Websites can help your business increase revenue, decrease costs, and build customer relationships.
Moreover, for customers who find you on the Internet, they’re critical to defining who your business actually is.
However, poorly-designed sites can actually undermine those goals.
Set aside 10 minutes today and compare your website to this checklist:
1. Start with a clear purpose
- Determine the goal for your website. Is your priority increasing revenue, decreasing cost and the time to provide services to clients, or building customer relationships?
- Carefully consider whether creating a website right now is truly the most important thing you can do for your business. Unless you have a specific plan for driving traffic to your site, the time and money you invest will not benefit your business.
- Who is your audience? Prospects, customers, investors?
- What do you want the site to do for them and for your business? Give information, sign them up, provide user support, sell them products, handle the new client intake process, or something else?
- Always include a call to action on every page of your website.
2. Avoid distractions
- No music, sound, animations, Flash intros, banner ads, web-ring links
- Use these elements only if it truly supports website’s purpose.
- They may conflict with some browsers and security software.
- They waste users’ time and slow access to main content.
- They often look amateurish and unprofessional.
- They usually distract visitors from your key messages.
3. Be judicious when linking to other sites
- Links to sites which are consistent with your site’s tone, image and purpose can give credibility and authority to your site.
- Links to blatantly commercial, irrelevant, or unprofessional sites cast doubt on your judgment in choosing business associates.
4. Always include “About” and “Contact”
- Prospects want to know business history and credentials.
- Physical presence enhances credibility. Give your city, state, telephone number and/or physical address, plus e-mail address.
- Consider including a professional photograph (~$100 – $200) of you and/or your staff. Wear solid dark colors or coordinated staff attire. No home photos, GlamourShots, or poor-quality candids, please. If you missed our tips on staff photos, read them here.
5. Text must be easy to read
- Use white or pale background with dark text. Avoid white text on dark background.
- Use no more than 2-3 different fonts on a website. Use only standard fonts for compatibility.
- Use 8-point font or larger for readability.
6. Less is more
- Don’t jam lots of text on a single page. Add another page and divide content logically.
- Keep each page to no more than 1-1/2 to 2 screens of data.
- Limit graphics so page loads quickly and users don’t have a page full of red Xs if they choose not to load graphics.
- Use no more than 3-5 different colors on your site (different shades of same color are OK).
7. Make it easy for visitors to navigate the site
- Standard position for buttons is top or left side.
- Users scan from upper left to middle, then to bottom and right edge. Arrange important information accordingly.
- Every page should have a link to “Home” and “Contact”, at a minimum.
- Don’t drop the ball. Have a process for resolving all communications received from your site. Nothing turns off a potential prospect or existing customer more than never getting a response to a request.
- Automated acknowledgements are useful only if you then follow up and actually resolve the inquiry.
8. Details matter
- It’s amateurish to put a website address on business cards if the entire site is “Under Construction”. Delete pages under construction from your site until they’re completed.
- A favicon (the miniature logo image that appears to the left of the web address in the browser) is a nice touch.
- Have someone else proofread your site word by word – grammar, spelling, overall sense.
- Test your site on IE, Opera, Firefox, Netscape, and on computer screens of different sizes (laptop, 15″ monitor, 17″ monitor, etc.). If appropriate, test on PDAs.
- Test all URLs and mailto addresses one last time after uploading your site.
- Keep your graphic themes consistent—business cards, website, sales materials, etc.
- Make sure your web designer doesn’t leave the title section for each page blank (appears at top of browser window).
- Keep a full backup of your site in your possession. Don’t rely on your web hosting service or web designer to keep your backup.
9. Design and programming are different
- The graphic designer creates the site’s “look and feel.” The web programmer converts the design to HTML code. Not all designers can create HTML code; not all programmers are good graphic designers.
- Progress payments reduce your risk. Pay 1/3 for the initial design, 1/3 for the preliminary HTML version, and 1/3 after the site is live.
10. Consider these factors when choosing a developer
- You’ll often pay a developer $1500 and up to create a simple custom site with around 20 pages. Make sure this investment is really the most important thing you can do for your business before you commit.
- Once your site is up and running, many developers will charge at least $50/hour just to make simple changes to your site, with a two-hour minimum. However, you can often negotiate an “allowance” for minor updates as part of your initial agreement.
- To reduce the cost, consider buying a pre-designed template. Numerous websites offer these professionally-designed templates at very reasonable prices. It won’t be custom, but you can easily find a design that “fits” the image you want without breaking your budget.
- The web development tool FrontPage or Expression Web is easy to use for non-technical users, but ISPs may charge more for hosting advanced applications using FrontPage extensions. It can also be tough to find a developer who uses FrontPage or Expression Web, since they’re really intended for consumer use. Macromedia’s Dreamweaver is a more common development tool, but it’s considerably more difficult for non-technical users. If you want to update your site yourself, try the trial versions of both products before you make a purchase decision.
- You don’t need to pay a developer to create e-commerce applications like shopping carts from scratch. The best way to get this capability is through a hosted shopping cart service like Shopify.
- You also don’t need to pay developers to create standard applications like message boards, surveys, newsletter distribution, and e-mail marketing. These applications are available as easy-to-use, powerful, yet affordable monthly services.
11. Consider these factors when choosing a web hosting service
- Expect to pay an ISP $15/month and up to host your site. Cheaper hosts are available but their security is often poor.
- Make sure your host provides site traffic statistics. This data helps you understand what users do (and don’t do) when they visit your site.
- Being able to talk to a live, knowledgeable person matters. Check out your web host’s tech support before you make a decision.
- Avoid web hosting services run by your web developer or his brother-in-law out of a closet in their apartment. Go with an established host with a strong track record.
- Check the host you’re considering with the Better Business Bureau. Google the name of the web host along with words like “complaint” and “problem” and see what shows up in your search results. We could have avoided a bad experience with a web host several years ago if we had followed these simple steps!
12. Prepare for the future
- Perfection is not required. Collect your ideas for changes and plan to update the site in 3-6 months.
- Draw a site map that shows how the pages link. You’ll want this when you make the next round of site updates.