the technology on your Web site to fit their needs, interests and abilities.
Internationalization deals primarily with the incorporation of certain standards within the HTML encoding, but is important for translatability of Web sites to different languages. While this can get fairly complicated, there are a few things that you can do for starters. For more in depth reading on this check out:
Mark up the primary language of the site. To do this you just insert a Lang attribute into the HTML tag at the begining of your page. Language tagging helps control classification, searching and sorting by search engines, control hyphenation, quotation marks and spacing and allows for accurate voice synthesis by non-visual browsers.
Specify any changes in the language for a particular part of your document. This is also important to disabled accessibility as discussed later. To do this you just insert the Lang attribute into the part of the document which changes languages.
There are online tools that can be used to translate the text of your site to other languages if you want. Some of these are paid services, others are provided free of charge. The free ones are mechanical translations and not entirely how we'd say thing if we were actually speaking the second language, so take them with a grain of salt.
Accessibility requires that people with varying physical disabilities can utilize a site. This includes making the page compatible with Braille readers, non-visual browsers, and other forms of non-graphical or visual technology. The W3C's paper on accessibility outlines "checkpoints" that can used to make a site accessible to disabled peoples. These include:
Providing textual descriptions of all non-textual content either within the alt tags of the images or separate, redundant textual descriptions. This includes tables that do not convert easily to linear text format.
Using style sheets to define the format of a document for easier use by text or non-visual browsers. These are called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and are described in more detail at : http://www.htmlhelp.com/reference/css/
Being aware of the colors used in the page, as high contrast is needed for some with color or seeing disorders. Don't use color alone to relay information.
Clearly identifying any changes in the language of the page, as some non-visual readers can shift languages if they are instructed to. See previous Internationalization bullet on how to do this.
Providing linear text alternatives to any tables that are necessary. Text only and non-visual browsers have a hard time rendering side by side text in tables.
Avoiding Screen Flickering, Text Blinking, Scrolling, Auto Refreshing or other movement on the page unless you include a method to disable it in a script or applet. Some people with photosensitive disorders may have seizures from screen flickering at rates between 4 and 59 flashes per second!!!
Providing clear and consistent navigation, with site maps, search abilities, navigation bars, content listings, and clear labels to all links.
Periodically checking for and fixing broken links, to allow visitors access to the information that they need. The validating tools listed above will check a limited amount of broken links for free -- usually the first 50 links in about 5 Web pages. If your Web site is much larger, you can download a cool free program called Xenu's Link Sleuth, which will check up thousands of links throughout an entire website. Download the Link Sleuth at http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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