by Tracey Clerkin
1. Make it simple! A complicated website that gives too many choices or commands confuses the user. "Click here", "Buy Now", "Read this". All are commands and if they appear close together on one page the question is - which command do I follow?? Hence confusion.
2. Easy to use navigation: Following on from the "make it simple" rule the navigation should also be simple and easy to follow. Always include a home link on every page as well as links to your main products sections. There is nothing more annoying than clicking on a link, going to a page and then not knowing where to go from there and having to press the back button. The navigation system should be in the same place on every page to give consistency and so the user always knows where to look.
3. Content Rich Text: This means write something useful and interesting! But at the same time keep it concise. Lots of drivel about your product and services will not be read but it does need to contain the key points. What is the product/service? How easy is it to get it? How much does it cost? What do I do now? This is also an important point for search engines - they love keyword rich text. So if your website is about red balloons make sure you include the words a few times (but don't over do it!).
4. Consistency in fonts: Use the same/similar fonts throughout the pages. This makes it look neater, is easier on the eye and does not distract from the message you are trying to get across to the viewer. Uses lots of different sizes and lots of different fonts may make it look interesting but that is all it is - interesting fonts! You want everything to integrate (to make whole or complete by bringing everything together) and that's how it works with fonts. And as regard which font? Try not to use Times - it just makes the site look old-style from the days when the internet was just an information centre. Use Arial or Verdana mostly as these are nice "square" fonts and look a lot neater than Times.
5. Quick loading site: Please, please, please don't use large images, especially on your home page. Same goes for large Flash files. Flash is alright in it's place - such as a website that you would expect lots of graphics (photographer, films etc.). But your average business website doesn't need all that. Images should be compressed and correctly sized BEFORE being put into a web page. You may have downloaded a picture from your camera that is 1200 pixels wide and 300 pixels per inch - this is going to be HUGE in file size. So use a graphics program such as Photoshop or your camera software to a) reduce the width/height and b) reduce the resolution (pixels per inch). Don't insert the picture and resize using the HTML commands for width and height because it will take so long to load. Visitors are an impatient breed and don't generally wait for large pictures to download.
6. Use plenty of HTML text rather than images: It is important for search engines to be able to pick up text from web pages as well as for the viewer to have quick loading times. If text is put mainly into images it will not be read by the search engines and will take longer to download than simple text.
7. Point of view: When you have finished your website look at it from a different point of view. Imagine you are a customer and view the site from start to finish and see if it communicates your message and is easy to use. Get friends and associates to view the site and give their opinions as to the message and ease of navigation.
8. TEST, TEST, TEST: And when you've done that, test again. This means test all the links, all the pages. Make sure all the images got uploaded and are showing. Test it on a dial-up modem if you can to see how quickly/slowly it loads. If you have a form page test it and make sure you receive the form information.
9. Promote the website: Now your website is live it must be PROMOTED! It is not a case of "build it and they will come". Ways to promote are:
a) the most obvious which is print ads (magazines, newspapers, local free paper, leaflets etc.) Be sure to include your website address on letterhead and business cards and at the bottom of your email.
b) Write an article about your product/services and submit it to free article submission websites (search for article submission) and include your website at the bottom of the article.
c) Write a press release announcing the new website and submit this to press release websites
d) Set up Google Adwords so your website is being advertised on Google and their related advertising sites. This is very easy to do and you can spend as much or as little as you like.
e) Contact other website owners and offer to exchange links. These could be directory type websites that list sites similar to yours or sites that are in a similar business to you but obviously not competitors. An example would be for an artist to get listed on Art Gallery websites (a lot of which are free) and other artists websites. This kind of linking goes a long way to increase your search engine ranking because it makes your website look "important"! But don't fall for these emails that say if you link to site (a) we'll list you on site (b) - these are what is known as "link farms" and do not help search engine ranking.
10. Update regularly: After the website has gone "live" be sure to update it on a regular basis. If you have a news section this is absolutely vital. If a visitor sees the news hasn't been updated since June 2005 he is likely to go somewhere else but it's obvious you are no longer really there. This is also important for search engines. If your content changes they are more likely to pick up the site and list it.
If all the above seems too much like hard work contact a professional and get them to do it for you!
About the Author
Tracey Clerkin has been designing websites since 1998 and has her own web design company: www.artisanwebsites.co.uk.
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