Vera Kalbol, Cat Rescue Canada
By now you have decided what your sites objectives are and how to accomplish them. Its time to start writing. Some readers may think that what follows is common sense, but it isn’t if you have never given these things any thought.
There is no ideal number of pages for your site. It can be short and sweet and just one page, or it can have numerous pages. It’s up to you and depends on how much effort you are willing to put into it. You should include:
— an introduction that says who you are, and what you do
— some information about pets available for adoption
— a little info about your adoption policies
— a wish list of items you’d love to have donated
— info about any events you have planned (i.e. garage sales)
— contact information
Many other things can be added depending on the time you are willing to spend getting them ready. Ideas include:
— articles on rescue related subjects that are important to you
— rescue stories that have happy endings
— news about your rescue work that would be interesting to the public
— an explanation of your adoption fees
— links to other sites you think your visitors would enjoy
A certain amount of your site’s info needs to be written by you, or at least by someone who is very familiar with your work. If you absolutely are not suited to writing then for some things, you can find articles on the Web that match your philosophy and ask permission to use them on your site. Give full credit to the source. I find that most enquiries result in a positive response. After all, what is more flattering than knowing someone likes your writing enough to want to show it to others?
Think about whether there are questions that you are asked often by the public. If so, then answer them on your site. It may save you a lot of time.
Dont add features to your site that could prevent people from seeing all of your available pets. That is really important, because adopting a pet is an emotional decision and as they say, a picture says a thousand words. For those two reasons all of your visitors should see all of your pets.
For instance, dont add search capability. The person who wants a long-haired grey cat might absolutely fall in love with a cat of an entirely different description. But if they dont see the other cats, it wont happen. You dont want visitors to only look at certain pets and then leave. A picture can speak to the viewers emotions so make them look through them all. There arent that many.
Dont separate your photos into categories. For instance, dont have kittens on separate pages of your site and seniors on another. You would then have to define the age limits for each category. You can bet that the kittens will get all the page views! Remember that the person who wants a calico just like their last cat could easily fall head over heels for a tortie that they find absolutely gorgeous! Separating the photos makes it more likely that some pets will never be seen. Thats not in your rescues best interest. You dont have hundreds of photos, and asking people to look through them all is not asking too much.
Take pains not to offend people. Most of us have strong opinions about pets and pet ownership, but we have to hold them back when we write our philosophy. You might be absolutely right, but if you offend your readers they will not adopt from you or donate to you.
On the other hand, lets say you are strongly against declawing cats. Dont pretend you arent or the next cat you adopt might end up without claws. Just make sure that what you write is non-offensive. Choose your words carefully. Dont say something like anyone who would rip out a cats claws is a callous, uncaring, self-serving idiot who cares more about their precious furniture than about their cat. Instead say, We think that if people really understood what declawing is, fewer would do it. Our rescue has decided that we wont adopt to people who declaw and heres why we feel so strongly about it…. Dont attack — inform.
Be sure to give the public a way to contact you. Dont get hung up on the fact that people will try to dump their pets on you. They will, but they do anyway. You can handle it. You cant receive donations if you dont have a way for people to contact you. Its just one of those things that you have to do.
Encourage the public to give feedback. The site is not for you. It is for the animals you are trying to help and its for the visitors. If the visitors arent happy they wont stay or come back, and that means there is no chance of them adopting one of your pets. Give them an opportunity to tell you what they are thinking and take the time to thank them for it.
Make your own decisions and dont let other people talk you into or out of anything you want to try. The absolute worst way to run your Web site is by committee. Give someone the power to make decisions and let them be responsible, or take it on yourself. Some decisions wont be great, but you can always change things later. You cant please everyone and if you try, youll make yourself crazy.
Treat your Webmaster as a valued volunteer. They are not an employee. They are not an idiot or they wouldnt know how to do what theyre doing. They are human and may make the odd mistake. Anyone who hasnt made any of their own can stop reading now.
If you can, get a volunteer Webmaster who knows your rescue group and the work you do. Failing that, at least find someone who is willing to learn. Be upfront with them. If you dont like something they have done, ask them to change it and tell them why. Explain that youve been rescuing for awhile and you know your market, so to speak. Realize that when people do creative work, they may tend to take criticism personally because they put so much of themselves into what they do.
Dont let your Webmaster be the last person to know if the group is unhappy with their work. People can put a lot of themselves into the site they do for you, and its a slap in the face when the group blames the Webmaster for their misfortune without just cause. Go out of your way to be fair. They may not be doing hands-on rescue, but the Webmaster is still an important part of your team. Treat them as such.
Part I: Learn From Others Mistakes
Part II: You Need To Know The Basics
Part III: Get A Webmaster And Plan Your Site
Part IV: What To Do, And What Not To Do
Part V: Other Things You Need To Do