Website Dos and Don’ts
Qualities of a Good Website
Let’s make one thing clear immediately: people don’t care much about your website. They care about what they need or want at the time they visit. Maybe they want to read about your services, maybe they are looking for price information, or maybe they just need your phone number. They only want to find what they’re looking for, and have an easy and pleasant time doing it. In other words, they care about your site only insofar as it serves them. Having a super-cool animation on your homepage might be impressive to you. But unless you are in the business of “super-cool” (like a rock star), it probably won’t mean much to your visitors. It might be fun to have a cool website, but it’s better to have an effective one.
So, what constitutes an effective website for most businesses? First and foremost, a look and a feel. First impressions are important, and most people get a sense of a web page in a fraction of a second. Shapes, colors, layouts, headings, and images tend to give us a feeling. Subconsciously, we do a quick scan that answers some basic questions like: Does this site seem relevant to what I’m looking for? Does this business seem credible and trustworthy? Does this site seem current and fresh, or outdated and stale? Are there indications that other people frequent this site and support this business? How does this site make me feel? Individual elements and the combined effect of those elements give an instinctive or “gut” feeling to the first-time visitor of a website.
Although there are no hard and fast rules about what your website should look like, here are some highly advisable dos and don’ts that you should consider carefully:
DO provide easy navigation
Most of us have had the experience of visiting a website to look for specific information, only to be frustrated because there’s no clear navigation system to guide us. The people who visit your site could be visiting for a variety of reasons. It’s important to think of what those reasons might be, and provide a clear path to what they might be looking for. Be sure to have a primary navigation menu that clearly shows where they can go for the information they seek.
DO have a clear CTA (call-to-action).
Having a clear CTA in a noticeable place on your homepage is highly advisable. You want your visitors to engage with your site and your business somehow. What would you most like them to do? Perhaps you’d like them to watch a video that promotes your products or services. Perhaps you want them to fill out a form to get more information. Or perhaps you’d like them to submit their email address to sign up for your monthly newsletter. Think about how you can get to the next level in your relationships with your website visitors, and encourage an action with a clearly visible CTA.
DO show photos of people’s faces.
One thing that can add warmth and create positive feelings in your website visitors immediately is showing pictures of people’s faces. The pictures could be of you. They could be of your employees. Or they could be of a happy family that uses (or appears to use) your products or services. Studies have shown that people pay more attention to ads and web pages showing human faces. (Warning: Be sure to have the permission of the people in the photos before using them on your web pages. And be sure you have the legal rights to use any photographs that appear on your website. See more about finding photos in the “Gathering Elements for Your Website” section below.)
DON’T have a cluttered look.
Keep the overall layout in mind as you add elements to your web pages. Adding too many elements to a page can look cluttered, unorganized, and unprofessional. It can also distract from the primary messages you want to convey to visitors, such as your CTA.
DON’T have web pages that are too slow to load.
Customers (and therefore new business) can be lost due to slow-loading web pages. You want to keep that from happening as much as possible. One thing to always remember is that the speed at which web pages load depends on how fast the visitor’s Internet connection is. Although a page might load fast for you, it might not for someone else. There is a tradeoff that comes with having large image or animation files as part of your web pages. For most businesses, it’s better to err on the side of “fast” rather than “fancy.”
DO keep consistent color and style elements on all pages of your site.
People like consistency. Certain colors, layout styles, menus and other visual elements create a certain look and feel. Keeping these elements as consistent as possible on all of your pages is much better than a hodgepodge that seems thrown together quickly and cheaply.
DON’T have misspellings and bad grammar in your text.
Few things are a bigger turn-off than having misspellings and bad grammar on your website. Your website represents your business. Potential customers like to see businesses that are professional, credible and trustworthy. If it appears that you don’t pay attention to the details of your website, they might think that you don’t manage your business well. Take the time to properly check your spelling and grammar.
DON’T make the site all about you.
Try to make your site as much about your visitors as possible, and less about you and your business. It’s easy to fall into the trap of simply touting the accomplishments of the business, rather than emphasizing how the business can serve the website visitor. In other words, instead of the message being “Here’s why we are so great and wonderful,” the message should be “Here’s how we can make your life easier and better.” Be sure to emphasize the benefits potential customers can get from your products or services.
DO have an “About” page
It’s true that your website should emphasize the benefits your products or services can provide for your visitors, but sometimes visitors really want to know who you are. Because of this, you should give them this information in the form of an “About” page. The page can be called “About Us” or something similar, but the name should indicate that it’s the place to go to find more information about you. An effective “About” page is one that reveals authentic details about the business and the people who run it. Using stories and images can be helpful. Visitors to your site should get the feeling they have seen a real person or real people from reading your “About” page.
DO have a blog
Although it requires a steady investment of time, blogging is one of the best investments you can make for your website, as well as your online marketing strategy as a whole. Blogs keep websites fresh and add content that can keep visitors on your site longer. They can help with SEO (search engine optimization) in several ways, and they can complement any social media strategy very nicely. Websites with blogs get much more traffic than websites without them. One of the great things about blogs is that there are really no rules for them. They can be as simple or elaborate as you want them to be. (For more about blogging, see Part 2 of this book.)
Gathering Elements for Your Website
Web pages and websites are usually combinations of different elements. Although you could simply have a one-page website with nothing more than some text in the middle, that probably wouldn’t be very effective for your business. Much of the work of web design is in finding and creating the different elements that will make up your site. Putting the elements together into a site might be something you want to do yourself, or you might want to hire someone else to do it for you. Either way, though, it will be much easier and faster (and less expensive, if you are paying someone) to have as many of the different elements as possible prepared in advance.
The following is a list of elements you might want to work on and gather before putting your site together.
- Web hosting account – Although this is not an element of your website per se, it is an important aspect of what you will need. Websites and the data they are comprised of reside on computers called “servers.” The job of a server is simply to “serve” information that is requested. For example, when someone clicks on a link to one of your web pages, they are essentially requesting that page’s information from the server. It’s a bit like ordering something at a restaurant: you order something from the menu, and a server delivers what you order. To be able to serve up web pages quickly and efficiently, there are services called “web hosts” that provide and manage servers. You will need an account with a web host that will house your website on its servers.
- Domain name – Your domain name is the unique name your website will have on the web. For example, in “http://www.brickway.net” the “brickway.net” part is the domain name. There is an international registry of domain names. You will need to find one that suits your business and is available, and then register it. There are many services that do this, but again I recommend Bluehost.
- Logo – Do you have a logo for your business? Are you planning on getting one? Having a logo can be a nice design element on a website. A good logo adds style and can help make visitors feel that your business is well-established, organized and credible.
- Images – These are very important. As I mentioned earlier, having images of people’s faces can make a web page look warmer, friendlier and more appealing. You might want to have other types of pictures as well, however, especially ones that show the products or services your business provides. Having good images prepared and ready helps when it’s time to put your site together. If you don’t already have some good images to use, you are in luck. There are several large photo downloading services that grant you the right to use their pictures in exchange for a fee. The fees are usually reasonable, and the photos are often amazing. You can search to find almost any kind of image you want. Warning: do not use any images on your website that you don’t have the legal right to use.
- Authority badges – Do you belong to any organizations related to your field? Many professional organizations have a graphic you can use on your website if you are qualified and have permission.
- List of web pages – How many pages would you like your website to have and what should they be about? Having this planned is very helpful before getting to work on your site.
- Text – One of the biggest elements to tackle is having the text written for your web pages. This can be difficult and requires some writing skill. Most business websites have some text on every page to explain one thing or another. Many of the visitors to your site won’t read much of the text. Most people tend to look at the images, read the headings, and then barely glance at the actual blocks of text. However, it’s important to have it there anyway. The whole idea of your website is that visitors can easily find what they want. It’s best to give them a variety of ways to get their information. Text is also an important aspect of SEO (search engine optimization). Search engine spiders notice the words used in the text to help index web pages correctly.
- CTA (“call-to-action”) – Have you decided on a CTA? Give some thought to what action you would like your website visitors to take, such as calling for an estimate, opting-in for your email newsletter, or filling out a request form.
- Email Opt-In – If you are planning on doing email marketing, you will probably want to have an email opt-in field on your homepage somewhere. This simply says “Hey, if you want to be on my email list, submit your email address here.” If you mention that their email address will not be sold or given away to anyone, and give them a good incentive to submit them (such as a free gift), you will often get visitors to opt in. (See more about email marketing in Part 6 of this book.)
- Contact form – Would you like to have a form for visitors to fill out in order to contact you, make comments or request information? If so, what fields would you like the form to have?
- List of products or services – Would you like to have a special page with a list of products or services you provide? Preparing this list is good preparation for building your site.
- Embedded videos – Are there certain sections of your site you would like to have videos in? Creating the videos in advance is a good idea in preparing to build your website.
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Barry Abraham is the author of "The Internet Marketing Strategy Book." This is a 10-chapter book that gives an easy-to-understand overview of current Internet marketing opportunities.
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