So it is in your interest to ensure it is the best shop window possible for your business – and you’d better make sure that it’s up to scratch …
There are a lot of great websites out there. Good-quality website design has raised the bar; a dull-looking amateurish site can seem very obvious by comparison, which means that visitors will associate your operation too is dull and amateurish. Which isn’t what you want, presumably.
So maybe it’s time to take a long, hard look at your web presence. And the best way to get started is to carry out a review of some other sites – – especially those of your competitors and the people you do business with. How does your effort compare with theirs? Even if it stacks up pretty well, you should still think about tweaking the pages, especially with more and different content. It keeps things looking fresh for visitors, giving them good reasons to revisit. And it keeps the search engines interested in you – most will downgrade a website in the search response lists if it appears to be static or dead. But if your site looks bad by comparison with your peers, now’s the time for a revamp. Read on for some ideas.
1- Sort out the structure
Too many websites aren’t really planned. What’s the site really for? How do you want it to be used? It ought to be more than a page or two, because you want to come across as a substantial organisation with brand values and some useful information to offer. But the site doesn’t have to be a library of everything there is to know about your business; too many pages can be as bad as too few in terms of projecting an image.
Focus on your core messages and the information that will be of most value to visitors, and make sure the site’s pages reflect that. Concentrate on those pages, get them looking good and working well, and if there is any other information to offer the punters consider making it available as a downloadable Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word document.
The other big issue here is navigation – how easy is it for the visitor to reach the information they want? This is partly a matter of structure (at any time the important stuff should be a maximum of two or three clicks away, preferably fewer).
2– Get the look
A professional appearance is an absolute must. That doesn’t necessarily mean a cool, crisp design with lots of space and muted colours (though that’s not a bad option for a B2B site with no upfront selling). A busy site with strong colours can look great.
The key is never to sacrifice readability for a ‘look’, and if in doubt go for the simplest possible design – it’s hard to beat black text on a white background, for instance.
A quick and easy revamp is usually provided by revising the site’s colour palette. Of course it helps if the original design makes it easy to do this – think style sheets – but it’s still not too tricky to change the page background and text colours. Two contemporary options: go monochrome (black, white, shades of grey) with occasional use of one strong colour like maroon or dark blue. Or go for Eastern colours like rust, persimmon, mustard or saffron – very now.
3– Skip the tricks
Some of the possibilities in HTML are real no-nos if you want a professional feel. They including blinking text, background music, and injudicious use of animated GIFs. And avoid splash pages if at all possible, especially if it consists of a single large graphic and a line of text reading Click Here to Enter. (There are good reasons for having a gateway or landing page, but there are usually better ways of implementing them – a blank page, say, containing an immediate redirect in a META REFRESH tag.)
4– Speed things up
You can have a site that provides the best content in the world, but if anything on it takes a long while to arrive the immediate effect is negative. The things that slow down a site include multimedia (especially Flash movies or video clips), big images or lots of them, and nested tables.
That doesn’t mean you should chop out all examples of these. But aim for a balance, for instance between image quality and image size – somewhere there’s a happy medium where the image file is small enough to download quickly but the quality is good enough to impress on the page.
5– Chop the content
If you have a lot to say, the easy option is to put it on to a single page. But long pages are a real turn-off, and it’s still not an easy way to get at information.
If you really must have a lot of information on a single page, put a ‘contents list’ of jump-to links at the head of the page.
In general though it’s better to make the effort to split up your content up into shorter linked pieces; you could give the option of a printable version as well, with the content on one long web page that will of course print on successive sheets.
6– Finish the construction
If a page isn’t finished yet, don’t include it. Nothing says ‘amateur’ quite so emphatically as a page containing a sign reading ‘under construction’ or ‘coming soon’. It’s irritating, it suggests your business isn’t fully developed, and those coming-soon pages often remain unfinished because out of sight is out of mind.
7– Reasons to return
Your site should always give the visitor a reason to revisit it. The more frequently you change or add to those reasons, the more frequent the revisits.
The best way is to keep your content fresh: add new articles and/or new sections. Encourage contributions from other members of your team; add testimonials from satisfied customers as they turn up; include an ever-expanding FAQ. If this all sounds like too much hard work, find out about Server Side Includes.
Or invest in a content management system (CMS) which will allow several people to add to the site without having to know too much technology; a decent CMS can be acquired for a few hundred quid.
Tell your visitors that there’s new content on the site, perhaps in a new “What’s New” section.
The other good way to tell people about new content and to encourage return visits generally is with an emailed newsletter.
That’s one way to get hold of visitors’ email addresses, and because individualised contact information is like gold dust you should look for other ways to encourage people to register with you – give away something like a prize for consumers or a hints ‘n’ tips sheet for B2B clients.
And create an online reward for your most prized customers, perhaps perks or discounts. You could also give them their own distinctive area of the site without any special technology.
• Branding: your website should be one of the main vehicles for brand awareness. Ensure the look and feel ties in with any corporate literature, advertising and direct marketing activity you currently use. Use imagery of current advertising campaigns or cover shots of brochures on your site to further enhance your brand and encourage visual links with your customers. Pictures are highly memorable, much more so than words and will perhaps provoke recognition if that customer as been sent a mailer or seen one of your advertisements.
• Navigation: The best sites are designed not just to look good, they also need to be easy to use. The key here is to make it as easy as possible to logically navigate to where you want to be within as few clicks as possible. For example, if you have a product guide on you website it would make sense for you to list your pricing here rather than have a separate section for price lists. It would also make sense to provide a full specifications brochure as a link here or suggest products in other categories customers may wish to purchase.
If your product is more service-led, try to ensure that any links to document downloads or secondary navigation can be clearly seen without any scrolling once you have clicked into the area of interest. That way you can ensure that your customers have visibility of your complete proposition at a glance.
• Interaction: where possible, use the website to offer your customers the opportunity to give you honest feedback. Some ideas to consider are a simple online enquiry form, an interactive customer forum where industry issues are discussed (check out Faisal’s forum on the Mobile Business website) or even set up online questionnaires to gather data about a particular area of your business.
• Think outside the box: sometimes it’s not enough to simply look at your peers for ideas. If you want to be truly pioneering think about looking at websites of businesses in different industry sectors to your own that you admire. You may spot a new design treatment or functionality you would have previously overlooked.
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