Which Features Should Your Website Have? If you're taking things up a notch, consider these factors.

By Jennifer Shaheen

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Understanding website functionality can get a little confusing, and deciding what bells and whistles to include on your site isn't always easy. Here, we discuss three tools used on many of today's websites. If you're considering adding them to your site, take some time to think about the best way to do it, and make sure you and your developer are on the same page.

Password Areas
Some websites require users to enter a username and password. This feature is often implemented because the website has one or more of the following needs:

  • a secure area for viewing content
  • contributor login for adding content
  • registration for comments
  • shopping carts

If your site has this feature or you're considering adding it, it's important to know that how these items are set up, and the items that come with them, are not all the same.

When creating a password area, think about how users will login--using e-mail address and password or username and password? Having visitors use e-mail addresses is a way for you to monitor and keep members from duplicating memberships. You then need to consider what the process is for your users to change their e-mail addresses--for instance, through an account settings area. The second feature you want to think about here is the password and a common item known as the "forgot password" feature. This feature will allow users to retrieve their existing password or have the system assign a new one. The question is which way would you like this feature to work? Or are you thinking of a third option--sending those users to a link that prompts them to create a new password?

The point is, when you meet with your developer, don't assume anything. You need to explain your expectations, and if you don't know what you want, ask the developer to explain how they see this feature working.

Depending on what you're password-protecting, you need to ask yourself what security level you need. How will users' information be protected? Don't make assumptions when dealing with developers. Different people will come to your project with different ways of doing things, and if you don't clarify what you're looking for, you may not get what you want.

Feedback Forms
Online forms are wonderful tools for collecting customer information, but not all forms are created equally. Some online forms are linked to a database so when data is entered via the web, it's stored for future use. Other online forms are designed to capture the data and send the information via e-mail to someone in the company, and the data is not stored anywhere else. Another way a form can be set up is to collect data into a text file or csv (comma separated values) file format and e-mail the company administrator. Each type of form involves different setup costs and programming requirements.

Forms also have other features like auto-responders for notifying recipients that their information was received or for sending them that special download you offered on your website. Be upfront about what you want your form to do, if you want your data stored, and how you want your users to be notified or redirected once the form is submitted.

Data storage and auto-responders are not the only features you may want to consider. Most of today's forms provide a captcha field to ensure that the form was filled out by a human. Is this a feature you see your form using? What about requiring fields or the functionality of revealing a field if a customer chooses a certain option from a drop box? Clearly outline what you want your forms to do, how you want them to store information, and how you want them to direct your visitors.

Content Management Systems
Content is the heart of today's websites, and managing that content with a content management system is one of the most import decisions you need to make. Your CMS is the foundation for the growth of your website. Evaluating the right CMS is also one of the most difficult processes because of the various opinions, options and functions available in today's marketplace. The key here is to clarify your needs first. What do you need your content management system to do? Do you want your CMS to provide SEO-friendly URLs and individual page control for titles and metadata? Will your CMS need to support different layout designs for different sections? Will you be adding new features to your website in the next few months? What functions are you planning for? For example, will you be adding video, additional forms, a blogging feature or possibly a member area? The point is, you want to know if the CMS system you choose is scalable. How is it scalable? Are there third-party applications already designed and ready to work with your CMS, or will your developer have to write something from scratch?

Next, look at who will be editing the content on your website. What is this person's comfort with technology? Some CMS systems are easier to use than others. A good development firm will understand this and take this into consideration when making a recommendation. Then, ask your developer or web firm what CMS systems they recommend or work with and why. Some developers use one CMS system, while others will work with two or three systems. After you talk to the people you trust, find some time to demo the CMS either through a web meeting or an online demo. Taking a test drive will prepare you and your team for taking over the content management of your website.

The most important thing to remember when deciding what tools to use on your website is that we all have expectations when it comes to how we see our websites functioning, and those expectations come with assumptions. That's why it's crucial to explain your expectations to your developer in great detail, use examples to illustrate your needs, and ask lots of questions.

Jennifer Shaheen, the e-marketing and Technology Therapist, has more than 10 years experience working with small- to mid-sized businesses on their e-marketing and web development needs. You can learn more about her by visiting her web site, TechnologyTherapy.com

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