Set specific goals for your site, and design it to accomplish those goals.
Put the most important stuff at the top of the home page.
Keep text brief and friendly. Divide it into linked pages.
Make sure your site is easy to navigate. Run a spell check!
Update your site often. Promote the site to help people find it.
An effective web site provides useful, timely information, and portrays your company as professional, capable and organized. If you’re thinking of creating or overhauling a web site, make the commitment to build an attractive, informative, carefully-planned site, and keep it updated!
Planning a New Web Site
Even if you’re hiring someone to create your site, you need to do some homework first. Write down the answers to these questions.
- What are your goals for the web site?
- What do you want it to accomplish?
- Who is your target audience?
- What would they want to know?
Do Some Research
Print out copies of sites you like, making notes as to what you like about them. This will help you form an idea about how to organize your site and how you’d like it to look. When I’m designing a new web site, I take screen shots of existing web sites that I like, then paste them into a Word doc with my notes and the url for each site.
Outline Your Site
Imagine your site as a pyramid; the most important stuff goes at the top (your home page). Less important information will occupy the lower tiers (pages). Jot down a simple written outline to organize the information you’d like to have in your site. This will help you structure your home page, and give you an idea how many pages you’ll need. A typical basic site has pages like this:
- Projects or Products
Write Your Text (Content)
The next step is to flesh out your outline by developing the content for each page in your site. Keep your goals in mind. When writing for the web, use plain English—this is not the place for stuffiness! If you’re hiring a writer, gather some printed info about your business to get him/her started. The writer might want to interview you to get more info.
Keep Your Content Brief
In theory, your web pages could scroll endlessly. Don’t do this; people are impatient. Keep the text as brief as possible, and divide information among several linked pages so the visitor can choose his or her own path. If the reader wants to know more, he/she can click to another page.
Make Sure the Site Accomplishes Its Purpose
Focus on information that’s useful to your web visitors. Tell them how you can help make their jobs easier, improve their lives, give them great benefits, etc. Anticipate and answer questions your visitors might have. Lead them to take action.
Make it Useful
The best sites include info on helpful topics, “How-To” articles, FAQs, etc. This buys you credibility as an expert, and lets people know you’re interested in more than just selling to them. Use a different type of link or button to call attention to these “feature” type items.
Include links to other sites your visitors might find useful, but put them on lower-level pages. This way you won’t encourage people to leave your site until they’ve already seen most of it. Set these links to open in a new browser tab so the visitor doesn’t close out of your site.
Keep it Fresh!
Update your site quarterly, at least. Add new articles or info to give people a reason to come back. Don’t put a “last updated” line on your site unless you update often (every day/week).
Tips for a Better Web Site
- Think carefully about your text and use headings (H1, H2, etc.) to organize your content. Sites with good organization and information will show up higher in online searches.
- Make sure the critical information on your home page fits neatly into a browser window without scrolling.
- Never make your viewers scroll sideways! Exception: smartphone and tablet users will have to deal with scrolling.
- Make the site easy to navigate. Give visual clues to show people where they are within the site.
- If you provide an email link, be sure to respond promptly to all incoming messages. Expect some spam if you give your email address on the web site.
- Don’t go overboard with graphics. Pages should download quickly. Avoid gimmicks (animation, sound, etc.) unless they truly enhance your message.
- Provide contact information in an easy-to-find place, maybe in a footer on each page.
- Use a spell checker. Typos make you look unprofessional.
- Promote your site! Include your url on your business cards, ads, flyers, etc. Send postcards to tell people about your site. Try Google adwords for a cheap, easy “pay-per-click” ad system.
Can You Do it Yourself?
If all you need is a simple site with a few pages, you can probably build it yourself using an online web service or maybe WordPress. If you don’t have time, or if you’d like a more polished look, you can hire a web designer. If you need databases, forms or other special features, you might need to hire a web design company that can also do programming.
Keep in mind that some web companies provide tools for you to build your own site, but charge you higher hosting rates than other companies. In some cases these sites also load much more slowly. Just make sure the total cost (design + hosting) is still a good deal in the long run, and realize that your site might be slow.
How Much Does a Web Site Cost?
There is a tremendous variation in the cost, quality and complexity of a web site. For $250 you can probably get a very basic web page, or a prefab design (you supply the text and labor). Most good-quality small sites cost a thousand to several thousand dollars. Complex sites with custom programming are more expensive. Shop around! Give each candidate an outline of what you want for your site so you get accurate cost estimates. Make sure you understand what you’re getting for your money. And remember, you’ll also have to pay for domain registration and web hosting.