MAKE YOUR WEBSITE WORK
Your website functions a lot like a storefront. It’s the first thing your audience sees when they look you up, and first impressions do count.
So, how would you treat your guests – potential lifeblood patrons – that show interest in your work? Would your ‘storefront’ be easy or difficult to find? Is the address and signage visible? Would the mission and contact information be clearly posted, or not? What about the front door? Do you have to go through five knobs and ten locks before arriving at the goods? How’s the inside? Is it a cluttered fire hazard, or is it easy to move through? Is there loud music blaring into your eardrums? Are the furniture and fixtures broken? Is it dusty? Does it look like a construction project rather than a home for your business? You get the picture.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Fortunately, one needn’t labor more to get their website done right. Rather, less. Opposite the concerns of most beginners and the bad advice of some designers, your website needn’t be fancy – at all. As a matter of fact, at the start it’s a lot better if it isn’t. And by start, I mean if you haven’t got several thousand dollars for a highly recommended and proven designer. Following the principles of Presentation Zen, one ought to exercise restraint when it comes to the look and functionality of a website. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Too often, people are taken over by the exciting possibilities as well as the desperation to appear “professional”. Ironically, many end up with awful results, a patchwork resembling a cross between a rummage sale and a nightclub-themed college dorm room.
Be sure visitors know immediately where to click to find out the Who, What, Where, When, Why of your business, and How they can get involved. To better illustrate the core of what I’m getting at here, note the glaring differences between Yahoo’s search page and Google’s. And if for some reason your personal tastes lead you to favor Yahoo’s, remember which of these companies is dominating in growth and innovation. So, which would you rather be?
Yahoo vs. Google
Likewise, look at the homepages of social networks, Myspace and Facebook. One is an all-out visual assault with an overload of links, images, and advertising. And the other, simple and easy to figure out. The former is somewhat “try hard”. The latter, more unassuming and dare I say, self-assured. Again, keep in mind which resonates better and with more people. And is consequently, trailblazing.
Myspace vs. Facebook
DOs and DON’Ts (or in this case, DON’Ts and DO’s)
Here are some basic guidelines to help you as you create and/or make updates to your site.
- DON’T bury critical details more than two clicks deep. Visitors will leave instead of having to decipher your complex site navigation.
- DON’T have a “Click to enter” homepage. It’s just another unnecessary barrier between you and your guest.
- DON’T have an animated intro. They take too long to load and are never worth the wait – ever. Save that fun for your tutorial or promotional videos.
- DON’T have any auto-play sounds. It’s jarring and sort of inconsiderate (imagine the person who’s got multiple windows open at work, trying to figure out which obnoxious page is generating that noise). Plus “good” music is always subjective.
- DO keep it simple and easy to walk through. Clearly mark your menu for fewer tabs (not more), focusing especially on contact info (and directions, if relevant), “about” section, work samples, offerings and testimonials.
- DO have any time-sensitive information like events and special promotions immediately visible upon landing on the homepage, especially including critical links for more info and purchasing.
- DO maintain your pages and links. Broken links, half-complete or empty pages, and significantly out-of-date information all suggest poor customer service.
- DO enlist the expertise of a writer to help you with the essential language for your site. A minimalist approach to assembling your website means the value of your work will be especially highlighted by effective wording.
ADDITIONAL TIP: If you’d like, you may also score your site on its behind-the-scenes functionality by visiting WebSiteGrader. You’ll receive a ranking plus lots of free useful tips (The email field at the site is optional, by the way). It’s kind of awesome.
Good luck streamlining your website for success! And remember, when it comes to design – and a lot of things really – it’s better to be plain and effective than elaborate and inept. Forgo the glitz and focus on content in order to make your website work.