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What is Your Website Saying About You?
by Joan Donogh

 
   
 
   

The internet is a remarkable tool that has helped to level the playing field between large and small companies. A polished and professional website will go a long way to establishing that a small business is a serious contender. An amateur website will give that impression about the business. What impression is your website giving your visitors? Here is my Top Ten list of points to look for:

  1. What is it you do? An effective website will make it clear on the home page what the company does, and what the website is about. This is where visitors will decide if they are in the right place and whether to go on looking further into the site. I have reviewed thousands of websites, and it is surprising the number of home pages I have looked at for minutes and still wondered "what is it these people do?"

  2. Where in the world are you? It is called the World Wide Web for a reason: websites are accessible from anywhere in the world. I review website submissions for inclusion in the Open Directory (www.dmoz.org) and I am amazed at the number of sites that I have to search the fine print to find out where they are located and where they provide their service. If you repair computers in Calgary, say so clearly. Likewise, if you offer a product or service worldwide, let it be known. There is nothing more annoying than spending 10 minutes checking out of a shopping site, only to find out at the end of it that you don't ship to Canada. If you have an e-commerce site, state up front what your shipping area is.

  3. Keep your information current. If you are going to include dated information on your website, make sure that it is always up to date. Your credibility will be diminished if, for example, you have a list of coming events, and they have all come and gone. People will think you have gone out of business. Some sites display a "last updated" date - if your site was last updated in 1998 this will leave people wondering whether you are still in business today. Unless your site provides new information frequently, e.g new articles every month, there is no need to show a "last updated" date.

  4. Check your spelling and grammar. Copy that is poorly written, containing spelling or grammatical errors, leaves a poor impression of your business. This is not the sole territory of small businesses or amateur web designers. I often find errors in the sites of large businesses. It leaves the impression that, if they do not care enough to read the information that they are putting up on their website, how much care are they going to put into the service that they are providing to me?

  5. Make your site accessible. One of the challenges of web design is the variety of computers, web browsers, screen resolutions that the website will be viewed on. A well designed site will be tested as much as possible to ensure that it appears properly for the majority of viewers. If you do want your site to appeal to all of your potential customers, it is not appropriate to have a notice at the bottom of the page "best viewed with xxxx browser" or "best viewed at xxx screen resolution." Again, this is not just the territory of amateur websites, I see this a lot on high tech professionally designed sites. I even saw one that said "best viewed with Times Roman font"! People are not about to change their browser, change their screen resolution or their default font in order to view your website - they will just go on to your competitor's site.

  6. Make it easy for people to contact you. People have come to your site, looked around, liked what they saw. So far, so good. Now they want to get in touch with you. Don't lose them now. Ensure that your contact information is easily accessible from anywhere on your site. One way to do this is by having it on every page, another is to have a "contact us" button on every page, linking to a page with your contact information and possibly a form that people could fill out in order to contact you. In addition to telephone and e-mail, a mailing address also helps in establishing your business credibility.

  7. Is your site easy to navigate? Is there a consistent menu or navigation system on every page? Are the menu options clearly marked? "Mystery navigation" is sometimes seen on very artistic sites. Have you ever been on a site like this - where there are several attractive images, but no indication as to what is what? When you place your mouse over an image some more information comes up to tell you what it is linking to. This can be very visually appealing, but unless you are selling your services as a creative director or the like, don't expect your visitors to have to work that hard to figure out how to get to the information they want to see on your site. If your site is very large, consider adding a site search function to allow people a simple way to find information on your site.

  8. Have your own domain name. A sure sign of a small time business is a website that is not accessed through a unique domain name. When starting out, a few years ago, many small businesses set up websites on free hosting services. There are not as many of these around anymore, but a few still exist, marked by flashing banner ads at the top of the web pages, pop up ads when you try to leave the site, and access through a domain name something like www.members.freehostingsite.com/mybusiness. Similarly, many personal internet access accounts include some free web space, and some small businesses choose to set up their business website on this space, with a domain name something like www.users.yourispcompany.com/mybusiness. This is slightly better than the first option, as it usually does not include ads for someone else, but either will mean you do not want to be treated as a serious business. At the very least, register a domain name and redirect it to your internet service provider web space. People that know what to look for will still know that you have used free web space, but at least you will be able to tell people to go to www.mybusiness.com to see your website. Also, use a professional e-mail address - using a free e-mail account such as Hotmail to conduct business is another sure way to not be taken seriously.

  9. Keep your pages short and focused. People get uncomfortable scrolling down through screens and screens of information on one page. If you have a lot of information, split in up onto more pages, rather than having one long page. Large blocks of text are also difficult to read. When looking at a web page, people scan, so break the text up with headlines, etc. to provide something to catch the eye.

  10. Ensure that your site looks professional. Busy background images, music that starts playing when the site loads, scrolling text, headlines that fly into place, large graphics that are slow to load, and visible hit counters on the page are some things to stay away from if you want your site to look professional and businesslike, rather than "Welcome to my home page".

     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Joan Donogh is the President of In-Formation Design and has extensive experience in marketing communications, web site development and the design and development of customer relationship management and loyalty programs. She is also the creator of Now .... You're Cooking!. Visit In-Formation Design for additional information.

     
   
     
   
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