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Can Your Web Site Win The Tour De France?

By Ken Hablow
Posted Thursday, June 24, 2004

It's over. After three grueling weeks of racing, Lance Armstrong
has won what some call the world's most difficult sporting event,
the Tour De France. The US newspapers gave the event a cursory
notation the Monday after the finish and showed a single photo of
Lance in his yellow jersey (used to identify the Tour leader)
sporting an ear-to-ear grin. But those of us who are avid
cyclists and follow bicycle racing know there is much more to
winning an event like this than simply one man riding to glory
after three weeks and over 2,000 miles.

The world sees only Armstrong, but behind this cycling phenomenon
is an incredible team. Actually there are two teams. One is the
group of cyclists that support, protect and lead Armstrong during
the actual racing. The other is the support team no one sees.
This consists of all the coaches, trainers, therapists, medical
staff, chefs, team managers, mechanics and even the people who
drive the support vehicles.

So what does this have to do with your website? As I go through
my annual TDF withdrawal, I have begun to equate the US Postal
Service cycling team to a well performing Web site. Here is a
relationship of the various elements.

1) Message
The message Armstrong sent to his competition this year was,
"Don't even think of messing with me." It was a very strong
statement. What message does your Website portray? Do you tell
your site visitors right up front what it is your company does,
what problems you solve and how? People will relate to real
problems your company solves for clients.

2) Focus
Armstrong has a team of elite cyclists whose only job is to
support their team leader. Think of all the pages on your Website
as the support for your message. These are the pages people will
look at and read to learn about your company, your services and
your products. Enforce your message, provide clear and
understandable information, be consistent. Most importantly, stay

3) Identity
The "posties" (as the US Postal team riders are called) all wear
the same blue jerseys. Each team has its own colors. Your Web
site pages should all look alike. I have seen many sites with a
"killer" home page, yet the rest of the site is mundane. Often,
subsequent pages seem to degrade and change in design and layout.
I begin to wonder if I am still on the original site. The same
logo should appear on every page and be consistent with your
navigation. People should never have to wonder if they have left
your site, regardless of which page they are looking at.

4) Support
Just as the US Postal team has a plethora of behind-the-scenes
support people, your Web site needs hidden support.

The first line is your hosting company. If your site is down due
to a malfunctioning or overloaded server, it is a reflection on
you. I have had hosting companies forget to upload their entire
password file for shared hosting sites when bringing a new server
online. Another ISP never configured Apache on a new server to
display HTM pages, only HTML. A third copied files onto a new
server and lost all the CGI permissions, so none of the forms or
back end programs worked.

Be sure you have clean HTML code. Your site must work in all
browsers and across all platforms. A good HTML editor will write
clean HTML. Many developers still write in text mode and
occasionally forget an opening or ending tag. One bad tag can
ruin your whole page.

There is a bevy of discussion these days on the use of CSS
(cascading style sheets) and yet I see very little mention of how
differently Netscape and Explorer interpret these commands. If
you do not want to perform the necessary testing yourself use an
online service to do it for you.

Be sure your JavaScript works on in all browsers. Recently, I was
asked to critique a specific site only to find the image
rollovers did not work properly in Netscape. This is basic stuff.
Is your CGI reliable? These behind-the-scenes programming tools
that are used to enhance a site can easily destroy it if they do
not work properly.

5) Content
The US Postal Service cycling team has depth and discipline. On a
Web site, this is reflected in the quantity, quality and
consistency of your content. Aside from articles and white
papers, the content must be short and consistent throughout the
site. Stay well focused and direct content to your potential
client base.

6) Anticipate
Every day before the individual race begins, the US Postal
support team drives ahead to the next city. They literally
dominate a hotel and prepare for the arrival of the riders. The
team chefs take over the kitchen, preparing the types of meals
each individual rider prefers. Anticipating the feeding habits of
a machine that burns over 5,000 calories a day is no mean feat in
itself. The cyclists never look at a menu. Their individually
prepared meal is waiting for them when they arrive.

As you lay out your web site, try to anticipate where your
visitors will go next. You can then design your navigation system
to lead the visitor to the next page, or set of pages. You can
pre-load images so the visitor does not have to wait for them to
load. You can direct people to a specific page by continuing a block of text onto another page. Imagine yourself as a chef for a
racer who hates meat, will tolerate pork and devour chicken.How
long would you last if you gave him a rare steak?

About the Author
Ken Hablow is an independent Website designer and marketing
consultant in Boston MA. He can be reached through his Website at


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