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
- 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?"
- 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.
- 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"
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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