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Design Basics

Design Basics

If you're not a technology wiz but have taken on the task of creating a website for your business, the following tips will help you make it look and work better for your customers.

Steps to Success

When it comes to the internet, your website is your front door, your waiting room, your store and your office. The impression you make with a clean, professional looking and functional website will carry over to your business dealings with customers and clients. A little common sense and care can go a long way. Try to view your site from a user's perspective, and don't be afraid to get feedback on improving the web experience. Here are some tips to help you create a well-designed site:

1. Mind the basics. A visitor should be able to tell what your business does right from your main web page. Most web surfers don't have much patience, so you have only a few seconds to make a good impression. Keep your site updated regularly with new content, products and information, and your customers will have a reason to stick around as well as come back later. Proofread your entire website to catch spelling and grammatical errors before your customers do. And make sure your contact information is easily accessible.

2. Keep your site structure well organized. Be sure your website navigation is clear, simple and consistent from page to page. Overall, page sizes should be reasonably compact and blocks of text streamlined to a manageable size. Try to place the most important information toward the top of the page so that you minimize the amount of scrolling your customers need to do to view important content or product information. In particular, watch your graphics placement, and avoid horizontal scrolling--it's an annoyance that doesn't generally sit well with online audiences. A site map or search function can also be a handy tool to help visitors locate the exact content they're looking for, especially for large, elaborate websites. Good site structure translates into ease of use and satisfied customers who will want to return to your website.

3. Make essential information easy to find. Web surfers are impatient people--they don't want to spend a lot of time trying to find what they're seeking on your site. According to market research done by the Garner Group, more than 50 percent of all web sales are lost because site visitors can't find what they're looking for. If you've buried important information too deep within your site, you're losing out on more than half of your sales. A website should be like a newspaper story. All the really important information about your site--what you're selling and how it benefits people--should be the first thing your visitors see. That's the best way to capture their attention and get them to read more.

4. Don't use industry lingo. Always assume that a visitor has no knowledge whatsoever of your business, its processes or its terminology. For example, some websites label home page links with only a product name, something like "MH200 Series." To anyone inside the company, this makes perfect sense, but it may not mean anything to a potential customer. A generic "Products" link or a section with summarized descriptions makes a lot more sense to online visitors.

5. Don't make your site too large. One of the worst mistakes people can make is building massive, multiage sites that take forever to load. "The more, the better" is not the case, at least when it comes to website design. Studies have shown that 30 to 60 percent of visitors drop off with each click they're made to take. Your site has to be as streamlined as possible if you want it to reach its true profit potential. So keep the number of pages to a minimum. If you're selling 10 or fewer products, include them on your homepage. Why make visitors click through to a separate "Products" page to see what you have to offer? Remember, every click loses sales. If you can't feature all your products on your home page, group them in categories and display each category of products on its own page, instead of including a separate page for each product.

6. Never confuse eye-candy with content. Graphics should only ever be used to support the main purpose of your site: to get people to buy what you have to sell. You may want to impress people with your technical know-how by including lots of banners and links on your site, but too much visual clutter looks unprofessional and can ruin your credibility. Anything that distracts visitors from your copy is guaranteed to lose you sales. So if a graphic doesn't directly relate to your product or service, then it shouldn't be on your site. It's just that simple.

7. Don't chase visitors away with long, unnecessary Flash presentations and splash pages. If your customers have to spend too much time trying to figure out how to stop your Flash presentation so they can get through to the "meat" of your site, they'll be gone, most likely never to return. Elaborate web design can slow down the user experience and be a turnoff for potential customers. Keep the look of your website clean, and always consider the impression you're making on a first-time visitor. Do you really want them waiting around for a page to load or frantically reaching to turn down their speakers? On a more basic level, be aware of the size of your graphics files. Keep them slimmed down so they'll load fast.

8. Pay attention to the impact of different colors. If you wouldn't print a business card with hot pink text on a black background, you shouldn't have a website that looks like that, either. Be sure to check that all text is easily readable and that your overall use of color is easy on the eyes. Businesses that already have a color scheme associated with their branding should carry that over to their websites for a consistent experience both online and off.

9. Regularly change your site's content to bring visitors back again and again. There are plenty of ways to get new content without having to write it all yourself. For one thing, you may have visitors who would enjoy contributing occasional articles, just for the thrill of seeing their names in virtual print. Put a link on your site asking for content. Also, if you see an article you like somewhere else on the internet, you may be able to get permission to reprint it--contact the site to see if they'd allow you to republish the article on your site. And as simple as it sounds, many web visitors appreciate sites that offer a "tip of the day" and visit them on a daily basis, often in the morning, to glean the day's tip. To get started, you don't have to come up with 365 of them; instead work on one month's set of tips. Then, stay one month ahead as the year progresses.

10. Enlist the aid of a professional when you need to. Most busy entrepreneurs don't have the time or expertise to build and maintain an elaborate website. For simpler sites, web design templates can be a quick and painless way to get up and running on the web. If your needs are more complex, it may be a good idea to check in with a designer who can specifically tailor a site to fit your business and your budget. Busy entrepreneurs will appreciate the one-stop shopping a web design company can offer.

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