You've decided it's time for a Web site. You registered your domain, decided what to sell, and found a hosting company. You're ready. All except for the Web site, that is.
Developing a successful Web site is not an easy task, and, like many of the responsibilities you have in your new business, can be made easier by working in partnership with Web professionals. Creating a successful Web site is a lot like buying a used car: the more expert feedback you get, the better car you'll end up with.
But for those of you on a tight budget (like $0), or who just want to do it yourself, here are seven design tips that will help you in creating your successful site.
- Prepare a Comfort Zone
When a viewer first arrives at your site, you want to establish a comfort zone for him to land in. Use a set of complementary colors to evoke a pleasant sensation to the eye. Most often, the best combinations for the greatest number of people are light backgrounds with darker text. It is also important to avoid a "high contrast" background, where the background choice overwhelms the text your visitor is trying to read. And finally, you want to have a strong contrast between the text color and the background, which is usually best accomplished through the use of a dark default text and a lighter background. After all, if you're going to go for a red sports car, don't get it with the purple interior fabric.
- Create a Consistent, Pleasant Viewing Area to Avoid Overload Once you've developed a basic color scheme that is pleasing to your visitors, you want to supplement it with a well-designed, consistent viewing area that doesn't overwhelm them. One of the most common mistakes on a Web page is to focus on volume over visibility. Do-it-yourself designers often try to put as much information on one page as they can, instead of asking themselves "What three to five things are the most important for my customer to see?" The human brain can only handle 5-7 details, at most, simultaneously. Break your information up into discrete, focused groups, and then design pages that present it in small chunks. This has two main advantages: 1) you won't chase your customer off through information overload, and 2) your most critical selling points won't be lost in a sea of lesser details.
- Provide the Guiding Gift of an Easy-to-Use Navigation Process As you develop some basic page layouts, you want to also be considering the overall navigation pathways of the site. Most of us don't have the time for out-and-out exploration. We need our business facts NOW. You want to make sure that your site provides an easy-to-use navigation system; you also need to make sure that the sections of your site contain complementary pages. Use the plan you developed above for breaking the information up into chunks to also break your site up into chunks. Then create a series of navigation paths that lead your customers through the site -- according to the paths you want them to follow.
- Use the Psychology of Layout to Attract Customers There is more to creating good Web pages for a site than cutting the information up into chunks and plopping it on a page. A strong Web site considers the "ideal customer" demographics and psychographics of the visitor and targets them with a Web site designed to create the desired actions. Certain areas of a page attract the eye more easily, for example, and you want to place critical details there, rather than wasting those spots on throw-away details. You want to use color, text, lines, and graphics to direct the customer to approach your content with the right attitude. After all, why do you think cars come in so many colors and exterior styles?
- Create Useful Content to Win Repeat Customers Content is King. Let me say that one more time. Content is KING. In today's topsy-turvy, rush-rush world, it is easy to rush out a Web site with some basic information, and the popular culture insists that all you have to do after that is sit back and wait for the orders. WRONG! You need to have a Web site that provides several types of content (general information, product or service information, useful and helpful things for your customer, and reasons to return), and you need to commit to maintaining, updating, and freshening the content regularly. Otherwise, your precious customers will visit once, get what they came for, and never come back.
- Prepare a Haven of Usability Now that I've said content is king, I have to add that Usability is Queen. Say you've created your fabulous site full of great content, with a flowing layout and clear navigation. You're ready. But you've got a domain name that is more convoluted than a maze, or the hosting company is down every other day, or you've chosen email addresses that are impossible to remember. Or a host of other things that impair the ease of use in your site. Just like that car I mentioned at the beginning, if your site is pretty but can't be driven, it won't sell.
- Get Results. Most designers stop at #6. Okay, the site looks great, surfs well, and the content is perfect for attracting customers. But you don't have any visitors, or, if you do, you don't have buyers. No matter how much work you put into a site, it is going to be worthless unless you first consider what you want to get back. Do you want leads, actual orders online, buyers who call your 800-number to order, buyers who visit your store after checking out information online, or what? Everything on your site should be designed with your results in mind. So, no matter how beautiful you feel your site is, if it doesn't achieve your Most Wanted Results, it needs help.
Putting all of these tips to use in developing your successful Web site might feel a little overwhelming. Just remember to bite off little chunks at a time. Developing a Web site is an ongoing process, and nobody has created a rule saying that you have to be perfect RIGHT NOW.
Make a list of the areas of your site where you want to make changes, and then prioritize them according to your most urgent need. Create a To-Do list. Then, fire up your computer and dig in. You'll have a successful site before you know it!
Susan Davis is a Web designer helping businesses improve their Web site's effectiveness. While visiting Endless Solutions (http://endless-solutions.com/?top7), you can send questions for FREE to Ask-The-Web-Designer (firstname.lastname@example.org). She also publishes "Communication for Success", a FREE communications ezine (email@example.com).