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Effective Web Communication
by William Szczepanek

Article 8: January 14, 2008

The Web has brought information to our fingertips in an extraordinary manner over the last few years.  Commercial online stores with effective websites have made the drudgery of shopping for presents a chore that can now be accomplished with ease.  Many of these sites are created by teams of programmers and content writers.  But what are the considerations for a small business just getting started?  How do they design a site that effectively communicates their message?  Large companies work with advertising agencies and pay millions of dollars for their expertise.  Large consulting companies cater to the needs of the large corporations. Small businesses are either on their own or work with Web developers whose expertise may lie either in the programming or graphic arts area.  Web developers with expert communication skills are available, but not readily available, and usually come at a cost beyond the budget of a small business.

Small business branding is more than a logo, a slogan or a look.  It is really the person behind the business.  Who is that person?  What can they do for me? Can I trust that person?  Will I like working with that person? Will they be there when I need them the most?  These qualities are more commonly determined in face-to-face communication. These are not traits that are easy to convey in a Web site.

The Web site is a picture of how you want to be seen.  As an individual with specific talents, a corporate-looking Web site may not present the picture that will be comfortable for your prospective customers.  On the other hand, an overly-friendly, folksy site can project an image that appears unprofessional.  

Graphics are important because they are the first items that potential customers see.  They need to be presented well and need to be balanced with the rest of the page.  They need to represent what is important to you and your potential clients.  Graphical content needs to be consistent with the message of the site.  Good graphical content also makes your site credible. If your design was homemade, then it will probably look like it.

Content, however, is king.  Words are what will matter.  Your message will need to convey the trust necessary for someone to consider your products or services.  The same message comes across in your Web site.  How do you want to be seen?

Communication implies at least a two-way dialogue.  Can effective communication actually occur in a Web site?  The answer is a resounding, “Yes”.  One definition of communication is the following, “The art and technique of using words effectively and with grace in imparting one's ideas.”

If we break apart this definition we see that there are a few essential components. Firstly, there is an art or technique to communicating well. It is a learned skill and some people with the specific talent do it better than others. Secondly, effective communication requires that words can be understood by yor audience. Avoid jargon. Pictures, color, presentation are all important, but the essential ingredient is words.  Thirdly, words should be presented with grace.  Why grace?  A pleasing, charming approach is much more appealing and less offensive.  Usability, or the ability of your visitors to get to your content easily, is also an indicator of how graceful your design is.

Your attitude is the first thing people notice in face-to-face communication.  The attitude of your Web site works in the same way.  Your body language is a known factor in interpreting the message, just as a consistent image is important in Web design. The problem is that you cannot see the reaction of people who are viewing your Web site.  Are they listening to what you are saying?  Are they confused? Are they laughing?

We often have difficulty listening to other people because we think we know what they are going to say; we are seeking confirmation, not information; and what is being said is often not what needs to be said.  In essence, what we want visitors to think when they see the page is confirmation that they have found what they are looking for.

Does your website confirm what you want people to think?