Principles to keep in mind when setting up an institutional website
Content matters more than anything else. The Internet is not like television: Pretty pictures without a lot of content can go a long way on television ("The Price is Right" has been delivering bells and whistles for decades, but it has yet to actually inform a single viewer about anything useful.) People use the Internet to primarily to discover information and communicate with other people. An institutional website (that is, any website belonging to a group, company, or organization) must be designed with information in mind. The worst thing an institutional website can do is become a graveyard of flashy but uninformative pages that sit stale and unimproved for years.
Start with what you can do consistently -- update a calendar, write short weblog posts, add pictures, whatever -- and do that well and consistently. Add features slowly and deliberately. Restrain the urge to add lots of new things before you know you have the commitment and the resources to maintain them.
Know your objectives and focus your efforts on achieving those objectives. Find two or three things you want people to be able to do as a result of using your website, and pour your efforts into making those things easy to do. For example, a business website should do whatever it takes to make it easy for a customer to give you money. A website should not exist just for the purpose of existing.
Understand that Internet traffic is not useful in its own right. Lots of people may drive past a store on a busy street or even pull into its parking lot, but if nobody goes inside and buys something, nothing useful occurs. People do not visit websites just for the purpose of visiting; they want to do something or learn something. The worst kind of hubris is thinking that people will visit your institutional website just because you exist.
Components found on most institutional websites
- A contact page or form
- An "about us" page, telling about the organization and its history
- A calendar of events, when appropriate
- A summary of recent news, when appropriate (usually a newsletter or something similar)
- Biographies of the main people in the institution