In The Importance of Having a Website we reviewed why you want a website, where to buy your domain name and finding webhosting services. Now you are ready to build your company website, or maybe you’ve already built a site but can’t seem to get consumers past the home page. What do you do? What do you feature on your website? How do you set it up? I’m not talking about HTML and Java Script. I’m talking about the presentation and content of your website. Think about the last time you were surfing the web. I bet you’ve been to at least one website that just did not look good, was too cluttered or was difficult to find your way around. What did you do? You left and found a better, more functional website that featured what you were looking for. Most consumers can tell within a few seconds whether or not they wish to explore a site further, just by the look and feel of the homepage, so you need to make your homepage work for you.
If you are afraid you don’t have the expertise necessary to create your own website, don’t worry. There are many services that allow you to create your own website using easy to use software online. Many of these same places will host your site for you. This is not an ideal option for those who want total control, but for those just wanting a simple site this can be the answer to your prayers.
Whether you do it yourself using so-called “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) software, code the HTML yourself, or use a service that will do everything for you, you still need to consider what you can do to build a better website. How can you get consumers to find your website, read the home page and be interested enough to view other subsequent pages? This article will give you pointers on what you can do to build a better website, whether you are starting from scratch or simply trying to improve the site you have.
Your Home Page
This page is key! This is your first impression; the first contact you have with your target audience. You’ll want to make sure and captivate your audience, giving them a reason to look further and to possibly book mark your site. Only feature the main points of what can be found on the website as a whole. Feature a menu or toolbar that shows your customers what they can expect to find throughout the pages of your website. Graphics should be kept at a minimum. Too many graphics can make your website homepage take too long to load on your customers PC, especially if they are still using dial-up. Try to keep your page under 60-65K in size to make sure it loads fairly quickly. With the exception of your company’s name at the top of your home page, try to utilize only two sizes of text, one for the header and one for text.
Provide credible, original content on your site
This is considered one of the most important features of a site by many. No one likes to go to a site that just features hyperlinks to other sites. When clients come to your site, they are there for a reason. Whether it is a specific product or service or simply information they are seeking, the client wants to see that your site is a valuable, credible resource of information to them. If it is, they will be back. Using information you find from other sources can make your site even more valuable, just make sure you site your sources and that your original works make up the majority of the information on your site.
Make it easy to navigate
There’s nothing more annoying then to go to a site, only to find that after going through several pages, it is difficult to get back to where you started. Some businesses choose to have a new page pop up with each hyperlink. This can be beneficial at times, but having too many can be overwhelming. The easiest way to make sure that your site is easy to navigate through is by putting a main navigational toolbar or menu at the top or side of each web page. A navigational toolbar is an essential device that ensures visitors won’t get lost as they surf around your site. It is best if the toolbar is the same on each page of your site, this way, no matter where they venture to on your website, your clients can always get back to where they started. Don’t forget to feature a “home” link on your menu/toolbar. You may even wish to consider hyperlinking your company logo on each page of the website so that it too, will take you back to the home page.
Organize your information into categories, under which all of your subsequent pages will be featured. As you can see on our site, we have 9 categories across our Main Menu at the top of each page. This shows you exactly what topics we will cover on this site. When you roll-over the Main Menu, all of the pages we feature in each category formulate in a drop down menu, from which you can choose specifically which page you want to view. Each of the pages on your website should have a specific format to it. They don’t have to be the same, exactly, but there are things that should stay the same on each page, for example your navigational toolbar or menu. You should have this in the same place on each page as well as your Search tool box and your “contact us” link. Your site map, if you choose to feature one, should also be placed in the same area on each page. This will give a feel of consistency to your website and will make the customer feel that you are purposely making it easy for them to surf your website.
Keep it simple
You want to make sure that your site has all the components of a good website, but in the easiest to follow format. Make it obvious what can be found on your site (the navigational toolbar will help with this), and make it easy for your customers to contact you through an easy to find “Contact Us” link. Don’t try to overcomplicate things on your site. You don’t want your site to appear cluttered. Keep your written content short and make your point as quickly as you can. Writing long, drawn out explanations is sure to make your customers loose interest. When you have a lot of information to give, be sure and spread it out over multiple pages that are linked to one another. Having advertisers on your website are ok, but don’t put so many on that your content gets lost within it.
Feature a site map
If you have a rather large website, with multiple pages and categories, you may not be able to have everything in your menu or tool bar. Instead, consider creating a site map, a table of contents of sorts. Create your sitemap so that each item on the list is hyperlinked to the webpage it is referring to.
Creating a site map, and uploading it to Google, is also going to be necessary if you want to maximize the chance that your site will be indexed. For more information see What is a site map and why should I have one?
If it’s possible, having a search feature on your website lends to the convenience of the customer. Whatever you can do to make your customer’s life easy, is highly valued by the customer. As your website grows, you may have so much information on it that it could take all day to find specifically what is being sought out. But you should make it easier for the customer to find what it is they are looking for on your site. Most people have short spans of attention for the websites they surf. If they don’t find what they are looking for rather quickly, they’ll go somewhere else.
Again, Google has a free solution to help you with respect to integrating a search into your website. For more information see Custom Search Engine.
When choosing the fonts that you want to use on your website do not pick anything strange or even unique. You want to stick with common fonts because a web browser can only display the fonts that are installed on that computer. If it is important to you that your website be viewed exactly as you see it on your own computer, then you will want to become familiar with the fonts that are most commonly used on both Macs and Microsoft PCs. If you are going to want your site to be viewed exactly as you see it on your computer this may also require HTML coding knowledge because many (if not most) off the shelf website design programs do not include such functionality. For beginners you probably just want to keep it simple, which means picking common fonts such as Arial, Times Roman or other widely used fonts.
Graphics that move around the screen, blink or change appearance in some way should be kept to a minimum. You should probably have no more than one such “noisy” feature per page, and I recommend that you avoid putting these types of features on every page. If you over use these animated graphics you run the risk that your pages will look too “busy”. Graphics should be attractive and easy to load, especially taking into consideration those who still use dial-up. If you do choose to use graphics, you can get some really great free clip art at clip-art.com, which features over 200 sources for clip art. Also you can go to Barry’s Clipart Server, which features animated graphics if that is what you’re looking for. Additionally, you can find some nice clip art from Microsoft’s Clip Art and Media page.