None of us has to be convinced that Web sites are cost-effective ways for publishers of all sizes to increase their visibility, expand their markets, and build their image. But if you want to build your own site and your budget is limited, you should take steps to avoid anything that appears amateurish or discourages repeat visits. The checklist below will help.
Simplicity.Study the design at large corporations’ sites. They use scrolling text and GIF animations conservatively or not at all, because too much repetitive movement is distracting and sometimes annoying.
Background choice should also reflect simplicity in design. Busy, loud backgrounds detract from content and make text illegible. Too many colors or fonts can also be distracting and give a site a cluttered feel.
Consistency. Use one design throughout the site. Be consistent with setup, colors, and fonts. To visitors, a Web site is a physical place, and they get confused if the place keeps changing.
Image. A Web site should reflect the philosophy and identity of the business. If you are promoting books for seniors, you wouldn’t want your site to look like an advertisement for an amusement park.
Content. Have you ever driven down a highway that is loaded with billboards? How many billboards do you actually see, and how many do you remember, especially by the end of the trip? The Internet has been referred to as a highway of sorts. And it’s loaded with billboards. Try not to make your site another one. Provide content that’s valuable enough to draw visitors and encourage them to come back.
Taboos. Avoid all the following:
· color combinations of text and background that make the text hard to read
· busy, distracting backgrounds
· text that is too small to read
· blue link borders around graphics
· text links that are not underlined, so people won’t know they are links
· large graphic files that take forever to load
· meaningless or useless graphics
· graphics with no alt labels
· blinking text or animations
· “under construction” signs
· animations that never stop
· making visitors scroll sideways
· pages that have no navigation, so the visitor’s only choice is to hit the back button or close the page
Keep it short.Most pages have too much text with very little reference to the main subject matter. As a result, they get poor rankings on search engines. With a good ranking, your site will show up in the first several pages of a response to a search. With a poor ranking, the site might not surface until page 15 or 20. How many people do you suppose get past page 3?
The rule of thumb is to have approximately 250 words on a Web page and focus on the words and phrases that are central. A page that includes “adventure travel” at least three times among 250 words will bring more visitors to a specialized travel-book site than a page that goes on and on and doesn’t start mentioning “adventure travel” until the 10th paragraph or uses those words only once.
Use title and meta tags. Whether you’re preparing the HTML document yourself or having someone prepare it for you, make sure each of its pages contains a <title> tag along with <meta name> tags that provide descriptions of content (in 5 to 15 words) and keywords or key phrases (you can include as many as 44). Search engines do–and should–rank title and meta descriptions and keywords high.
Publicity.A mention in a media outlet (radio, TV, or print) can bring a horde to your door in a hurry. A well-written press release with a hook can be more effective than search engine placement. But having a domain name that is easy to remember is critical. Any publicity–a newspaper article, a radio spot, a television interview–can be effective provided that people remember what URL to type in when they go to their computers.
Advertising. Quality ads in conventional media can bring customers to your online store just as they’d bring them to a brick-and-mortar one.
Links. A great deal of my traffic comes from links from other sites. The more links, the better.
Substance. Words draw visitors. Useful information draws visitors. Add quality content from time to time and update often.
An omnipresent URL. Put your URL on your business cards, your brochures, your letterhead, and your e-mail signature along with your name and e-mail address. Create a slogan or motto that will help people remember your URL and make it part of everything you send out.
Merrily Mann, the owner of Mann Creative Group, has been designing Web sites since 1994. See her portfolio at http://manncreativegroup.com.